For the first time in three years I dialed her number. My mother answered the phone. I tried to speak, but my words, like a snagged fly, got stuck inside me.
"Hello," my mother repeated.
I freed my words. "It's, it's me."
"Randy! It's so good to—My mother cried. Her tears swelled my guilt and drowned my voice. A long silence. My mother asked if I still drove a limousine. I remembered how she’d always yearned for me to become a doctor. Knowing my answer would pain her, I admitted I still drove.
Another silence. I hoped she would ask if I still wrote. She didn't. So I told her I had published several fishing articles.
"Fishing? I didn't know you were that into it."
"During the last few years I've been."
"I'm glad you found something you like," she said sincerely, so sincerely I again hoped that she would apologize, finally.
She didn't. She asked to meet, but didn’t offer the apology I wanted to hear. I told her I wasn't ready to, but promised to call again.
"I've—I've missed you so," she said. I hung up, wondering if something was wrong with me because I couldn't forgive her. Like an opened dam, my questions let loose a rushing river of guilt inside me. Again, I tried to understand the violence of my childhood, and then the violence of war. No answers came, not once during the long, cold winter and the early spring.
I packed for my fishing trip to the Beaverkill. Eleanor, who worked for my mother’s employment agency, called. Her words iced all my feelings. I hung up, called the owner of the Roscoe Motel, apologized, and said I had to cancel my reservation. He said he understood and would refund my deposit.
An hour later, feeling I was in a trance, I walked down a white hospital hallway. At first the long hallway reminded me of a straight, narrow stream, but suddenly the hallway seemed like the opposite of a stream. It was colorless and lifeless, and made me feel boxed in. I looked straight ahead. Instead of seeing a beautiful, gurgling run or a long, slow pool, I saw an open doorway. On the other side, my mother sat on a bed. She wore a floppy beach hat. I walked into her room. She looked at me and smiled. "Do you like my hat?" she asked. “It’s not exactly Saks Fifth Avenue.”
“Yes, I like it.” I thought even without hair, she was still beautiful.
"Now I know why some men wear even bad toupees.” My mother laughed, momentarily. “I never thought I could get cancer, me, a woman who built her own business from the ground up. Are you sure you don't want the business?"
I thought of saying yes and making her happy, but then thought, It’s taken me so long to get published. Do I really want to give up writing? I said, "I'm sorry, but your business is not for me."
The doctor walked in. He was tall, probably in his late fifties. He wore a dark pinstripe suit and looked more like a banker than a doctor. He motioned me to follow him out of the room. I did. He told me cancer was unpredictable, but in his opinion, my mother had about three months to live.
Not believing him, I asked, "How could this be happening?"
"I wish I had an answer. Your mother is very proud of you. I once wished I had the courage to become a writer."
I thought it was ironic that my mother was always impressed by doctors, and now her doctor was impressed by writers.
"What do you write about?" he asked.
I expected him to laugh. He didn't.
"When I was a boy," he said, "I loved fishing with my father. But when I got older I resented that fishing seemed more important to him than I did, so I turned my back on fishing, until he got cancer. We fished together several times before he died. I'm so grateful we did."
"I wish I could fish with my mother, but she was never the outdoor type."
"Neither am I, but lately I've been thinking of getting into fly fishing and spending more time with myself. Fly fishing looks so beautiful and peaceful."
Suddenly, he looked like a fly fisher, but to me so did almost everyone. I said, "In the beginning fly fishing can be very frustrating, like golf."
"I've heard fly fishing is a real art."
"Well, then I guess I paint by numbers. In my opinion, the beauty of fly fishing is that you can do it at different levels. Some anglers always try to match the hatch and are always changing flies and leaders, but a few anglers, well they're less scientific. They fish to experience the beauty of nature. I remember meeting this old guy on the Beaverkill who fished only what we call an attractor fly, an Adams. He said that if he caught a few less fish than more so-called scientific anglers did, would it really matter when all was said and done?"