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By stillsteamin
Thoughts on 3/17/17

The hum of the Jeep’s tires on pavement is broken by the wind against the soft, tan canvas top as it lifts and snaps back against the roll bars. In fifth gear headed west down the two lane road, I relax my right hand against the top of a full coffee mug. The other hangs from the steering wheel by two fingers. After a sip of coffee the pounding had returned to my forehead and I’d set the mug down, annoyed with myself for spoiling the best part of pre-dawn trips down lonely roads. My eyelids slip and I wipe a hand over my face, catching the wheel again as the misalignment of the old Jeep pulls us into the opposite lane. Sitting up, I lean forward and look at the sky through the windshield. It's fading from black to blue and beyond the trees in the rearview mirror it’s turning pink. “No clouds today.”

The man in the passenger seat had been asleep, his knee against the shifter in its high gear. He wakes with a grunt, and pushes his ball cap back to scratch his head. “Shouldn’t matter.”

At least it’ll be warm.

Definitely needed those last two double whiskeys. And of course the can of beer on the way home. Wouldn’t want to sober up, stupid. Morning and the plans made for it seem so far away when you’re in a back corner booth hours and miles away from your big plans, sitting with a pretty college girl with a pretty college butt atop pretty college legs. You’re pretty sure there’s a pretty in-between and you’ve got a pretty good chance of finding out but you get pretty drunk and you’re pretty stupid when you’re drunk. I almost miss the turnoff for the dirt road and turn the wheel hard in time to make it. The fastness rolls my stomach. Proud of myself? Not really. Woke up and promised no one I wouldn’t drink again. Nobody heard me so nobody will hold me to it.

Miles down the dirt road I pull the Jeep off into a patch of ferns. The ferns are wet with dew and shine in the dim, unbalanced headlights. The place is familiar although I realize I’ve never seen this particular patch of ferns full grown, only new or brown and curling. They probably look the same as other ferns so I don’t worry about it for too long.

The side hinged tailgate opens easily with the weight of the spare tire and the slight slant of the turnoff. It stops against the trunk of a small pine and I lean on it as we sort through the gear messily thrown into the back. A half-hearted debate on tactics ends without resolution because an answer requires a question. There’s a path through the cedars and mud though we don’t take it because we are there for a thing and the thing is not at the end of the path and that is not a coincidence.

Waders in my pack because I’ve repaired them often enough to know better, we move slowly through the swamp, around, under, and over rather than through. Through is not going to happen, but it would be wonderful because bending over fills my head with sharp rocks and makes my ears ring. The methodical movements require concentration and concentration is a sheep dog for my wandering mind. Attempts to circle back to the night before are cut short by the next clump of raspberry bushes, or deadfall. Beyond the cedars I can see the sky, blotches of blue streaked with shades of pink and yellow. We push through a curtain of branches and into knee-length grass. In two months, when the ferns up by the road have darkened to evergreen, the grass will be tall enough for a five-year old to pass unnoticed.

We sit, my partner unrolls his waders and looks at me expectantly. In the openness of the river bank, my mind has slipped under the corral fence and won’t be back soon. “Go ahead, take a crack at it.”

He nods and climbs into the waders. I follow him. We stand on a slow inside bend where the stream slips silently over rippled sand. A low, thick fog hangs over the water. There is a tangle of logs against the far bank, the jam forces water down and has cut a dark, sudden hole in the gently rolling sand bottom. Like most other spots where there are no paths, our discovery of this place was an accident. A fortunate accident, which some are, although you only know for sure afterwards. In that way fishing is much more like pretty girls in bars than I’d like it to be.

We sit next to each other on the bank in silence. I’m fortunate there’s nothing to say because if there were it would have to go unsaid. Against the opposite bank, just in front of the logs, the slick surface of the stream is broken by a slow swirl, and the tip of a wide tail.
Last edited by stillsteamin on Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:50 am, edited 3 times in total.
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By fatman
a fine turn of prose
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By stillsteamin
Uncle Bill and Danny weren’t home by dark so Aunt Karen said he should get some rest and showed him to a room upstairs. She pointed to the door across the hall from his and said it was Danny’s room and that her and Uncle Bill’s was just down the hall and to not be afraid to ask for whatever he needed. Jake’s room smelled like wood and had a big bed covered in a heavy wool blanket. On the walls there were paintings of deer with big antlers and a dark-skinned Indian woman with long, straight black hair parted down the middle with a red feather stuck in it, and a black and white photograph of frowning man with a big mustache standing behind a dead brown bear. There was also a shallow, round drum made of wood and pale leather hanging from a nail in the wall next to something Aunt Karen said was a “papoose cradle.” He thought he knew what a papoose was, but in the cool bed sheets his eyelids were heavier than the wool blanket and he couldn’t remember.
A loud crash in the hall woke him with a start. The room was bright and disorienting. There was a second crash, and his bedroom door shook with a thud. A door slammed shut and a kid yelled “Take that fugger!” which was followed by another crash and the crack of wood against wood. From downstairs, his Aunt Karen yelled “Daniel! Watch it!”
“But I said fuggin!”
“I don’t care! Say it again and you’re done! Would you like to spend the first day Jacob is here in your room?”
“Aww… fine!” Another door slammed.
Jake laid his head back down on his pillow and stared at the ceiling. A tree branch reached across the window, abstract shadows of its leaves spread on the ceiling, twitching in a silent breeze. He heard a low, scraping sound and looked down between the mounds his feet made in the blankets. The bedroom door was opening slowly across the wood floor. His cousin Danny peeked around it wearing a brown fur hat. He saw Jake watching him and disappeared back behind the door for a moment before shoving it all the way open. He stood in the doorway, shirtless, in jeans and tan leather moccasins. A silver gun with a dark wooden handle stuck out of a holster on his hip. He stared casually at Jake, one hand resting on the gun, the other hanging from a thumb stuck in the front pocket of his jeans.
“You missed breakfast, bud.”
“Oh, sorry.” Jake replied.
“Ma says I’s supposed to let you sleep in, but there was a big, uh…” He glanced down the hall and leaned into the room, “A big fuggin spider out there.”
“Did you kill it?”
“Course I kilt it, bud. Splatted ‘em like a cow pie.” Jake noticed what looked like the end of a hockey stick laying in the hall behind him. He looked back at the gun in its holster. “Is that a real gun?”
Danny smirked. “Ya bud. Thirty-six caliber’s what it is… like Blondie’s.” Jake didn’t know who Blondie was or what thirty-six caliber meant but he nodded knowingly anyway.
“Ma’ll prolly make ya eat first but me and Bill’s gonna go prairie doggin’ later once he gets the quad runnin’.”
“What’s prairie doggin’?” Jake asked.
“Prairie doggin’s where we take the quad out and shoot the piss outta prairie dogs.”
Jake lifted himself up so he was lying on his elbows, “Your parents let you shoot at animals?”
Danny laughed, “Pa told me you’re from town so to be nice but you’re a spring chicken, bud.” He smiled expectantly, but when Jake didn’t say anything his smile faded and he furrowed his brow. “Well you gonna lay there all day or we gonna go do somethin’? I been careful, only cursed once this mornin’ so Ma’d let us go do somethin’.”
Outside it was bright and warm. The wind whipped up dust in the driveway as Jake followed Danny who still wasn’t wearing a shirt across the backyard grass and towards three steel barns tucked into a stand of trees that reached well past the peaks of the barn roofs, their heavy limbs woven in a patchwork that disappeared into thick canopy. Beside one barn there was a wooden fence and a metal gate, beyond the gate three horses stood watching them. The wide sliding door of the barn closest the gate was partly open, and Jake could see Bill Junior inside bent over a four-wheeled vehicle that looked like a tall go-cart and must be what Danny called the quad.
Jake called ahead to Danny, “What’s wrong with the quad?”
“Ah… it just ain’t runnin’ right now.”
“I maybe hit a fence post with it.” Jake wasn’t sure how you could maybe hit a fence post. Before he could ask, Danny bent over, picked up a rock and threw it overhand against the barn door. It hit hard with a clank that echoed through the inside of the barn. Jake wondered if he played baseball. In a smooth, quick motion, Danny drew the gun from his hip, dropped to a knee and pointed it towards the open door. He yelled “Alright Bad Bill you c’mon outta there now! Me an Jake got ya surrounded, bud!” Bill stood up and ducked behind the door and into the darkness. Jake saw the short chunk of wood spinning toward Danny before he saw Bill reappear and throw it. Danny yelled “Argh!” and turned away. It smacked into the back of his head with a thud. “Aww darnit Bill I was just messin!” he yelled, rubbing his head. “Imma tell Pa you plunked me.”
Bill was back in view, leaning over the quad. “You’re not gonna tell Pa anything Danny or I’ll tell ‘em you were throwin’ rocks at the barn again.”
Feeling awkward, Jake wandered over toward the three horses by the gate. Danny followed him pouting. The horses pulled their heads back nervously and snorted as Jake approached. He’d only ever been near the large brown horses the police officers rode downtown in Chicago, these seemed smaller or maybe thinner and were all different colors. There were four others the same size he hadn’t seen around the back side of the barn with their heads down in the grass and two stockier ones with big ears and white noses watching him. He stopped a short distance from the gate, unsure if he should get closer. Danny walked by him and said cheerfully “Mornin’ girls!” He jumped up on the fence, climbed to the top, swung his legs over and sat on the top rail. The three closest horses walked up to him eagerly and put their noses in his lap.
“Can I try?” Jake asked.
“Ya bud, course. These girls are nice, it’s them two ya gotta stay clear of.” He pointed towards the two with big ears. “Those are mules and they’ll kick ya in the head. Pa uses ‘em for packin’.” Jake climbed up and sat next to Danny. The horses’ heads were heavy and their noses snuffed loudly. He said hello to them and could see his reflection in their big, brown eyes. He wondered to Danny if they knew many words and he said they knew Uncle Bill’s words best. Jake asked if they had found the missing colt the night before.
“Where is it?” Jake asked, looking around the pasture.
Danny spit in the dirt. “Up there.” He pointed at a crowd of hills far off in the distance.
“Why is it up there? Aunt Karen said it was supposed to be here with its mom…”
“Cuz it’s dead.”
“It’s dead?”
“Dogs kilt it.”
Jake spun around and looked back at the house porch. The two nice dogs were lying in the sun. He didn’t see Dale. “Dale?”
Danny laughed at him, “No, bud. Song dogs.”
“What’s a song dog?”
“Wild dog. Coyote, like a little wolf.”
“They eat horses?”
“Not these girls,” Danny patted a grey one with dark speckles closest to him. “These here’d kick their butts… them two’d do it for fun.” He pointed at the mules. “Mules’ll run a dog down and stomp ‘em, give ‘em a sniff a their own stuff… colts ‘n fillies though… dogs’ll scare ‘em away from their ma and get ‘em.”
Danny spit in the dirt again then said to watch this and jumped on a buckskin horse with a mane and tail like the Indian woman in the painting in Jake’s room. The hair bounced and flashed in the sun as they moved in a long arc along the far side of the pasture, then stood straight back, rippling and snapping like a flag in a hard wind as the horse’s length seemed to stretch with speed. Danny crouched with his head down beside the horse’s neck, its hair blew over his face and he buried his hands in it as they circled the pasture once, then again. Jake thought he had never seen anything like it and didn’t wonder how long they’d run because it would be forever which was the only thing that made any sense. He wanted to ride that way with his hands in thick dark hair. He wanted to ride with the dust and wind, with the thud of the horse’s hooves and the huff of its nose, toward the distant hills with a thirty-six caliber on his hip, faster than the song dogs, so they wouldn’t get another colt.
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By stillsteamin
The next one will be about fly fishing.

The toes of my yellow rubber barn boots tucked under the bright new growth that was beginning to push through the matted, dead grass laying flat in the pasture where it had fallen to a snow storm just before Thanksgiving the year before. My dad stood next to me, in the same faded Carhartt overalls he always wore for chores. They had a rip in a thigh from stringing barbed wire, duct tape around one leg where the zipper had broken, the bottoms frayed and stained with dirt from filling in around new fence posts with his boots. Mine were a fresh dark brown, at eleven I needed a new pair every other year which was frustrating because they always looked new and I couldn’t ever wear in a pair like my dad’s no matter how many times I smacked them against a tree or rode over them with my bike.
We stood side by side in the pasture, watching an ewe lying a few yards away under the roof of a corrugated steel lean-to, built as a shelter for the horses next to a sand wallow beneath an old, sprawling red oak. I was warned not to name animals that were “for the freezer,” but I’d named each of the Merino ewes because we kept them for wool. The one we were watching had an ear tag with a black, block #7 set into the yellow plastic. Her name was Maggie. From a seat on my dad’s shoulders, I’d watched her as a new lamb, lying wet on the hay floor in our barn as her mother licked her clean. That was before my earliest memories, but I remember her giving birth to her own lambs on the same floor, underneath the buzz of a heat lamp hung from the ceiling on a cold, wet morning in April. The barn lights were bright in the early darkness and my uncle stood outside smoking a cigarette, a solid shadow in the open door as I walked with my dad through a light rain.
Maggie hadn’t come into the barn the evening before when I’d been down to feed the rest of the flock and put out hay for the horses. I’d found her lying out in the pasture, a glowing white shape in the fading light. My dad had gone out later that night in the dark. Through the kitchen window I watched his flashlight moving as he carried her under the roof of the lean-to, setting a shallow pan of grain and a half milk jug full of water beside her in the sand. When he came back up to the house, I asked what was wrong with her. He said she was sick, and no, he didn’t know if she would get better.
We stood there in the pasture watching her as she laid in the same position she’d been placed in the night before. Her nose was tucked beneath her back hip, her ears hung down flat, and her eyes looked sleepy. I guessed that the grain and water had not been touched, my dad guessed so too. At eleven I was far enough along to know there’d be no call to the vet for an eight year old ewe.
“I was hoping she’d pass in the night” My dad said quietly, raising a .22 rifle to his shoulder. I nodded, looking down as if there was something particularly interesting about the grass at my feet.
There was a sharp crack, and Maggie’s head tossed to the side. Her front legs straightened, trembling, and a back leg kicked gently, once. Then she softened, head resting in the sand, eyes still parted slightly under heavy lids as a dark red blot widened in the wool just above her ear.
I sat with her in the muddy tractor bucket as my dad drove down the two track between the north and south vineyards, a hand against her side and my fingers buried in the wool, damp from the night and slick with lanolin. The rows of barren grape vines rolled by, twisted dull brown, shaggy with old, thin growth. Another two weeks at least before tiny pink buds would burst across the dead-looking wood. My legs hung off the front of the bucket, yellow rubber boots with a smear of blood across one toe drifting over clumps of greening quackgrass.
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By root wad
Thanks for a job well done. Hard to beat a special gift from an unexpected source.
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By stillsteamin
A mayfly nymph swam poorly, wiggling its way past his submerged foot. He flicked his toes, sending the nymph swirling into a loose clump of coontail, its hard won distance spoiled by a whim. Lifting the yellow glass fly rod that lay across his knees, he pulled line off the beat up reel. It needed to be greased but the squeak was familiar and he’d never remember to take it apart anyway.
“Wanna bet I can toss this out there, and drink a Bud before a fish rises?”
The girl lifted his stolen ball cap off her face and sat up on the blanket, resting on her elbows. He tried not to stare at the place where the inside of her tanned thighs disappeared into her bikini bottom. The sun was high in the mid-afternoon and she squinted at him, exaggerating a lip pout, “You boys and your beer, all manly until you’re off puking… why do you have to make poor fishies part of your games?”
He reached inside a crinkled brown paper bag beside him and snapped another can out of the six pack rings. “Ah the fish don’t care, plus I gotta drink ‘em before they get too warm.” It would’ve helped if they’d started cold, but cold beer was harder to steal. Cracking the top, he set it beside him on the edge of the weathered wooden dock and lifted a short cast out past the weed line that split the deep water from bright sand. The little red popper was still bobbing in the wake of its landing as he dropped the rod on the dock and tipped the open can up to his mouth. Leaning back, he closed his eyes and chugged the warm beer, bursts of red and yellow flaring behind his eyelids from the sun. Suds ran down his chin and tears began to well in his eyes but he was close to finishing. The girl squealed “Oh! Look, look!”
The popper was gone in a swirl. Spilling beer on his face, he threw the can down and grabbed the rod, lifting sharply. A small bluegill flew out of the water, flopping as it followed the line in an arc back toward them. The girl shrieked and he recoiled, lifting his elbows against the airborne fish. It plopped into the water between his feet. He burst into rocking laughter. She leaned forward and smacked his shoulder “Oh my god, you are so mean! Stop it!”
“Well I finished the beer…”
“You spilled most of it.”
“No way.”
Leaning forward again, she wiped a hand slowly down his neck and across his chest. “What’s all this then?” She asked playfully, showing him her wet palm before pressing it quickly against his face. He ducked away laughing, and found something interesting to stare at on the wooded shore across the lake. Smirking, she laid down again on the blanket. He made another cast and pulled in another small bluegill, playing it slowly and watching it flit around the tall weeds. Holding the tippet in one hand, he carefully slid his other hand around the fish, depressing the sharp spines on its back. He turned the hook out gently and stared at it for a moment, amused with its permanent frown. The beer was making him feel goofy.
"I'd be pissed too if I were you," he whispered, glancing at the girl. "It's not bad up here."
The fish twitched, gouging his finger. He dropped it, cussing the little bastard as it disappeared under the dock. He swished his hand in the water and reached for another beer. The girl sighed, and rolled over on her stomach. Reaching back, she untied her bikini top and let the straps fall beside her. He looked at the side of her chest where it swelled against the blanket, and then back at the water.
Muffled by the blanket against her face, she said quietly “Well I guess you should win something.”
He forced a mouthful of beer. “For what.”
“For your bet, you should win something…”
“You said I didn’t finish it.”
Laughing, she rolled over and stared at him. “Close enough.”
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