The air was different. Painfully clean, but not sterile. So unlike the dry stagnant air of downtown Los Angles, always tinged with dusty smog and semi-metallic brown acrid pollution. He coughed up beautiful healthy L.A into the rejuvenating elixir of Canada.
This was the last day of a week long vacation. The first he’d taken in four years. He was surprised and disappointed by the rain. Six days of fly fishing in the Canadian wilderness had nearly been washed out. ” May as well gotten off the plane in torrential Seattle,” he thought to himself. Only bits and pieces of sunlight had been given safe passage through the Stalinistic maw of storm clouds. A thick low-pressure system had moved in, and low pressure meant few trout were active.
Leaving his advertising job even for a week had been a task. His job as an advertising executive to him was a banner in honor of escaping a brutal dead end life in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. He had escaped the backbreaking drudgery of the steel mills, but he could not escape the spirit crushing work ethic infused in him by three generations of iron workers. Ninety-hour work weeks were the blinders that prevented him from seeing his marriage crumble.
The job provided the house the car, the clothes, the food, all the trappings of a family so he thought. Love was the default condition resulting from the security of his high paying career. To him buying a new car for the family every year was constructive affection. Weren’t his children’s expensive education’s proof of his love. Spread the wealth, spread the love was his belief. At sixty-one he could not understand why his wife was divorcing him and he could no longer communicate with his kids.
Suppressing his angry confusion he continued walking along the west side of the river. Sunlight reflecting off the surface of the water surprised him. A monster cloud had moved aside and allowed sunlight to pass through. This section of the river began as a wide deep hole and flowed down into a narrow twenty yard channel and opened up again into a larger hole. The larger hole was more like a mini-lake than a river. He planned to fish the first hole and work his way down to the mini-lake.
From the high bank he walked along he could see to depths of six feet in the clear water. Walking slowly he scanned the river for signs of trout. Then he saw a large scythe like tail unfurling in the narrow water column just above the mini-lake.
He removed the tiny dry fly he had been using. This was a big trout that required lots of protein. A long heavy black fly with blood red tail feathers meant to resemble a dying fingerling would do the trick. He tied the heavy fly tightly to his tippet. To him the delicate monofilament seemed incapable of supporting the vicious strength of a large trout, but in fact it had a strong inner-core, much like he once believed his marriage was designed.
Quickly snipping the tag end of the knot he effectively amputated the acid remnants of his thoughts. There was a large trout awaiting possibly the largest trout he’d ever seen. He judged its weight to be between six and seven pounds. Casting down stream he allowed his fly to swing with the current right in front of the big trout. The trout slightly adjusted its position, and then wrenched the fly off its downstream course. He saw the take and forcibly set the hook. He felt the trout’s confident weight and knew there was no slack in his line. The trout turned and headed down stream using the current to add speed to its run. Five yards down stream a thick tree branch lay barely under the surface in the path of his magnificent trout. The well-educated trout knew how to use the branch to its advantage and sped towards it. Swimming underneath the branch and then jumping upstream the trout tied a series of tangles around the branch.
He knew it was over. A second later and the big trout made a powerful lunge and the line snapped. Images of his life as it was now and as it was before rushed into his mind. “Broken. Just like my damn marriage, broken,” he thought. He sat down dejectedly onto the muddy shore and unknowingly pounded an imprint of his palm into the soft clay bank.
Swiftly and decisively he stood up. He opened his fly box and snatched a brown sinking fly. “Don’t think about her, just walk down stream and fish,” he commanded himself. The shrapnel images of his now euthanized marriage were only background music for the symphony of false calm he forced on himself.
Walking down stream he tossed his fly into the center of the mini-lake. Nothing. No fish, no activity, nothing. “How fitting,” the voice began again. “No, I just need to add some weight. The rivers deep here, I’ll add some weight.” He thought encouragingly. He squeezed the tiny lead weight onto his line. The voice in his head began comparing the dull gray metal weight to his impending divorce. He noticed the sky was turning the same ugly gray as the lead weight hanging from his leader.
He began casting rapidly to the center of the mini-lake trying to toss the concrete sky deep and his feelings deep into the river. The fly swung down stream and came to an abrupt stop. Thinking he had snagged the bottom he tried lifting his rod tip to free his fly. The flyline began a slow waltz down stream.
“A fish, but what kind? Rainbows usually surged down stream when they feel the bite of the hook. Maybe a brown trout, I’ve heard they bulldog like this sometimes,” he thought wildly. Whatever this fish was it was heavy. Ten pounds or more he thought. He followed the leviathan’s gentle meander down stream reeling firmly to gain back lost line. Fifty yards down stream and the fish tired and he dragged it into the shallow water to be netted.
The creamy white color of the fish surprised him. It wasn’t bright silver like the rainbow he hooked earlier. Once in the net he saw that it was an ugly ten-pound suckerfish. “Just a bastardized lamprey,” he raged. He wanted to grab the fish and fling it on the bank and smash its head with a rock. It seemed like another ironic reminder of his depressing life.
Then he looked closer at the trembling fish and saw fear and confusion. The sad fish was facing the end of its life in a strange and hostile environment. Though it wasn’t the once in a lifetime trout he’d hoped for the sucker had fought hard and put in a full day’s work.
He placed the fish in the river facing upstream. The water passed through the slowly working gills and the fish began to breathe. He gently released his hands from the sucker’s stomach and tail. The fish swam slowly away heading for its deep cold home. He sat quietly weeping on the shoreline.
About the Creator
Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.