by Ann Fillmore
"Had a strange day," Drake said, sitting on the edge of the bed and slipping off his old tennis shoes in a movement that spoke of habit long ingrained. The same bed, the same shoes, the same person listening.
She laid aside her book and smiled. "Is that why you were late off the river?"
"How did you know I was late? Thought you were at that dinner meeting of yours."
"I was," she lightly scratched his back. "Danny told me, he said you two had hamburgers before you went to the Steelheaders' meeting."
"Yeah. Greasy burgers more like it." Drake rarely made his sentences longer than was necessary for practicality, nor did he think the common subject and verb construction to be of any value. Sometimes there was a trace of his West Virginian childhood in the riffles of his speech. He stretched his short, sturdy form and ran rough fingers through wind-mussed hair.
"Well," she urged him, "was having a strange day why you were late off the river?"
"Partially. Rained too. Did it rain here?"
"No, we had mostly sun, some clouds." She gave his back a firmer scratch.
He wriggled in pleasure, then, as she finished, he looked towards his feet, took off his socks, pants, flannel shirt, t-shirt and shorts in a flow that ended with them in a pile on the carpet. He glanced at Ashley, whose brown-green eyes held love for the short stocky man. "An awful day mostly."
"Aw, that's too bad," she said.
He shook his head, "But . . . well, not that awful, just strange. You know how quirky the fish gods are." Drake gave the clothes a nudge with his toe.
"Oh, yes, how well I know. You've been at this business for...how many years—twenty—and I have yet to hear you say one day was like another or one fish like another for that matter."
He snorted and nudged the dirty clothes again, "Or client." He laughed sharply, "It's a guide's life!"
"The strangeness, honey, what was so strange about today? Come on, do tell," she persisted.
The bright blue-grey eyes smiled, "First it rained."
"You said that."
He grinned at her, "No, better to start in a different place. Remember that lure Danny gave me as a Christmas present, sort of as a joke? The one I swore I wouldn't be caught dead using?"
"The one painted like the weirdest ornament you ever saw—green, red, gold, you name it, there's that color on it. Half a dozen hooks, big, ugly as sin?"
She laughed, "Most of the lures in your box are ugly as sin and you've sworn you wouldn't be caught dead using them. God knows why you buy them in the first place or keep them in the box."
"Like the kitchen gadgets you collect?"
"Uh-uhn, no fair."
Drake scooped the dirty clothes off the floor with one foot, caught them in his right hand, and carried them to the dresser where he extracted from pockets odd bits of paper and change, a pen, the checks made out by the day's clients for the fishing trip and several large bills, all of which he put in a jumble on the dresser top. The clothes were dumped into the hamper. Ash had been on a campaign lately to have both Drake and their son Danny get anything past the ripe stage into the laundry.
"In this strange day, which involves a weird lure, did anyone catch any fish?" Ash resisted applauding the deposition of the clothes. She knew better.
Drake gave her a puzzled frown, "Yes...." He ever so casually checked his fingernails.
"By the way," she interrupted, "before I forget, the Gregsons called, they want us to come for a cook-out next Sunday."
"I'm on the Deschutes River through Monday, trout fishing with those three businessmen from California."
"I told Sue that. Gary says he's jealous. He wants to spend his life fishing."
"Damned hard work being a guide, harder than that desk-bound Gregson could cope with." He held up the bills, "Hundred dollar tip!"
"Really! It must have been quite a day," she stretched out her arms and he, smelling of well-used waterproofs, sweaty gear, fish and bait, slipped into her arms for a hug and a long kiss.
"Missed you," he whispered, moving the kiss down to her shoulders.
She pushed him back, "Ahh, come on, shower first."
"You're sure picky," he grabbed her hair, gave her another kiss and hopped from the bed. "Danny asleep?"
"I don't know, I think he had lots of homework tonight."
"Umm. Don't hear his stereo." Drake went into the bathroom, "Think I'll soak in a bath, I hurt. Bet that lady hurts worse tonight."
There was the immediate sound of water into the tub. Once he was ensconced up to his earlobes in steaming water, smelling of peppermint oil, Ashley pulled her long body from the cozy covers and went to sit near him. "Came to scrub my back?"
"Sure, if you'll finish the story."
"Yeah. What about this lady that hurts? Sounds interesting."
"Oooooh," she made a strangling motion towards his neck. "You can be such a pain sometimes."
"Back scrub—back scrub—back scrub," he chanted.
Picking up a rubber band from the shelf, she twisted her long red hair so it wouldn't get wet and knotted it tightly. Kneeling beside the tub she wetted the cloth and soaped it as he sat up leaning forward in anticipation. She held the cloth up away from his back. "Now, tell."
But she was determined.
"Okay, okay." He paused to find a starting place. "Had those two couples from Portland. Older folks. The men are business partners or work together, something like that, both of them pricks as far as I could tell. Remind me never to take out husbands and wives again in the same boat, especially ones that have been married for twenty-some years. They must really hate each other."
"We don't." Her scrubbing had started.
"So did you go out on the Willamette? I know you took the jet sled, I heard you leave this morning."
He pointed to another spot on his back.
"I've done that already."
"Do it again? Please!"
As she did just that, he got into the story, "Old men, old farts more like it, wanted springer salmon and Parsons was anxious as hell to get a big one. The only place salmon are biting is down on the Columbia near the channel. Can't figure why they took their wives." The scrubbing was complete and Ashley loosed her hair and sat beside the tub. Drake slipped deep into the hot water. "Put in at Richmond around 9 a.m. Let's see, there was Tom Greer and his wife Connie who's about as mousie as you'd ever seen a woman and Sam Parsons, the boss. Probably worth a million but too cheap to buy his own boat, and his wife Jamie."
"I've never met them?"
"No, Parsons was referred by Barry's Sports Store."
"Started with bait shrimp. Couple of other guys had caught some small ones on them at daybreak. Two hits on Greer's pole. Lost them. Clumsy bastard. Couldn't even pick up his pole when I told him to. 'Fish on!' I hollered and he just stood there. Dumb as a post. His boss gave him hell. Didn't help matters. Made him clumsier. Greer's wife just retreated into some sort of personal shell, didn't say a word.
"Why'dn't ya jerk that rod, jerk!' old Parsons shouted. Thought he'd scare any fish left on the river. Behind him, Jamie, his wife, gave him a look that could have fried bacon. Hellish miserable weather, beautiful though. Rain spattering off the water, mist rising from the forest and swirling around the low clouds. Like one of those Japanese paintings. Parsons wanted coffee, wanted to eat, wanted his lure changed. Couldn't believe how that man wanted to be catered to. When he wasn't demanding attention he was making Greer miserable.
"Gave them lunch and went to the back of the boat to sit and have coffee while we anchored off of the bar. Nice as you please, Jamie turned around to me while that husband of hers was talking business with Greer. Stupid if you ask me to come out on a peaceful morning and bring business with you. She says, "You're the most patient man I've ever met. Is it because you're out of doors a lot?'
"Had to tell her 'Not really.'"
"What did you tell her?" Ashley asked.
He reached out a wet hand and brushed her cheek. "Told her I had the best wife in the world and lots of good sex."
"Oh, come on!"
"Really did. Lady loved it. Laughed and looked real pleased. Said not many people in the world are so lucky. What could I say but if you pay your dues, expect results."
"And you're convinced you pay your dues, my dear?" Ash gently bit one of his fingers.
"Wait 'til we get back in bed, woman! Payback time," Drake pulled his finger away. "Just you wait."
She grinned, her face flushing a little in anticipation.
The short sturdy man sat up in the tub. "Water's getting cold. Time to get out. 'Scuse me." He began pouring water over his hair and rinsing off the soap.
"So it was a wet, miserable awful day—but what made it strange?"
He blew the water from his face like a whale breaching and turned towards her, "Parsons got worse. Insisted we move here and there, wouldn't take advice about where to fish. Thought I was merely a pilot under his command. Asshole." Drake pulled the plug with a vicious jerk and the water burbled out. Ashley moved back to the bed and as he dried himself off he moved towards her. "Wind picked up. Most of the boats were closed up and guys drinking coffee or booze under cover. No fish. Not a fin to be seen anywhere. Sorta prayed for old asshole to give up, but no, he wanted to go further into the channel.
"'Out there,' he pointed like some whale hunter. Moved to turn the boat and Jamie was bent over. Thought at first she was sick and that would have really put the cap on the day, but no," Drake shook his head as he returned the towel to the rack, "she was laughing into her hands. Silently. Laughing hysterically. First time I saw Connie do anything too, she was grinning behind those assholes' backs. Couldn't believe it. Probably the first time that lady had an emotion all day. Forty-year-old woman with no emotion. Crazy. As I reached forward to throttle up, Jamie leaned close and whispered, not that her husband could have heard anything over his own voice going on and on about sales this and sales that, 'Do a wheelie and toss him out! Go for it!' Couldn't help laughing with her, certainly felt just like doing that.
"Got to the middle of the channel. Wind blowing like hell. Greer's turning green but doesn't dare be sick in front of his boss and though Connie's being a good shipmate, I could see she was wretched as a wet cat. Parsons was fucking around with his pole like he was trying to hook the damned fish with a gaff. Couldn't help but remind him my rule that you lose it you buy it. Didn't pay any attention. Spray was coming over the side. Dreadful. Looked around and here's Jamie, just grinning, having the time of her life, looking at the water like she’d discovered the meaning of existence. Smiled at me. Warm as toast. Maybe I'd given her the answer to a question she'd been asking for years. I don't know. Finally Mr. Parsons tires out, sits down and asks for more coffee. Thermos was empty and 'course couldn't make coffee out on the bounding main. Told him so. Firmly. Announced we were going to the last spot where we could catch fish, or should at any rate. Took off for the undercut where that big eddy forms. Great place for springers.
"Looked pretty grim those guys. One sick, one wretched, one morose, but Jamie's got this epiphany going. Got out of the wind and settled into the eddy. Fired up the heaters and put on water. Connie seemed happy enough to take over the coffee making and the men were more interested in that than fishing any more. I mean, what the hell, we hadn't had a bite since Greer's that morning. Damned wind probably. Ordered the lines in, changed each lure to bait again and put the lines out. Except for Jamie's. Lady wanted a different lure. Very insistent. I sit down at the motor in back of her and opened the lure box. You know how I do. Man, I am puzzled as hell. I'd tried everything that had ever worked before. Poked around with the pliers and that Christmas tree ornament thing surfaces.
“'That one!' she points.
“'Must be joking!' I say.
“'Nope, put that one on.'
“What the hell, I think, nothing else was working. Got it changed and told her to let out ten lengths. Sat there for about half an hour. Clouds building up. Not mist anymore, it was getting serious. Dripping off our noses. Still an hour to go, but I'd had it. Told them to bring in their lines. Greer and Parsons were more’an ready to take off the river. Connie had some problems with her reel. I helped her. Turned to Jamie and slow as could be she was winding that crank.
“'Really want that fish, don'tcha?'
'Yes, I do,' she said and WHAM! that pole suddenly bent over double and line went out like there was no tomorrow. Damned reel heated up. Shit. Lady was stunned.
“'Jerk on it! Jerk on it!' her stupid husband shouts."
Drake was sitting on the edge of the bed now, reliving the moment, hands holding the imaginary pole, leaning forward, straining. "No way. Could see her hands were turning purple. Reached behind her and grabbed the handle.
“'Is it a big one?' she asks me.
“'Fuck yes!' I yell and really pull up. Mr. Parsons shouting all the wrong things, whispered into her ear, 'Tell asshole to shut up.'
“Could hardly talk she was working so hard, she turns her head a little and shouts, 'Stuff it, dear.'
“Thought the man would bust an artery, but he got quiet. Couldn't help but see we were struggling.
"Really fought. Went all around that boat. Gave Jamie such pleasure to order her husband out of her way. 'Lines in!' I told her to say and she shouts it out. Half an hour it took. Woman's hands were blistered raw. Fish still wasn't that tired when I got the net under it. Had to have the men help me pull it into the boat. Guess how big that salmon was?"
He patted Ash on the leg. "Guess again."
"Ah, come on."
"Honest to god. I weighed it on that little scale thing. Fifty-three."
"Wow! She got a fish to take home. Some fish," smiled Ash.
"Nope, strangest part is yet to come. I said to her, 'Jamie, this is a momma fish, going up to have babies. See her tummy, lots of roe there. Going up to spawn, then die.'
Asshole shouts, 'Get a picture, get a picture! We're sure going to eat salmon tonight!'
“Jamie's looking stunned and exhausted. Fish is struggling to breathe and I pull out the bat. Lady stops me. 'Put her back in,' says Jamie, 'let her finish her trip.'
“I respond, 'No assurance she'll make it past those other fishermen and the dams.'
“Lady puts her hand on my arm to stop the bat and whispers quietly in my ear, 'Better those dangers being free than dying for the likes of him. Let her go.'" Drake stopped his narrative and smiled.
"Go on," Ashley nudged him.
"Well, asshole was raging, 'Kill the damned fish, I paid for this trip. I'll mount it.' Looked at him. Bastard. Couldn't care less. What a prick. Got that fish up and helped Jamie hold it best she could, really heavy, took a bunch of pictures before she and I slid that fish over the side and watched it until it got strong again and disappeared."
"She really turned the fish loose?"
"Um-hum." Drake relaxed back into Ashley's arms and snuggled. "Not a word out of Parsons all the way back. Not one word. Probably cause a divorce."
"Maybe that's what Jamie wanted."
The short, sturdy man with sparkling blue-grey eyes ran his hands over the dark red hair and across the long, slender back of his woman and as he began to kiss her, he whispered between kisses, "Hope at least one of those pictures turns out good enough to make into a poster. Jamie'll love it."
Ashley began to feel that marvelous tingling come over her and struggling to put a last thought into words before succumbing to pleasure, she said between breaths, "What she'll probably do is frame it and put it over her husband's desk."
"Serve Mr. Parsons right," came Drake's voice from under the covers, "for her to get her freedom."
"Ummm," responded Ash.
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