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.
They don't wanna have to die