Heartlands: Harwaven Roe

Check out my first book “Mantleans in the Heartlands.”

Wes sits on the docks, enjoying his crispy chicken cutlet sandwich. For decades, this would never have been possible in July, since winter used to begin in late April. It’s been just over a month since Harwaven Grove, a small town near Thatcher Township, has experienced any snowfall or temperatures below the high 70s. With new hopes and a significant change in the weather, life in Harwaven Grove has returned to a predictable state of normality. It’s been years since Wes has gone fishing so close to his house. As summer comes to a close, Wes has only one goal: to catch a Harwaven Blueback Herring with his daughter before she leaves for college.

Amanda pushes her straw hat down when the breeze picks up. “Feels like I got a bite, Dad.”

“Looks like I did too,” Wes says, taking another bite from his sandwich. “Boy, do I wish your mother could’ve joined us today. It’s such a beautiful afternoon. I wonder how the snow stopped after all these years, especially so suddenly.” Wes wipes his hand on his overalls. “I won’t question it though. Been a long time since we got to enjoy this kind of weather in the summer without having to leave home.”

“Amen to that,” Amanda responds, reeling in her catch. “It’s a big one, or at least a strong one! You think it might be the Blueback Herring Grandpa always talks about?” she asks her father. Amanda squares her shoulders and leans with each tug on her line, until she succeeds in catching the fish. Confused, she ogles the prismatic fish, poking at its rainbow scales as it flops on the hook. “I don’t remember them being so… blue. The one in your pictures don’t look like this either,” she declares, sitting down by her father.

Wes sets his sandwich aside and wipes his mouth. He examines the fish and scratches his dark beard. “Well, that’s cause it’s not, Mandy. That right there is something I haven’t actually ever seen. It’s enough for us to eat, after descaling and fileting though. And, it looks healthy enough. We could call it a day and just keep that. It’ll be dusk soon anyway. We’ll just come back tomorrow, right?” He asks.

“I guess we can. Should I toss this back? It’s pretty big, but we caught more than enough fish today. I feel like we won’t get to this one. There’s something weird about it too. Kind of give me the creeps. Like it’s looking at me or something,” Amanda says, looking at one of the fish’s eyes. She moves around the dangling herring, swearing its eye is following her.

“No need,” Wes replies, cleaning up around them. “If nothing else, we’ll just freeze it. It’ll keep. You know that industrial freezer in the garage is like magic.” Amanda nods. She places the fish in a cooler filled with bass and trout over a bed of ice. “Think we got everything. Let’s head home, Mandy,” Wes says, cheerful and proud of his daughter. He grabs the cooler from Amanda’s hands. “I’m twice your size, I’ll just carry it,” he says, laughing. The pair load the cooler, rods and bait chest on the bed of Wes’ pickup, and drive home. “Looks like your mother’s home! Thank god!” he yells. He and Amanda walk into the house, taking in the scent of boiling rice, the sound of the sink running and Melanie talking on the phone.

“You can spend the night, but just tonight, Shawn, if it’s okay with Arnold’s parents. Don’t stay up all night either playing video games. We have to go school shopping tomorrow and you need new clothes,” Melanie says, sternly. “You boys better not get into any trouble with the girls by Arnold’s house either. That Samantha is bad news and if I hear you’re out around town with her, so help you god, I will embarrass you so bad that you’ll wish you never knew her . Understood?” she asks, pausing as Shawn responds. Wes and Amanda giggle with each other. “Um, no, Shawn, you can’t. If the showing is at 11 pm, then it’s too late. — Because, you are a child and I am the parent. — No, I don’t care if you’re 15. You could come right back home if you want to take that tone with me. I’ll gladly lock your Xbox in the trunk of my car. — Oh, mhm, that changed your tune real quick. — Ok.– That’s fine. — Ok, honey. I love you too. Buh bye.” Melanie twists around the counter and chops onions, garlic and some cilantro. “You too catch anything good?” she asks with her back turned.

“Sure did, Mel,” Wes responds. “Your daughter’s a natural. She must have caught at least a dozen fish. Craziest thing I’ve ever seen. It was like they were drawn to her line. Wish you could’ve been there to see it.”

Melanie turns around, hugs and quickly kisses her husband as she reaches for something in the pantry. “I do too, but this whole thing with Jason Pannetti stepping down as principal after a couple years, has the board scrambling. With school going back in session in a couple of weeks, we need someone to take over Thatcher Elementary. We haven’t found any suitable replacements. There are tons of people who are qualified, but no one seems to care as much as Jason did. They also don’t want the responsibility. It is a nightmare!” she says, giving Amanda a quick hug and kiss on the check. “Anyway, enough about that, tell me more about your fishing day. Did you catch the blue thing? Also, you look like you got a good tan, Mandy,” Melanie says, returning to the cutting board and sprinkling salt and pepper on the chopped vegetables.

Amanda laughs. “Blue Herring, Mom –“

“That’s the Harwaven Blueback Herring!” Wes interrupts, waving a finger. “Get it right, otherwise you might not catch one tomorrow.”

“Ugh, you’re so dramatic, Dad. But, yeah, Mom, we caught a lot of fish and, yeah, I did get tan, right? It was so crazy gorgeous outside. The sun was like, ahh!” Amanda yell, spreading her arms and inhaling. “We didn’t catch Grandpa’s fish, but like Dad said, we’ll get it tomorrow.”

“Well, when you do, just be sure to face time him, or call him. The time in California is a few hours behind, so he should pick up, if you call around noon. Assuming you catch the fish by noon. Okay, Wes, can you do your magic with the fish?” Melanie asks, tossing the chopped and seasoned onion, garlic, and cilantro in a pan. The smell floods the kitchen. Amanda grins. “That’s the biggest thing I’m gonna miss when I leave for school. Mom’s cooking,” she says, sauntering toward the garage. She helps Wes store the fish and take out the ones they’ll eat for dinner. She shivers when she stares at the herring and slams the freezer shut. Her parents chatter as she enter the kitchen, feeling watched. The hair behind Amanda’s neck stands at the sensation of being observed. Ignoring the fear hovering over her shoulder, Amanda filets a few fish with her dad.

Wes tells a few jokes and before long, Melanie serves dinner. “Rice, veggies and sautéed fish. Dig in!” she says, placing the food at the center of the table. Meanie serves herself and relishes in the taste of her food. “What’s wrong, kiddo?” Wes asks, nudging Amanda. “Not hungry?”

Amanda squirms. “No, it’s not that. It’s the fish. It just creeps me out. Something about it. Something in its eyes. I feel like it was watching me. I can’t explain it,” she says, shaking her head. Amanda fidgets with her fingers. “I’m sorry. I’m just not in the mood for fish anymore. I just keep picturing the Herring’s eyes. Watching me.”

Amanda’s parents look at each other, confused and concerned. Wes chews and swallows his bite. He rubs his bald head. “Hmmm. Let me finish my meal and let’s go to the freezer and take a look at it. Fish have dead eyes that can be off-putting to a lot of people,” Wes states, slicing his fish.

After dinner, Wes does the dishes while Amanda and Melanie talk about the weather and her upcoming move to UCLA. “Sorry to interrupt,” Wes says, “but you ready, Mandy? Let’s go look at that fish.” Amanda nods and they walk into the garage. “My god, what the hell is that stench? It smells like burnt rubber and cat pee,” Wes remarks, leaning over the horizontal freezer. He pops the lock and the door flips open. His eyes wide with terror, Wes tries to move, but his body is stuck in place. The herring swells up and down as if breathing. Its eyes, human and lucid, peer through Wes’ soul. He slams the fridge shut. “Go get a paper bag and a black plastic bag,” he says.

“What’s wrong, Dad?” Amanda asks, reaching for her father. He turns at her, his eyes nearly bulging out of his head. “Get the bags now!” he demands. Without hesitation, Amanda gets the bags and watches her father, a sizeable man in his own right, grab the herring with a fear and desperation she’s never thought possible. At the same time, Melanie bursts through the garage door. “What is going on?” she asks, annoyed.

“The fish, Mel. The fish has human eyes,” Wes responds. He ties the plastic bag shut. They hop in the family SUV and drive to Harwaven Lake. Headlights beam in the darkness around the lake. “We aren’t the only ones here,” Wes remarks. The family runs to the pier, surrounded by other families discussing the strange rainbow fish they caught and how their eyes were human. So life like.



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