INTO DARKNESS

“Are you coming, Nate?” The woman looked tired and frustrated. “They would really want to see you.”


“I’ll be in. You don’t need to wait for me.” Nate did not look up as he spoke from his seat in the lobby.


“Okay. Please come soon.” The woman disappeared down the hallway.


Nate watched her until she was no longer in view. He had no intention of going into that room. He longed for something better than this present circumstance: something more optimistic, less tragic, with a good ending. That was not possible now.


His gaze turned to a pile of magazines on the round table in front of him. Outdoor Adventure was the first magazine that caught his eye. He picked it up and casually thumbed through several pages. On page seventy-seven he stopped and stared.


The scene before him immediately captivated his thoughts. The page featured anadvertisement for a vacation package at an idyllic lake somewhere far away. The advertised image carried him to a place back in time and close to his heart.


He remembered fishing with his grandfather and grandmother on Little Bear Lake, a lake associated with a chain of lakes in northern Minnesota. We would go up to the lake every summer, always the fourth week of July. It was just the three of us. Those were the best vacations. Then there was that one day that I will always remember.


Nate closed his eyes and journeyed back to his past.


“You need to add another layer, Nate,” Grandma Belle said.


“But I will be too hot, Grandma.”


“You can always take that layer off, but you can’t put it on if you don’t have it.”


“Listen to your grandmother, Nate. She has been around a long, long, long time, and with all that experience, she knows what is best for you,” Grandpa Bill added with a wink.


“Don’t listen to him about such nonsense. Your grandpa is older than me. He told me he was friends with Teddy Roosevelt.”


Bill laughed and said, “I do know where the best fishing holes are. Teddy told me.”


I glanced at my grandfather’s clothing. He wore only a loose-fitting long sleeve flannel shirt, no undershirt or jacket. My grandmother wore at least three layers, including a jacket. Both my grandparents looked younger than their sixty-five years.

You didn’t even bring a coat, Grandpa.”


“I’m old and too tough for the germs to get me. You, however, are right on their menu. Besides, you never know when a storm can blow up. That jacket will be just fine and keep you dry. Any rain will bounce off of me.”


“But there is not a cloud in the sky.”


“For now. The sky is so blue, just like your grandmother’s eyes.”


“Bill, you know my eyes are hazel.” Grandma chuckled.


I loved the way the two of them would banter back and forth. It was almost like two school friends, who had been married for over forty years.


After I accepted the fact that my jacket was coming with us, we stepped into the old wooden rowboat that was tied to a small dock. I untied the rope that held us to the dock and soon we were heading out into the lake. I sat in the front scouting for fish. Grandma sat in the back fiddling with the fishing poles, and Grandpa manned the oars from the middle bench.


We usually aimed for a place on the lake that was to the left of the cabin and in front a wall of evergreen trees that lined the shore. About four hundred yards out from the cabin, we dropped an anchor at one of our favorite fishing spots. I also suspected Grandpa didn’t want to row any farther. Here, we were in a bay protected from the north wind. The water was about twenty feet deep from the surface to bottom.


When the surface of the bay was quiet, you could see down to a depth of ten feet. If the wind picked up, waves on the lake would diminish the clarity. Today, the surface was still. I thought I saw a fish swim under the boat. That had to be a musky! Looking back, it was more likely a carp or other type of rough fish.


The beginning of any fishing excursion was always exciting. We knew the fish were there and soon our stringer would be full. At least, that was what we hoped. Bass, walleye, northern pike, perch – perhaps a bluegill – it didn’t matter. And if we were really good, or lucky, maybe that musky would find its way into our boat.


“Get your poles ready, Nate. The fish are hungry, and I am hungry to catch them.” Grandpa said with a smile partially hidden by the shade of his broad rimmed safari hat.


We each used two rods: one was for casting out away from the boat, the other for still fishing off of the side. We used live bait: night crawlers, leeches, and minnows placed gently onto plain hooks or on a lure. I didn’t like to bait my hooks – the worms were slimy, the leeches tended to suck on your skin if you waited too long, and I never could place the squirming minnow on the hook correctly. But with the wise coaching from my grandparents, I learned. Otherwise, it would be a long day on the water.


“Nate, what are you using today? Grandma Belle asked.


“Minnow off the side and night crawler to cast with,” I replied.


“What, no leech?” Grandpa raised his eyebrows and smiled his soft smile.


“Maybe later, we will see how it goes,” I knew I was being teased.


My grandparents were masters at managing two fishing poles; I not so much. It seemed I would get a bite on the minnow line at the same time I got a strike with my night crawler attached to a feathery lure. The result was no fish hooked on either line.


On that one day, I was having no luck. My grandparents were doing well, as usual. They caught five walleye, one northern pike, and several jumbo perch.


“Boy, I’m a terrible fisherman.”


After reeling in another walleye, my grandmother said softly, “Nonsense. Let me see your casting line. Let’s try something new.”


I handed my pole to my grandfather who in turn handed it to her. She did something with the bait, and my pole was handed back to me. It must have been magic. My first cast yielded nothing. Then on my second cast, the water exploded as a fish leaped at least a foot out of the water in front of me. The pole almost jerked out of my hands.


“I got one!” I yelled as I recovered from the initial shock.


The pole bent in the shape of a “U” as the fish fought mightily to escape. The taut line veered under the boat and then in a straight line out away from the boat. I thought I would lose the fish and pole at that instant.


“Easy Nate, you have to play him.” My grandfather scooted up next to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “Let him go a bit, and then reel him in a bit. If you play with him, he will tire and you can bring him to the boat.”


I listened to my grandfather, and after a half an hour I brought the fish to the boat. I didn’t know who was more tired – the fish or me. Grandma Belle brought the net under the fish and with my grandfather’s help they heaved the netted fish into the boat.


“My, you have caught a beauty, Nate.” My grandmother’s eyes sparkled like the water.


“Let’s see here.” Grandpa took the hook out of the fish’s mouth. He reached into his worn tackle box and pulled out a small scale. He attached the hook-like part of the scale and held up the fish. “It says six pounds and two ounces. That’s huge!”


“What is it, Grandpa, Grandma?”


Grandpa gazed at the fish and announced, “You caught a largemouth bass. Biggest one I have ever seen.”


“We’re so proud of you, Nate. See what perseverance can do. Stick with what you are doing, and the reward will be so worth it.” Grandma Belle was right, as she usually was.


“But you set the bait, Grandma. This is just as much your fish as it is mine.”


“No, Nate, I did not do anything to the bait, except to tell it to catch you a fish. This fish is all yours.”
We were all beaming with smiles as Grandpa placed the bass on a stringer with the other fish. I’ll bet the bass was not happy, though, having been caught, and by a kid.


An hour later, the wind blew up and the lake’s surface became choppy.


“I feel a storm is coming.” Grandpa checked the sky off to the southwest as black clouds massed against the blue sky. “It’s time to head in.”


We rowed the boat in and tied it to the dock. The fish we caught were placed gently in a large cooler full of ice that Grandpa kept in the car.


“What will happen to my bass?” I asked as we loaded our gear into the car to leave the lake.
“This is a special fish – so something special, just like you. You’ll see.” Grandma Belle said.
The storm hit after we had left the lake. The area was pounded with rain, hail, and high winds. I was glad to be safe with my grandparents.


The rest of summer and fall flew by. Winter arrived along with the anticipation a boy has for Christmas. That particular Christmas, my family went to Grandpa Bill’s and Grandma Belle’s house, a place of fond memories. When it came time to open presents, Grandpa brought out a wrapped box that was heavy.


“Here’s something for you, Nate.”


A note attached to the box read, Nate, to remember our special time together, Grandpa Bill and Grandma Belle.


When I opened the box I saw the bass. It had been mounted on a dark wood board. The taxidermy was so well done that the bass looked like it had just been pulled from the water. An inscription engraved in a brass plaque underneath the fish read, Largemouth Bass, Six pounds, Two ounces, Little Bear Lake, Caught by Nate Sundlund, July 25, 2000.


Looking back, that was one of the happiest experiences of my life. I had caught a trophy fish and with two of my favorite people. I wish those times could have lasted forever.


Nate opened his eyes and smiled as he closed the magazine. He placed it on the table and noticed another magazine off to the side. He looked at it and winced at the title – Alzheimer’s Digest. Nate put his hand on it and then after a moment, picked it up reluctantly.


He knew about the disease, what it could do to the affected person and those around that person. But that knowledge did not help his current situation. He glanced at several pages not focusing on anything in particular. Nate turned to a page with a poem. The poem was titled, “Ode to Alzheimer’s.”

 

The author was anonymous. It read:


The day began bright and new
Clear water in the lake,
Open eyes by sunlight dazzled
Warmth felt across the land.


In the meadows daisies spreading
Like knowledge expanding,
Boundaries without limits
Extending beyond the grasp.


Spider webs fill dim passageways
Dust stains on the crystal,
Nightmares for the days approaching
See changes of the guard.


Sun’s eclipse blackens the twilight
Flowers chocked out by weeds,
Reflections with minds of their own
Turbid creeks swirl with rage.


Thoughts in the abyss forever drowned
Empty eyes wander lost,
Caged beings starved for purpose
Crippled minds beg to speak.


The Fool Confusion reigns as god
Time has lost its way,
Shuffling down the endless corridor
To where light beckons.


To see this darkness of the mind
Is to know it is so unkind.
It is to hope we cling
Someday a cure will bring.


With strength, we will prevail.


Nate finished the poem and read it again. The words spoke directly and forcefully to him. He gently tore the page with the poem from the magazine, carefully folded it, and placed inside his coat pocket. He gazed through the window at a dark storm aggressively mushrooming in the southwest skies. Just like at the lake that one year, he thought. Rumbles of thunder gave notice of the advancing tempest.


Nate knew what he had to do and stood up. He walked down the corridor and stopped outside Room #C222. To see this darkness of the mind/Is to know it is so unkind/ It is to hope we cling/Someday a cure will bring/With strength, we will prevail. The words gave him courage with a purpose, and he finally stepped into the room.


Grandpa Bill sat in one of those uncomfortable looking chairs opposite Grandma Belle. Nate’s mother stood off to the side of the bed. When she saw Nate, her eyes glistened with sorrow and pride.
Grandmother Belle was curled up into a fetal position in the small hospital bed. She appeared tiny with little resemblance to the kind, witty and exceptional grandmother whom Nate had known for so many years. A dynamic woman who enjoyed life, her eyes were now hollow and her mouth formed the shape of an “O.” She could see, but what she saw – no one knew. What she was thinking – one couldn’t guess. What would she say, if she could speak?


Nate felt a brief tremor of terror. This was a painful brush with mortality and he was not prepared to deal with it. He thought about himself for an instant. God, I don’t want to end like this. He felt selfish for thinking such a thought.


He looked at his grandmother. This is not how it was supposed to end for her, for them. His grandfather was holding her hand. They always held hands when they took a walk. Now they held hands again, maybe for the final time.


Nate put his hand in his pocket and grasped the page containing the poem. It gave him comfort. He pulled up a chair beside his grandfather and sat beside him. He put his arm on his grandfather’s shoulder.


“Grandpa – I know where Grandma is. She is fishing on Little Bear Lake for that king walleye, telling me to put my jacket on, and rolling her eyes at your bad jokes.”

Copyright © 2019 Scott D. Prill.  All Rights Reserved.

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