by Edwina Carson

I always considered it extremely impolite to return a gift. What do they say, don't look a gift horse into the mouth, or something like that. But this time it was different. That expensive fishing rod my wife gave me for Christmas, I just couldn't keep it. The mere prospect of stashing that thing away in the lumber room or the basement just to encounter it again at the least opportune moments let a could shiver run down my spine.

It's not that I have something against fishing rods. Quite the contrary, in fact. I used to go fishing often, a long time a ago, with Peter, my son. But after Pete's death and the resulting divorce from Beth, I could no longer stand the sight of fishers or fishing equipment. The memory of our shared fishing trips was too painful, the grieve over the loss too deep still.

Of course, Betty couldn't possibly have known that. I'd never told her about any of this. It was a long time ago. Long before we met, long before we got wed. She just wanted to please me, she'd said. She had noticed how I had always stared so wistfully at those rods in the shop windows, she had explained when I had removed the wrapping paper and looked dumbfoundedly at the fishing rod in my hands. It had been a long time I had allowed myself to think about Pete or the accident. With a pang it had all been present again, as if it happened only yesterday.

How old he would be now, I wondered. Probably in his late twenties. He was 15 then. It really seemed like yesterday, and yet at the same time it appeared to me as if it was ages ago.

No, I just could not keep that rod. I stared at the thing for another moment after retrieving it from the backseat of my car. It was a pity, really. Betty had sought expert advice and picked a very beautiful rod. Which was more, a quite expensive one at that. Pete would have loved it.

I went over to the information desk and queued up. When it was my turn, I put the rod on the table and said: "My wife gave me this for Christmas. I'd like to return it, please."

"Is something wrong with it, sir? Would you like a replacement?" the young man behind the desk asked.

"No, no. It's fine. I just don't want it," I replied.

"I'm sorry, sir. But this product is non-returnable."

"And why is that?" I asked, taken aback.

"I don't know exactly. Order from my boss. I'm sorry, sir, but it's not possible."

"Listen, young man, this is not exactly a cheap rod. What do you expect me to do with it now, throw it away?"

"Hey, I don't make the rules, okay? I just work here," he replied defiantly to the note of annoyance in my voice.

I was seriously angry by now. This was outrageous. "I want to talk to your boss. This shop has a manager, I presume."

Irritatedly, the young man grabbed the phone and called for the manager. I waited impatiently, and when I heard a friendly male voice from behind say, "Is there a problem?", I abruptly turned around to give this gentleman a piece of my mind.

What I saw stopped me cold. I studied the man amazedly. The hair was somewhat shorter, and he was taller than I remembered. But these eyes, this could only be ...

"Pete?" was the only thing I managed to say. It was more a whisper, barely audible. This was impossible. For years I had believed him to be dead. This couldn't possibly be him. And yet, he really looked exactly like my Pete.

At first he had trouble to believe me–I had trouble to believe me–, but when we talked for a while it turned out that Pete had lost his memory. While I had been 100% sure–as we had searched for weeks without success–that he had drowned and the tide had merely swept away his body, he had been washed ashore, without an identity, without any clue on who he was or what had happened. The tide had swept him far from the location of the accident, which was why nobody had thought to link his case with the boat accident. But amnesia or no amnesia, he was still my son, and any language would lack the words to describe how happy I was to have him back after all these years.

It goes without saying, certainly, that I no longer wished to return that fishing rod.

© December 9, 2006

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