Late-morning joggers on the pathway circling the pond stopped dead in their tracks. A man fishing for trout was reeling in a cormorant. The large black wings thrashed the water, its kinked neck extended, its long bill wide open. The fisherman was bewildered and his wife, dressed in a blue tube dress that emphasized her pregnancy, was clutching his arm and screaming. I jumped from the pathway onto the embankment of stone slabs edging the water and grabbed hold of the nylon cord caught in the bird’s throat.
The fisherman’s wife stopped screaming. Apparently she was satisfied that I was rescuing the impaled creature, but I did not have a plan of action for immobilizing its flailing body. Unless I pinned it down somehow and kept its head from moving, I would not be able to peer down its throat long enough to loosen the hook. Hoping for the best I kept drawing in the fishing line a little at a time. As I pulled the cormorant toward me, there was no expression in its glassy eyes to indicate whether I was causing it pain, whether the fish hook was ripping its flesh.
I crouched on the stone slabs ready to drag the screeching flurry of feathers out of the water. I was straining, my clenched fists only inches from the tip of the beak. The tireless wings whipped back and forth furiously, compelled by a fierce instinct to escape the oppressive forces that overwhelmed it. In its panic to be free it collided with my efforts to liberate it. It resisted my closeness with a wild strength. Water splashed on my face and streaked my glasses, but I held the line tightly, not sure anymore whether I was helping or making things worse. Would I be able to subdue those frenzied wings and unhook the captive bird without harming it further? I reached out cautiously with one hand.
All at once the tension on the taut line slackened and out popped the hook. It was embedded in a trout the bird had swallowed. Away the cormorant flew.
I was not able to see where it went because of my wet glasses, but I assumed it would circle back to the pond to catch another fish. Unencumbered by memories of trauma, it would loop its head into the water as it always did and dive without a trace of fear for the food it needed, its lightening precision unimpaired.
In past years Bill Himelhoch has been an English instructor, visual artist, and social work clinician. Now in the autumn of life he is a writer. To facilitate this transition he has attended the NY State Writers Institute at Skidmore College and the Colgate University Writers’ Conference in addition to workshops at Grub Street in Boston.
His short-short fiction has received honorable mention in New Millennium Writing 2011. Anthologized essays have appeared in Bisexuality: A Reader and Sourcebook. A play Bill co-authored, The World That Never Was, was staged by Villanova University.
Current writing projects include a novella of social-and-political satire.