“You sure you wanna do this, Miss Macy?”
Macy looked up at Grandpa, her hair a tangled mass of blonde curls that added three inches to her height. The two of them stood outside his workshop, the sliding barn doors still closed. She put her little hands on her hips and said, “Yep!”
“Okay then, we’d better get to work,” said Grandpa, pulling the doors open. The smell of sawdust and wood glue wafted out, a smell that Macy would associate with summer forever. A flick of a switch set the fluorescents clicking and flickering to life. The two of them stepped inside, heading toward the back corner, passing tables, toolboxes, and power tools. Her little head turned this way and that, trying to take it all in.
Macy was spending a few weeks with her grandparents. Every summer, her parents would drop her and her brothers while they took their annual vacation, but this year Max and Mark were both off at Summer camp, leaving her alone with Grandpa and Grandma. Macy didn’t mind; in fact, she was happy to have them all to herself. The boys were rowdy and liked to break things, especially anything that belonged to Macy. With those stinkers gone, the three of them could sit and play games together, do puzzles, and have hot cocoa by the fire. It was like Macy was on her very own vacation, and she was going to make the best of it.
Grandpa opened up a drawer and pulled out a little metal box. There was a brightly colored fish painted on the lid. “Do you know what this fish is called?” Grandpa asked. Macy shook her head. “This, Miss Macy, is a rainbow trout. They live in the rivers around here. These are the ones we’re gonna catch tomorrow. Hopefully,” he added, winking. “That’s the thing about fishin’; just ’cause you go out meanin’ to catch a fish don’t mean you will.” He popped open the box to reveal his collection of hand-tied flies. They glittered and shone under the lights, all different colors and sizes. There were fat flies, narrow flies, flies with long bristles that looked like wings, striped flies, big flies, little flies. “They’re so pretty, Grandpa!” Macy said, admiring the collection.
“Why thank you dear, though don’t go sayin’ that around my fishin’ buddies, alright?” Grandpa smiled and pulled two of them out, unhooking them from the foam that lined the inside of the case and setting them on the counter. “Now, I’m gonna make you the same deal I made with your brothers: if you can tie up a fly, I’ll take you out to the river to use it. This one belongs to Max,” he said, pointing to the first, “and this one belongs to Mark.” Macy leaned in close to inspect them both, comparing closely with the others in the case. She immediately noticed the sloppy work. The wrapping was uneven, the bristles stuck out a weird angles, and the colors were all wrong. They didn’t look like real flies, not like Grandpa’s. “You think you can do that, Miss Macy?”
“You bet!” she said, giving him a thumbs up. With a smile, Grandpa said, “Let’s get started.” They spent the next hour together, with Grandpa showing her all the tools in his fly tying station. First, they chose a hook and clamped it in the vise. Then, Macy picked out the colors she wanted from Grandpa’s collection of threads. She chose yellow and green, because those were the colors worn by her dad’s favorite football team. Grandpa threaded them through the bobbins for her, judging it to be too difficult for her little fingers, but he took the time to show her how it worked and why it had to be done.
“Alright Miss Macy, this is the trickiest part,” he said, handing her the bobbin and the loose thread. “If you don’t lie down the first row properly, everything else will come out wonky. Pay attention, now.” He guided her hands, showing her how to hold the loose end at just the right angle to wrap an even layer of thread over the hook. With a careful patience, she wrapped the thread to the best of her abilities, leaving only a couple little overlaps. From there, it was mostly about wrapping the thread back and forth over the body until it had the right color and shape. At one point, Grandpa took out a feather and plucked some of the fluff off of it, which Macy used to create wings for the fly.
“Well would you look at that!” Grandpa said when they were done. “Miss Macy, I do believe you just made the best of the bunch. Well, better than your brothers’, anyway.” He held up a hand for a high five, which she gave him with a great big smile.
“Can we go out fishing now?” she asked.
“It’s a bit too late to go today, I’m afraid. But why don’t you run go show Grandma your fly, and then we can have a big ol’ piece of that pie that’s hiding in the fridge.”
“With whip cream?”
“You bet. I’m gonna just clean up real quick.”
Macy ran inside, holding the hook carefully, the way Grandpa had shown her. Grandma oohed and ahed over it, then cut her a slice of pie that was just a little bigger than an eight year old really needed. Especially with that much whipped cream on it.
“Now where is your grandfather?” Grandma asked after Macy had finished her treat.
“He said he was gonna clean up,” Macy answered. A little dot of dried whipped cream was crusted on the end of her nose.
“Well then, I guess we’ll just have to take the pie to him,” Grandma said. They fixed it up together, then Macy carried it out, using two hands to be extra careful. “Harold?” Grandma called as they crossed the yard together. There was no answer. “He must be dinkin’ around in there somewhere. Harold!” The barn doors were still open when they reached the shop. The fluorescents cast their cold, unnatural glare down from the roof. The tools sat just as still as when they’d entered.
Grandpa was lying on the floor.
“Harold?” There was alarm in Grandma’s voice now, confusing little Macy. She knew Grandpa liked to nap a lot, though that seemed like a strange place to do it, especially in the middle of all that mess. “Macy, you stay put, now, you hear?” There was a tremble in her voice now, a tremble that would wake Macy from her dreams well into adulthood. She did as she was told while Grandma walked into the shop, her gait stiff and controlled.
Macy never did get to go fly fishing with Grandpa. That’s the thing about life; just because you mean to do something doesn’t mean you will. Still, the fly they tied together saw plenty of use. It was hooked onto every backpack she ever wore in grade school, and when she graduated, it sat brightly on top of her mortarboard cap. On her wedding day, it hung from a ribbon pinned to her dress. It was a reminder of that final day they had together, but more than that, it represented all the time she thought they’d have, a reminder of how easily that which we cherish can disappear in a minute.