Bob, or Man on Boat
In a boat, on a river, lived a man.
It’s what Bob did.
All of the time.
Fish. And fish.
Sometimes, Bob ate the fish. But most of the time, what Bob did with the fish was, Bob sold the fish.
It’s how Bob lived.
A boat. A river.
Look at Bob’s hands. His knuckles are rivers. The skin on Bob’s hands, fish scale covered, they look like they’ve been dipped in stars.
When Bob fishes, he fishes with his hands.
Bob is a hand-liner.
A hand-liner is a fishing man who fishes with his fishing line running through his hands.
Bob does not fish with a fishing pole to help him fish his fish in with.
At night is when Bob likes to fish best. The river at night is the river that Bob likes most.
The river at night is his.
By day, Bob sleeps.
The river, when the sun is on the river, is the river that Bob does not like to fish.
When the sun is on the river, the river gets too muddy with boats that do not belong to Bob.
Bob is a man who lives on his boat.
Bob does not like to step foot off of his boat.
Bob is his boat.
Bob’s boat is his home.
Bob’s boat, like most boats, it has a name.
Its name is.
The word Bob is nowhere to be found painted on to the back of Bob’s boat.
But when you see Bob’s boat, out on the river, what you would say is, even if you do not see Bob there on it, you would say, Look, there’s Bob.
Bob’s boat is a boat made out of metal.
Bob’s boat is older than Bob.
Bob’s boat used to belong to Bob’s father.
Bob’s father is the man who taught Bob how to fish.
Bob’s father was a man who liked to fish too.
But not as much as Bob.
Bob’s father, when he wasn’t fishing, he was working at the mill.
Bob’s father was what we call, in our town, a hot metal man.
In our town there is a mill that used to make steel out of a stone we call ore.
But the mill, our mill, it is no longer a mill that makes steel.
The mill, it has been dark and quiet and with no fire burning inside it since Bob was a young man about ready to make steel alongside his father.
The mill, it’s still there, where it has always been, on the bank of the river, shipwrecked and rusting in the riverbank’s mud.
The river, like the mud, it will always be.
And Bob will be there on it. As long as there is a river there. As long as there are fish in the river for Bob to fish.
Fish, Bob will fish.
Bob will live.
There he is now.
Say hello to Bob.
Raise up your right hand.
Bob won’t wave back.
Bob can’t hear you.
No, it’s not that Bob is deaf.
It’s just that Bob chooses not to hear.
There are people in this town who say about Bob that Bob only talks to fish. That Bob only listens to fish.
I am not one of those people.
Bob does not talk to fish.
That is, Bob does not just talk to fish.
Bob sings to fish.
There is, I know, a difference.
I know about this difference because I am Bob’s son.
I am a Bob too.
Bob does not know that I am his.
I am his even though Bob does not know this.
I too am a Bob who likes to fish.
By telling you about Bob, I am more of a father to Bob than Bob is a father to me.
But unlike Bob, I do not live to fish.
There is, in this, a difference.
I have a life outside the river.
I have a wife that I love. I have a little boy whose name is not Bob.
My boy’s name, it is Robert.
We call him Bobby.
But Bobby’s friends, they all call him Bob.
Bobby does not know that Bob is my father.
Bobby does not know that Bob is his grandfather.
But Bobby knows who the Bob out on the river is.
Everyone in this town knows who that Bob is.
Bob is what we call, in this dirty river town, a river rat.
A river man.
Bob is the river.
Bob is this river town’s river man.
Bob knows this river better than you and I know that we have ten fingers on our hands.
Bob knows where the fish are in this river.
Bob knows what the bottom of the river is like and where it is that the fish like to be fish.
This river, it is a muddy river.
This river is not the kind of a river that you can see down to the bottom of it even when you are standing in it only up to your knees.
There are people in town who believe that Bob can see all the way down to the river’s bottom.
I am one of those people.
I have seen Bob lean over the side of his boat and I have seen him seeing, I have seen him looking, all the way down to the river’s muddy bottom.
Everybody knows that the bottom of the river is where the big fish like to be fish.
Even those in our town who do not fish know enough about fish to know this about fish.
Even when Bob is not fishing, Bob is thinking about fishing.
If Bob is not on his boat fishing, Bob is on his boat getting himself ready to fish.
There are things to tend to, there are things to fix, on a boat like Bob’s.
Boats like Bob’s sometimes leak.
A boat that leaks can sometimes become a boat that sinks.
There is a story about Bob that, one night in April, the wind turned on Bob and came all of a sudden blowing from out of the south and the river, it turned all of a sudden into more like a big lake with seas as big as Bob is tall and that night, Bob’s boat, it turned over, but unlike other boats that turn over, Bob’s boat, it did not into the river sink.
There is no one I know who was on the river that night to say if this story is made up.
It was not the kind of a night that people other than Bob were out on the river fishing.
The river that night was all Bob’s.
The next morning, Bob was seen bailing bucket after bucket of muddy river water out of his boat.
Need a hand, Bob? a few river people called out.
Bob did not look up from his boat.
Bob did not stop bailing the muddy river water out of his boat.
That night, Bob was back, in his boat, out on the river fishing.
The river, that night, was back to being a river and not like being a lake.
When Bob came back in, the next morning, Bob’s boat, it was filled up, not with muddy river water, it was filled up with muddy river fish.
You won’t ever hear Bob call out, the way some fisher people call out, Fish on!
When Bob fishes, if his lips are moving at all, Bob is whispering to the fish.
What does a man whisper when he whispers to fish?
What does a man like Bob whisper when he is whispering to fish?
What does Bob whisper when he moves his lips to whisper to the river’s fish?
Only Bob, and only the fish, know the answer to this.
Some people who fish kiss the fish that they fish out of the river.
Some people who fish say to the fish that they fish, Come to Papa.
Bob is not one of these people.
Bob is Bob.
Bob takes the fish that he fishes out of the river and he fishes them into his boat.
Bob takes the fish that he fishes out of the river and Bob sells the fish, but not so that he can eat.
Bob takes the fish that he fishes out of the river and Bob sells the fish that he fishes out of the river so that Bob can keep on fishing.
So that Bob can continue to live.
* * *
Sometimes, at night, when the fish are slow to bite, Bob looks up from the river and looks up into the sky for stars.
Some nights, Bob sees how many stars in the sky he can count.
One night, Bob counted up to two hundred and twenty-two.
That was a bad night for fishing.
That was a good night for counting stars.
Most nights, the fish start biting before Bob can count up to ten.
On a good night of fishing, on a bad night for counting stars, Bob can fill up his boat with more fish than there are stars up in the sky.
Nights like this, Bob’s boat is no longer just a boat.
It is a constellation of fish.