Once a week, on Sundays, Doc went fishing. It was his retreat. A place where he went to rest up for the coming week and the stubbed toes and the aches and pains of the people in the town.
Beside the river there was one particular tree. It wasn’t a large tree. It was bent just like he was. Under its branches, he sat there for hours, throwing out fishing line after fishing line, not catching anything but enjoying the peace and quiet.
The tree had a gift for listening. Other trees listened but this one listened with an understanding heart. How could he tell? Doc just knew.
Over the years he’d been sitting under that tree. He kept reminding himself to go to the library and look the tree up in an encyclopedia. But this or that or the other got in the way of his remembering to do just that. On his way to the library, Mrs. Rosen might stop him and tell him about her new ache. Or Danny Porter showed him the place he skinned his leg.
By the time he got to his office and dropped off his fishing gear, he’d forgotten the question. And it didn’t come to him until the next time he sat under the tree.
Some might have named the tree. Doc didn’t. Seemed Tree was its name, and Tree was what Doc called it. So he gave up trying to figure out anything about Tree. The solitude with only Tree for a companion was a comfort to him.
Ten years earlier, Doc had lost his wife to cancer. Under Tree, he felt her presence often. He began to suspect Tree was his wife come back to him. So he began to call Tree by his wife’s name, Cassie. After all, Tree was thin and tall like Cassie.
One Sunday, he sat under Cassie’s branches feeling the warmth of her love pouring down on him. The water covered his bare feet, washing away the dirt from his walk and cooling him from the heat of the summer sun.
“You know, Cassie, I used to think I was Huckleberry Finn. When I was a kid.”
A fish jumped in the water downstream a bit.
“All the other boys played baseball. I went fishing.”
A breeze touched his face like a soft kiss from Cassie.
“I never was much for sports.”
A bird, possibly a robin, sang, disturbing the quiet. Doc didn’t mind. The birds kept him company with their songs unlike the noise he heard people play on their radios and their music players.
“You know, Cassie, I’ve about decided that I don’t like people much. I thought I did but they’ve become such trouble. All their aches and pains but not serious.”
Cassie listened and the river listened and the birds listened.
“The serious ones do trouble me. Like Ellen Gable’s cancer.”
The birds stopped their singing.
“She’s in such pain. Such pain.”
Doc pulled in his fishing line. He usually didn’t catch anything. He never went fishing to catch anything. The few times a fish bit his hook he released the fish and returned it to its home with a bon voyage.
Doc choked out his next words. “Like yours, Cassie. Like yours.”
He stood up and threw the line back into the water. It made its splash.
Then Doc cheered up and said, “Henry Stanton’s foot has healed. The poultice you recommended last time I was here did the trick. I would have never thought of that.”
He looked up at the sky and the sun’s colors filled it with a new sunset. He admired it for a few minutes, then drew in his fishing line. He packed up his fishing gear. He leaned over and kissed the bark of the tree.
“Thanks, Cassie,” he said and headed back to town.