Big Talk, Real Slow

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Salmon Going Upstream

“I shouldn’t have called your mother a cunt. It’s a bad word. It’s never something you should say.”

Tim, seven and a half years old, had heard it enough times in context to understand. He looked down at his hook, pretending to figure out the tangle of string.

“Here, let me do that for you.” His father put his beer down and took the rod from Tim’s hands. “You forgot the lure. That’s the most important part.” He let out a sigh. He started to untangle the string, and worked in silence trying to fix a mistake that Tim didn’t know he had made.

He looked out at the lake, just a few shades away from a toxic green. He had been to the lake before, when his parents were together, but had never gone fishing.

“Your mother is…she’s a good person. She can be, at least.” His father handed back the rod and reclined on his end of the small boat, taking a sip of beer with one hand and picking up his own rod with the other.

“We just didn’t see things from the same point of view sometimes. Do you understand that Tim?”

Tim nodded. He looked across at the distant trees, the edges golden against the cloud-white sky. At the bait shop the clerk said it was going to rain, but Tim’s father said that was bullshit and Tim believed him because he was his father. Soon there wouldn’t be a drop of green. Tim knew that Fall was coming and after Fall comes Winter. Tim wondered how Christmas was going to be this year.

“Sir?”

“Yes, Tim?”

Tim had prepared the statement in his head, but he felt nervous saying it now. “Why did you take me fishing?”

“Do we need a reason?” He took a sip of his beer. “Are you not having fun?”

Tim knew that tone and knew to placate his father.

“No, sir, it’s great. I just wondered…”

His father shifted his weight and leaned forward. “Grandpa Tim used to take me out fishing. I was about your age. Maybe younger. I want to share that with you. Maybe you’ll share that your son, when you have one.”

Again, Tim nodded, though he didn’t really understand. He looked back out at the trees. Last year in school, Tim’s class made a wheel with the seasons. Each quarter was made up to look like a different season and it was attached to another piece of construction paper with a thumb tack, so it could spin. He had always known that seasons repeat themselves over and over again. Seeing the seasons as a wheel, however, made him fully understand what that meant. It wasn’t that Spring would become Summer would become Fall would become Winter and than it was over, the way the calender ended. Tim realized that it kept going, round and round, over and over.

He heard the thrash in the water. His father, caught with a Lucky’s in hand, wasn’t fully hanging on to the rod. It bent and dislodged itself. Tim lunged for it, dropping his own rod and holding on to his father’s for dear life. His father dropped the beer, letting the golden bubbles and heavy smell spill on the boat.

“Fucking cocksucker!” He screamed out. “Keep holding the rod, as hard as you can son!” Tim adjusted himself and held onto the reel. The hook and lure weren’t really meant to be reeled in; the catch was too heavy for that.

“Tim, hold on, I’m going for her.” Tim obeyed, trying to wedge the rod back in place behind the beer cooler. Tim’s father took a few short steps to the other side of the boat, where the line met the water.

“I see her!”

He dropped to his knees. He waited. He lifted his arm and balled his hand into a fist and punched the water. He punched again, and again. Tim’s father grunted over and over, water spraying up with every impact.

“I’m going for it! Son, don’t let go of the fucking rod!”

Tim watched his father plunge his hand in the water again, almost to his shoulder. He didn’t punch the water, but he was just as quick. He growled and started to stand. He was pulling the catch out of the water.

She was short, by most measures, though Tim had never seen one before. Tim’s father had her by the hair, and that made her look taller than she was. She thrashed, but was clearly weakened. Her eyes weren’t used to the unfiltered sun. Her head twisting to avoid the light. She was blind out of water, and her arms, while strong, didn’t know where to attack. Tim watched her breasts, exposed, small but firm. Her tail, large scales grey like cement, slapping against the bottom of the boat. Tim’s father raised her higher with by fistful of hair and threw her down.

She hit the side of the boat hard, but they could still hear her wet rasping, her impotent attempts to breath. Tim’s father grabbed an oar and smacked the side of her head. She stopped trying to breath. Tim was still holding the rod, transfixed by the struggle. His father let out a laugh. “God, she was a tough bitch, wasn’t she?”

Her body lay there. Tim watched droplets of water roll off her breasts.

Tim father’s took out his knife, carefully hidden away in its own compartment in the tackle box for safety.

“We did it son. We did it. This is as much my catch as it is yours son. You know that?” He knelt down and started to hack away at the lure, tangled in her hair. “You were paying attention and I wasn’t. We might’ve missed her completely.”

He stood up and looked out into the water. Tim looked up from the body and smiled. He didn’t know what his father was thinking, but he had made him proud. That was enough.

“You know, I would clean it but…”

His father turned around, setting sun at his back. He held out the knife, handle first.

“…but I think you’ve earned it son.”

Tim reached for the knife. He grabbed it carefully, trying to show that he was responsible. He felt it in his hand. He left himself get used to its weight.

“Thank you, sir.”

His father hadn’t smiled like that in years. “Well? What are you waiting for?”

Tim knelt down by the body, knife in hand, smile on his face. He loved fishing with his father.