Of course, I knew that wasn't the right thing to say as soon as it was out of my mouth; and if I hadn't already realized it, then Danny's reaction would've clued me in pretty quick. All the happy went out of his face, so fast that it was like I'd slapped it off of him. He bowed his head low as if something very interesting had just sprung out of the mossy ground between his bluejeaned knees. His knobby little eight-year-old shoulders slumped. I've never been what you'd call good with words, but this was downright apocalyptic.
I waited a few seconds before clearing my throat. "I'm sorry, Danny. I know how much you must be missing him." Then I reached out and laid a tentative hand on his shoulder. "If you want to quit fishing and go back up to the house..."
"Nuh uh," he muttered. He swiped at his eyes with one hand, then looked up at me. He'd been doing a lot of crying these last few months -- which was good, because if an eight-year-old loses his father and doesn't cry about it, then there's something pretty wrong with him -- but he wasn't crying now. Misting a bit, maybe, but not crying. "Grandpa, was he good at fishing? My dad?"
That threw me for a loop briefly; Danny had been living with his grandma and me since the accident, and in all that time he'd never actually started a conversation about his dad. "Well, now," I said in a thoughtful tone, stalling for time until my brain could kick into gear. "Well, now, let's see... what do you think it would mean to be good at fishing?"
"Like if he caught a big fish," Danny answered promptly. He dropped his fishing rod to the grass and stretched his arms apart. "Like thiiiiis big."
"Nope, can't say I ever remember him catching a big fish here. Lot of smaller ones, sure, but none as big as you're asking for!" Of course, I had my doubts that this stream could even handle a fish like Danny was asking for -- he'd measured out a span big enough to fit a deep-sea tuna, while as far as I knew all that'd ever been caught here were minnows, perch, and the occasional bad-tempered catfish. Not that generations of boys hadn't tried otherwise, of course.
Danny was looking out at the stream, and I wondered whether he was still thinking long thoughts. A second later he unknowingly answered me. "Was he better at fishing than me?" he asked softly.
Which, of course, was a question about more than just fishing. "Danny, your grandma and I loved your dad, because he was our son." He looked back down at the ground, and I went on in as firm a voice as I could manage. "And we love you, because you are our grandson. Nothing will ever change that."
We were both quiet for a moment, him likely thinking about his dad, and me trying to think what to say next. Finally I decided to try to bring back some enjoyment into his day, so I picked up his fishing pole and handed it gently back to him.
"Now, come on, how's about you show your ol' grandpa up?" I smiled at him, not expecting him to smile back, though I thought I saw his mouth twitch ever so slightly. "After all, those big fish aren't going to catch themselves."