Monday started a new term and the first writing assignment I give my students involves crafting some flash nonfiction. I guide them through the writing process while demonstrating with my own little draft of a story and this nugget happened:
My younger sister and I tried our best to enjoy a hot summer day on Stratton Lake. We floated in our black rubber inner tubes, our legs and arms draped over the sides. Our family's move to Waupaca the previous year was sweetened by getting to live on a lake. Our front yard sloped gently down to a dock and a distance away we even had a raft anchored in the water. We had a paddle boat, inner tubes and fishing poles at our disposal but on this humid day we wanted to work on our tans (Don't judge us--it was the 80's and we weren't concerned about melanoma yet).
"Damn it!" I jerked upward again and splashed the water with my palm. Fish kept nipping at my butt. Even now I am convinced that a piranha had gotten loose in the lake and spawned generations of offspring with the native panfish. There was no other explanation for the ferocity of their bite or the razor-sharpness of their teeth. These fish could not resist the backs of our thighs, our bottoms and even our toes. A bluegill's bite doesn't hurt as much as a horsefly's, but they were relentless in their assault on our flesh. We could see them swimming below us in the clear water and no matter how much we kicked our feet, they wouldn't stay away.
"Enough!" I yelled. I paddled back to the dock, my sister at my heels. I climbed out of the water and into the ski boat that bobbed gently on the calm surface. A fishing net was stowed in a side compartment and I wielded it above my head. "Let's catch them."
My sister scampered across the lawn to the house. She knew exactly what bait would lure the fish into the net. Minutes later, her bare feet thudded against the wooden boards of the dock while she carried over a cardboard canister of Quaker Oats.
We knelt side by side on the end of the dock, our long ponytails dripping down our backs. She scattered some of the oatmeal onto the surface of the water. It only took a minute and then the fish appeared, their creepy lipless mouths opening at the surface to suction up the cereal. I stealthily dipped the net into the water and dragged it around and beneath one of the fish. Scooping up my unsuspecting prey, I swung the net overhead and slammed the netted fish against the dock.
The dull slap of the bluegill against the boards sent a thrill through me. I swung and slammed the fish down again and either killed it or knocked it unconscious.
My sister and I looked at each other then down at the silvery scales and dull grey eye of fish we'd attacked. She shrugged. "Toss it in?"
I flipped the fish into the lake and it floated sideways on the surface. The dead (or stunned?) fish didn't seem to deter the others, who still greedily snapped at the oats. These dumb bluegills didn't care if oatmeal would be the death of them. They made it easy for us to exact revenge that afternoon. We lured in and smacked down countless fish, hooting and howling with satisfaction that we hurt them as much as they hurt us. It's a happy memory, my sister and I bonding over this violent attack at the end of our dock that day.
I've destroyed entire wasps' nests and thousands of tent caterpillars, but I think this might be my most intentionally brutal act against another living creature (I cannot speak for my sister, but I imagine she's been better behaved than me, she's got a serious soft spot for animals). The look on my students' faces while they read it taking shape on the board was pretty priceless.