We burned newspaper on rocks but that wasn’t enough to cook anything, not even the palm-sized fish my cousin had caught with a broken stick. It was a drought and we were camping, my parents and my dad’s sprawling family. I didn’t nearly die on a 4wheeler but burned my leg on the exhaust and my mother spewed acid about it all, the no helmet, the steep drop, the blisters, the speed. People in nature didn’t wear helmets and they didn’t crush their beer cans on helmets but on their own heads and that’s where we were. We’d eaten hot dogs with no buns that had been roasted on the ends of a wild tree branch with its leaves stripped looking like the biggest buck antlers ever on the earth and the dogs were hot and burnt but once you got through that dark shell there was the juice and the meat. And there’d been a fish, a big one, that floated just feet from the shore. The creek was going through some things, as they say, near dead from aspirating mud, with the water low enough to see the creek bed through the murk. But this fish was there eyeballing us and it would sometimes swim over and eat our bait and then go back to its spot. It was a big fish but probably not as big as it had been months before when there was still rain. It once knew something it now had to consider glory. And the fish taunted us while thinking its own thoughts and we were thinking about him being an asshole because we didn’t have words enough yet to describe failure or desperation or hunger, not in the way we would. And this lasted all day but then a miracle of revenge happened when a cousin waded into the water with his spear and that fish swam away but behind it was a small dying fish and in the first stab he ran it through. And when he hoisted it from the water high over his head mud sprayed and the fish twitched and gave up, and though we never cooked it and never threw it back, we’d achieved something.
Brad Coffield is a college librarian and web developer living in Montana with his wife and two children. He grew up in West Virginia one block from a gothic state penitentiary. Find him online at www.bradcoffield.com.