This is an excerpt from the short story, "My Brother's Flag," which can be found in the collection "Where the Gravel Lane Ends."
A slight breeze pushed against the surface of the lake as JW sat in a chair along the bank with pole in hand. A walking stick lay on the ground beside him. He no longer needed the crutches. Reflecting the sun, the water rippled out from small coves like tiny rolling diamonds. The waves traveled across and interrupted the stillness of JW’s line and his red and white bobber. The day had been a pleasant one for JW. Forty-five minutes had passed and he hadn’t had a single bite, but he still enjoyed the weather and the company of a cardinal cheeping over in a pine tree. He was thankful to be right where he was.
Across the yard, up toward the house, Jake was shooting baskets in the driveway. He rebounded a shot, dribbled out, squared-up, and released. The ball came down and sank the bottom of the net. JW watched him take a few more shots. He missed one then made two in a row. He had nice form, he thought. If he stayed with it, he’d be a decent player by the time he entered high school.
JW turned his attention back to fishing. The water had stopped rippling and the bobber remained undisturbed as ever. He no longer heard the cardinal and as he thought of looking over to the pine tree his bobber bounced twice then dropped out of sight. He yanked the pole and set the hook. He held on tight and cranked the reel. The pole bent double as the fish on the other end dived toward the bottom of the lake.
From where he stood, Jake watched the action unfold. He saw JW crank the reel a few more times. The pole flexed in and out. The fish was giving a good fight. Without thinking, he dropped the ball on the grass and headed toward the lake. By the time he got down there JW was reeling the fish out of the water.
“That’s a good looking fish,” said Jake.
“Thanks” said JW. He wrenched the hook from its mouth. By the bottom lip, he held the fish up to the sunlight. Gills opened and closed. “What do you think? Four pounds? Maybe five?”
Jake studied the fish. “I’d say closer to three.”
JW nodded and grinned. “You want to toss it back?”
“Nah, go ahead.”
JW shrugged then tossed the bass back into the water. The fish splashed and swam away. From an old peanut can, JW plucked another worm and rebaited his hook. With a sidearm swoop, he cast the line back out into the water. “You should grab a rod and reel from the barn and join me. It’s a nice day.”
Jake turned away, looked to his ball lying in the grass, and then turned back. “I’ll probably go shoot some more ball.”
“Don’t you like to fish?”
“I don’t come down here much anymore.”
“I see.” JW thought on the matter. He didn’t want to be pushy, but he wasn’t giving up either. “You don’t have to fish, but you’re still welcome to join me.”
As always, the water gave Jake a bad feeling, but with reluctance, he sat beside his grandfather. Together, they stared across the water. Neither one was saying anything at all. A cloud came over and blocked the sunshine. More silent moments passed and JW finally said, “I know how you feel, Jake.”
The words shook Jake from his foggy thoughts. “What do you mean?”
“You may not know this, but I once had an older sister.”
“You did? What happened to her?”
“When she was about your age she was riding her bike to the grocery store. It was a beautiful day, just like today, when a man driving a car dropped his cigarette in the floorboard. He went to reaching for it and when he popped back up, the car had drifted onto the sidewalk and struck my sister Joanne. She died later that afternoon in the hospital. I miss her still to this day.”
Jake imagined the incident. He knew that grief. The never-ending heartache that the loss of a brother or sister creates. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t fair. His family had always been good people. So why did this have to happen? Why did Frankie have to die?
“I don’t understand any of it,” said Jake.
JW knew his grandson’s meaning. “I’m not sure there’s an answer, son. But even though we can’t see them anymore, they’re still with us. I still feel my sister with me every day. I keep her right here.” JW tapped two fingers on his heart. “We’ll never forget them, Jake.”
“I know I could never forget Frankie.”
The cardinal tweeted in the pine tree. They both turned to watch.
“He’ll always be with you,” said JW. “Where ever you go, he’ll be there. Never forget that.”