The Christmas Gift by Northern Michigan Writer Jerry Dennis

We used a wooden decoy weighted with a lead core and shaped like an eight-inch, red-and-white sucker. Tony tied it to a spool of braided line and lowered it into the water. He jigged it and it swam in circles, rising and falling like a merry-go-round horse. If he stopped jigging, the decoy rested dead and wooden in the water. If he jerked it, it soared like a startled bird.

The interior of the shanty warmed and we took off our jackets. I turned to hang mine on the wall and bumped the spear, knocking it hurtling in a stream of bubbles to the bottom. When the water cleared the spear rested at an odd angle in the muck. Tony pulled it to the surface, bringing up a trail of leaf parts and mud. Then he sent the spear into the water again—not throwing it so much as pushing it off, letting the weight do the work. It shot straight down and stuck in the bottom. I took a turn, aiming at a length of weed I could imagine was a fish. Tony balanced the spear again on the edge of the hole and we settled down to wait.

Sitting there in the warm, dark shanty, I started thinking about Christmas. Like Tony, I was fourteen that year, and though I no longer approached the holiday with the same expectations I had as a child, I was reluctant to give them up. For months I’d been dropping hints about a gasoline-powered airplane. I knew it was not a sensible gift because it required a broad expanse of concrete or asphalt for take-offs and landings, and there was no such place for ten miles in any direction of our house. But I was child enough still to want a child’s toy. I wanted the old excitement.

“Tony,” I said, “what do you want for Christmas?” He turned slowly, his mind elsewhere. His face was lit from below with eerie light.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Nothing much.”

“Nothing much? Come on.”

“Some school clothes. Maybe a hunting knife.”

I said nothing about the airplane.

I took a long turn with the decoy. After awhile my arm moved independently of me. They decoy below vaulted and sailed, and seemed to have no connection to my arm. I started getting restless. I wondered why Tony was not content to just eat store-bought turkey like everyone else. I handed the decoy line back to him and stood to put on my coat.

“I’m going for a walk,” I said.

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