Eddie stomped down to the fishing hole. The path used to be a place of beauty, but not any longer. Now, that beauty had faded into normalcy. The wind kicked up and Eddie squinted against a gust of pollen, annoyed. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the mountains, and yeah, yeah, yeah, the fresh air and the forests, but what about the bragging rights?
“Muther smucker,” Eddie cursed under his breath. He reached the beach of rocks and stones bordering the deeper water. The water was darker; the many miracle striations of color did not matter. He looked around.
Good. Nobody there to ruin his day. No swimmers or other fishermen, or, horror of horrors, dog owners with their mongrels. Eddie sloshed into the river, his waterproof waders compressing to his ankles, his calves, and then gradually to his thighs and buttocks and chest. Not even Linda hugged him how the water could.
Linda. Now she just looked like a Far Side cartoon, some fat bug with glasses and a hairdo. He never shoulda gotten married out of high school. Shoulda held out, like Matt.
Eddie reached into his vest pocket and pulled out the container of butterworms. He didn’t have all night to pussyfoot around with flies; he felt like a kid, using live bait, but hey, he had a job to do here.
His job was to catch a fish that was bigger than Matt’s.
All year, Eddie had to listen to Matt, yap, yap, yap about the lunker he caught. At the dinners, at the car shows, at the barbecues…his old high school friend’s plodding story of catching the lunker was recycled each time. Just thinking of Matt’s voice made Eddie’s blood boil. The man sounded like Winnie the Pooh, all husky and reluctant and yet somehow wise. There were only so many times one could listen to the same fish story—but the fish could not be ignored. The whopper was taxidermied, curled on a piece of wood, and mounted above Matt’s fireplace.
And how could Matt have caught the lunker here, in Sylvan, of all places? Impossible. He must’ve gone to the fishery, one of those pay-pens. Drop in a line and boom: fish. No way had Matt pulled that trout out of Sylvan.
“Muther smucker,” Eddie repeated under his breath. He cast out.
The sun beat on his neck. On his shoulders. Shoulda worn the sunscreen. A hat could only do so much.
Matt got the best cuts of life, and Eddie got the scraps. Look at that wife of Matt’s. Caitlyn. Day-um. That smooth, spotless face and the legs that still had shape. A tight can. Nice girl too, always ready to laugh.
Eddie felt something tickle the end of his line and reeled in. It was small and didn’t fight but it was a sign. He waited, reeling it closer, feeling the other life wriggling, alive. It must be native. The small ones usually were native, but they had great coloring.
Eddie hefted the fish out of the water. A chub.
Disgusted, he danced the line closer, grabbing onto the bait-eating menace. He tugged the hook out, a little more viciously than needed, and let the chub fall back in.
Eddie cast out again. He’d change the bait soon. Had to keep the bait fresh, keep a variety at hand. If they weren’t biting butterworms, they’d sure as hell bite corn. Eddie wasn’t above cheating, a little.
A splash. A trout slipped back into the water, a ripple left from its leap. Watching it dissipate, Eddie reeled back and cast upstream accordingly. His line and bait were in direct trajectory, drifting down.
Then, right beside him, another trout jumped, hitting the water with a PLOOP.
More trout, all around. And they were more than fine—they were mythical in size. The water boiled around him, taunting him with legends, better than any of Matt’s.
Eddie kept casting. The sun sank somewhere behind the mountains, and the color bled out from the world. He stayed until dark. He didn’t catch a thing.