Fishing in Falluja
By Wade Sayer
The beach was soft and sandy. The white sand seemed very clean this day and the breeze was blowing off shore. The shallow waters were particularly green and quiet. Further out, the deeper blue waters had white caps blowing sideways. Tom carried his rod and a bag he used for fishing with his lures and leaders, extra line and a netted bag just in case he would catch something today. The continuing dream of a fishermen: ‘Today I’ll catch a big one, a keeper.”
He parked in the lot across from the beach, recognizing three or four of the cars that were already there: Mark’s big green pick up, Pat’s red panel truck and Victor’s silver Honda. His friends were already down at the water’s edge casting out into the deeper blue water of the bay. There was a sandy path over the dune, and steps leading down to the beach. Tom walked down to the shallow water. He took off his shoes and rolled up his pants’ legs. He tried putting his toes in the water first. It wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was reasonably warm. He tried a little farther, up to his shins. It felt nice. He waved to Pat and Victor down the beach and went back to his bag and rod. Stripers were supposed to like warm water better than cold. In fact, they would migrate south in the fall as the water temperature grew colder. If there were any fish, they would probably stay near the surface. The deeper water would be colder. So, he chose a lure that would stay at or near the surface; a ‘popper’ that would jump and splash like bait fish do. Always try to think like a fish, he told himself, and he secured the lure to the line.
His first cast was not very good. Something was stuck on the reel. He reeled his lure back. Probably just some sticky salt from the last time he had been fishing. He leaned back with his rod behind him, and then pivoted like a football quarterback, and snapped his wrist forward to the water. The lure sailed high, high and out to the deep blue water with the white caps. That’s more like it, he thought. He retrieved the lure by reeling slowly and pulling the line to one side or the other. He could see the lure jumping on the water surface, forty, fifty yards out. He reeled at a constant speed so those stripers would believe his lure was a tasty treat. As he reeled he enjoyed the sun’s light on his back. A bad day fishing is better than a good day doing anything else, he remembered the bumper sticker.
He cast again, and again, and again, reeling in and doing his very best imitation of a bait fish. Popping. Jumping. Hopping side to side. He thought he might have had a nibble, but his lure came back with a clump of seaweed instead. After fifteen minutes, he grabbed his rod and his bag and walked down the beach towards the big rock jetty. Sometimes fish liked to hang out around the rocks, because little fish liked to hide in the rocks.
He walked past Victor and Pat, “how’re they biting?’
“Nothing here,” called Pat. “Maybe further out in the deep water.”
“I’m gonna try the jetty,” Tom said.
He walked out onto the rocks on the jetty as far as the rocks were flat. He didn’t want to try his luck too much. The sun was beating down and everything was getting hot.
He turned to face the sun for a moment. He felt odd. Something was happening. He heard the noise. It was a crashing mechanical noise, but it was the noise of many machines spread out in the sand. When he turned again, the water had gone. He was atop a group of rocks, with sand in all directions. It was brown sand with pebbles and stones in it. Where did the beach go? He looked for Pat and Victor. There was a sand colored Humvee a hundred yards away.
The noise grew louder and seemed nearer. A scout vehicle appeared at the top of the sand dune, and a chopper flying low came over as well. This was crazy. In seconds, a dozen tracked personnel carriers and Humvees crested the dune and moved forward. A second dozen were right behind. Tom looked for his fishing rod but it was gone. His M-16 was in his hand, his helmet and flak vest were on and he was responsible for guiding the armored vehicles toward the city’s walls. He waved them forward with parallel hands pointed at the minarets and the crumbled remains of the ancient city. Twenty tanks reached the dune and spread out across the crest.
The sun was hotter by the moment. It seemed to be getting bigger. It turned from bright yellow to an ash-orange color, and then it seemed to expand and grow a pillar beneath. It looked like a mushroom cloud, although Tom had never seen an atomic weapon in use, he knew that’s what it was. He just knew. They, the army on the sand, were waiting for the shock wave. It was coming. The war had changed. Tom slumped to the ground and hid behind a boulder. He didn’t want to be destroyed by the blast.
“Tom, Tom,” someone called. He was hunched beneath his bed. “Tom. You’re having a dream.”
This was no regular nightmare. It was as real as could be. He was back in Iraq. He was fishing in the Bay. His friends wanted to help but they couldn’t. They couldn’t get to him. Not in time.
“Tom, you’re okay. You’re home.”
His mother tried to pull him from the floor.
His dad watched and shook his head. He had cried too many times with his son.
“Goddamned war,” was all he said.
Wade Sayer is a Vietnam Veteran. He has recently completed his third novel, titled The Marys. He learned Vietnamese language skills at the Defense Language Institute in California, and served with the 101st Airborne Division from 1967 through 1968. His novel details some events that happened that year, or at least might have happened. He has helped veterans on Cape Cod, where he lives with his wife, to write about their experiences during or after their service.