White Herring by Marissa Coté

This story won our 2013 Final Thoughts contest for seniors

White Herring

My Grandpa has this special way about him. This quiet serenity you just couldn’t put your finger on. He has this way of speaking that captivates you, for no good reason. The latest Mets game could seem like a revelation when he talked about it.

When I used to visit him, I would always ask him if we could go on the big yellow paddle boat, and venture to the far corners of the dark grey pond in the back yard.

With his quiet air he would gather the boat and we would climb in, cruising out on the smooth surface of the water. I would breath deeply knowing, even at such a young age, the value of crisp autumn air.

My grandpa’s long legs would move in a bicycle motion, driving the boat further into the abyss of water and trees. He encouraged me to peddle. Looking back I can see it was for my sake, because he was the power carrying the boat out to exploration, not me.

I would let my hand glide through the  smooth, cool water, searching for fish that would never appear. The pond was dead, not much life continued to exist there. To me, that didn’t matter.

I could hear the geese calling in the distance, and see them flying above my head. I heard the soft paddle of water being shifted at a steady speed so that we could move forward in our journey. The wind rustled the turning leaves on oaks and the pines on the evergreens. But somehow, through all these noises, an intense silence broke through it all- a quiet peacefulness that I found in the middle of that pond.

I remember how my grandpa would stop peddling. We would glide, and he would lean over to me. I know exactly what this pause meant- he had spotted a white herring.

“Look over there”, he would say, whispering ever so cautiously as to not disturb the magnificent bird’s perch.

Slowly, we would approach. The bird stood with the grace of a ballerina, but at the same time, with the strength and authority of a queen. Elegant legs gripped firm where she perched; her the throne was her branch, the pond, her kingdom.

Firm eyes scanned the horizon, searching for threats. We did not escape her notice. The moment she spotted us, she began to lift from her home. She unfolded her wings.

Spread wide, the full span of her reach was breathtaking. She soared on white cascades of feathers, gliding effortlessly through the air. Her form, flawless. Her beauty, perfected. Her strength and power shone through. However it was her willingness to take on such emptiness with no fear that I remember most. The sight of a her majesty in flight was marvelous.

I followed my grandpa’s finger as he traced her path through the sky. He leaned towards me once again and spoke the most beautiful of sentences:

“One day you’ll grow up and spread your wings just like she does”.

I looked at him with such abounding joy as his aging face broke into a whole hearted smile. And by the time I looked away, she was gone. I hardly had the chance to know her.

I think it makes him sad to see me now. Because to him, I’m still the girl in the middle of the pond. But this time I’m alone, and there are no white herrings to be found.

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