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September 2017, vol 13 no 3

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Jonathan McKeown

The Dell

It was strange to see my father in the kitchen mixing flour and water, salt and sugar, kneading it to a ball. He put it in a Tupperware container, then raided Mum’s sewing box for a reel of cotton and some pins. “A pair of pliers and a box of matches are the only other things we’ll need,” he said. “Come on.” My little brother asked a lot of questions; I mostly listened, though wanted to know as much as him – where we were going – what kind of place – what we were going to do there. We followed him along the trail that led from our house through the tall gum trees, past the burnt-out car, to Aunty Vi’s, but kept on going. We crossed Mt York Road and found a little track that trailed off into the bush, a way I’d never been. “Keep your eyes peeled for a nice straight stick,” he said, “about yea big.” The track got steep and steeper still but we were kids and had a mission; we brought him our findings: “Like this?” “No, longer.” “This?” “Good, that’ll do.” We followed him down to a still, dark pool, then out along the high stone wall that had been built to dam it up. He squatted down on his haunches, and with the pliers bent pins into fishhooks, and broke matchsticks in half for floats and tied them to the cotton, then the cotton to our sticks. “Now bring them here,” he said, opening the lid and pinching off a little bit of dough, which he showed us how to squeeze around our hooks. “Now hang it down in the water but keep an eye on the match. Wait till you can see them nibbling, and when the match goes under – pull them up.” So that’s what we did. Watching the little bits of dough sink into the darkness, then staring at our broken matchsticks jiggling at the centre of their spreading rings, it wasn’t long before my brother pulled in one of the little gold fish that lived in the black depths of the pond. Then me. And so it went on all afternoon. My Dad and brother and me fishing from an old stone wall. Pulling up one little fish after another and setting them free, watching them wriggle down and disappear again in the deep darkness where they hid. An eternity might have passed for all we knew. It was as if through the twilight of the Dell we’d slipped unwittingly into another world. But hunger began to gnaw in our bellies and we too nibbled at the dough. At last the cold of the descending dew broke the spell and turned our thoughts to home.

wood smoke
through moonlit trees
the light of a house