Read Where I'm Calling From Online

Authors: Raymond Carver

Tags: #Literary, #Short stories, #American, #Short Stories (single author), #Fiction

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BOOK: Where I'm Calling From
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I pulled some grass and put it in the creel and laid him in there on the grass.

I made some more casts, and then I guessed it must be two or three o’clock. I thought I had better move down to the bridge. I thought I would fish below the bridge awhile before I started home. And I decided I would wait until night before I thought about the woman again. But right away I got a boner thinking about the boner I would get that night. Then I thought I had better stop doing it so much. About a month back, a Saturday when they were all gone, I had picked up the Bible right after and promised and swore I wouldn’t do it again. But I got jism on the Bible, and the promising and swearing lasted only a day or two, until I was by myself again.

I didn’t fish on the way down. When

I got to the bridge, I saw a bicycle in the grass. I looked and saw a kid about George’s size running down the bank. I started in his direction. Then he turned and started toward me, looking in the water.

“Hey, what is it!” I hollered. “What’s wrong?” I guessed he didn’t hear me. I saw his pole and fishing bag on the bank, and I dropped my stuff. I ran over to where he was.

He looked like a rat or something. I mean, he had buckteeth and skinny arms and this ragged longsleeved shirt that was too small for him.

“God, I swear there’s the biggest fish here I ever saw!” he called. “Hurry! Look! Look here! Here he is!”

I looked where he pointed and my heart jumped.

It was as long as my arm.

“God, oh God, will you look at him!” the boy said.

I kept looking. It was resting in a shadow under a limb that hung over the water. “God almighty,” I said to the fish, “where did you come from?”

“What’ll we do?” the boy said. “I wish I had my gun.”

“We’re going to get him,” I said. “God, look at him! Let’s get him into the riffle.”

“You want to help me, then? We’ll work it together!” the kid said.

The big fish had drifted a few feet downstream and lay there finning slowly in the clear water.

“Okay, what do we do?” the kid said.

“I can go up and walk down the creek and start him moving,” I said. “You stand in the riffle, and when he tries to come through, you kick the living shit out of him. Get him onto the bank someway, I don’t care how. Then get a good hold of him and hang on.”

“Okay. Oh shit, look at him! Look, he’s going! Where’s he going?” the boy screamed.

I watched the fish move up the creek again and stop close to the bank. “He’s not going anyplace. There’s no place for him to go. See him? He’s scared shitless. He knows we’re here. He’s just cruising around now looking for someplace to go. See, he stopped again. He can’t go anyplace. He knows that. He knows we’re going to nail him. He knows it’s tough shit. I’ll go up and scare him down. You get him when he comes through.”

“I wish I had my gun,” the boy said. “That would take care of him,” the boy said.

I went up a little way, then started wading down the creek. I watched ahead of me as I went. Suddenly the fish darted away from the bank, turned right in front of me in a big cloudy swirl, and barrel-assed downstream.

“Here he comes!” I hollered. “Hey, hey, here he comes!” But the fish spun around before it reached the riffle and headed back. I splashed and hollered, and it turned again. “He’s coming! Get him, get him! Here he comes!”

But the dumb idiot had himself a club, the asshole, and when the fish hit the riffle, the boy drove at him with the club instead of trying to kick the son of a bitch out like he should have. The fish veered off, going crazy, shooting on his side through the shallow water. He made it. The asshole idiot kid lunged for him and fell flat.

He dragged up onto the bank sopping wet. “I hit him!” the boy hollered. “I think he’s hurt, too. I had my hands on him, but I couldn’t hold him.”

“You didn’t have anything!” I was out of breath. I was glad the kid fell in. “You didn’t even come close, asshole. What were you doing with that club? You should have kicked him. He’s probably a mile away by now.” I tried to spit. I shook my head. “I don’t know. We haven’t got him yet. We just may not get him,” I said.

“Goddamn it, I hit him!” the boy screamed. “Didn’t you see? I hit him, and I had my hands on him too.

How close did you get? Besides, whose fish is it?” He looked at me. Water ran down his trousers over his shoes.

I didn’t say anything else, but I wondered about that myself. I shrugged. “Well, okay. I thought it was both ours. Let’s get him this time. No goof-ups, either one of us,” I said.

We waded downstream. I had water in my boots, but the kid was wet up to his collar. He closed his buckteeth over his lip to keep his teeth from chattering.

The fish wasn’t in the run below the riffle, and we couldn’t see him in the next stretch, either. We looked at each other and began to worry that the fish really had gone far enough downstream to reach one of the deep holes. But then the goddamn thing rolled near the bank, actually knocking dirt into the water with his tail, and took off again. He went through another riffle, his big tail sticking out of the water. I saw him cruise over near the bank and stop, his tail half out of the water, finning just enough to hold against the current.

“Do you see him?” I said. The boy looked. I took his arm and pointed his finger. “Right there. Okay now, listen. I’ll go down to that little run between those banks. See where I mean? You wait here until I give youa signal. Then you start down. Okay? And this time don’t let him get by you if he heads back.”

“Yeah,” the boy said and worked his lip with those teeth. “Let’s get him this time,” the boy said, a terrible look of cold in his face.

I got up on the bank and walked down, making sure I moved quiet. I slid off” the bank and waded in again. But I couldn’t see the great big son of a bitch and my heart turned. I thought it might have taken off already. A little farther downstream and it would get to one of the holes. We would never get him then.

“He still there?” I hollered. I held my breath.

The kid waved.

“Ready!” I hollered again.

“Here goes!” the kid hollered back.

My hands shook. The creek was about three feet wide and ran between dirt banks. The water was low but fast. The kid was moving down the creek now, water up to his knees, throwing rocks ahead of him, splashing and shouting.

“Here he comes!” The kid waved his arms. I saw the fish now; it was coming right at me. He tried to turn when he saw me, but it was too late. I went down on my knees, grasping in the cold water. I scooped him with my hands and arms, up, up, raising him, throwing him out of the water, both of us falling onto the bank. I held him against my shirt, him flopping and twisting, until I could get my hands up his slippery sides to his gills. I ran one hand in and clawed through to his mouth and locked around his jaw. I knew I had him. He was still flopping and hard to hold, but I had him and I wasn’t going to let go.

“We got him!” the boy hollered as he splashed up. “We got him, by God! Ain’t he something! Look at him! Oh God, let me hold him,” the boy hollered.

“We got to kill him first,” I said. I ran my other hand down the throat. I pulled back on the head as hard as I could, trying to watch out for the teeth, and felt the heavy crunching. He gave a long slow tremble and was still. I laid him on the bank and we looked at him. He was at least two feet long, queerly skinny, but bigger than anything I had ever caught. I took hold of his jaw again.

“Hey,” the kid said but didn’t say any more when he saw what I was going to do. I washed off the blood and laid the fish back on the bank.

“I want to show him to my dad so bad,” the kid said.

We were wet and shivering. We looked at him, kept touching him. We pried open his big mouth and felt his rows of teeth. His sides were scarred, whitish welts as big as quarters and kind of puffy. There were nicks out of his head around his eyes and on his snout where I guess he had banged into the rocks and been in fights. But he was so skinny, too skinny for how long he was, and you could hardly see the pink stripe down his sides, and his belly was gray and slack instead of white and solid like it should have been. But I thought he was something.

I guess I’d better go pretty soon,” I said. I looked at the clouds over the hills where the sun was going down. “I better get home.”

“I guess so. Me too. I’m freezing,” the kid said. “Hey, I want to carry him,” the kid said.

“Let’s get a stick. We’ll put it through his mouth and both carry him,” I said.

The kid found a stick. We put it through the gills and pushed until the fish was in the middle of the stick.

Then we each took an end and started back, watching the fish as he swung on the stick.

“What are we going to do with him?” the kid said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I caught him,” I said.

“We both did. Besides, I saw him first.”

“That’s true,” I said. “Well, you want to flip for him or what?” I felt with my free hand, but I didn’t have any money. And what would I have done if I had lost?

Anyway, the kid said, “No, let’s not flip.”

I said, “All right. It’s okay with me.” I looked at that boy, his hair standing up, his lips gray. I could have taken him if it came to that. But I didn’t want to fight.

We got to where we had left our things and picked up our stuff with one hand, neither of us letting go of his end of the stick. Then we walked up to where his bicycle was. I got a good hold on the stick in case the kid tried something.

Then I had an idea. “We could half him,” I said.

“What do you mean?” the boy said, his teeth chattering again. I could feel him tighten his hold on the stick.

“Half him. I got a knife. We cut him in two and each take half. I don’t know, but I guess we could do that.”

He pulled at a piece of his hair and looked at the fish. “You going to use that knife?”

“You got one?” I said.

The boy shook his head.

“Okay,” I said.

I pulled the stick out and laid the fish in the grass beside the kid’s bicycle. I took out the knife. A plane taxied down the runway as I measured a line. “Right here?” I said. The kid nodded. The plane roared down the runway and lifted up right over our heads. I started cutting down into him. I came to his guts and turned him over and stripped everything out. I kept cutting until there was only a flap of skin on his belly holding him together. I took the halves and worked them in my hands and I tore him in two.

I handed the kid the tail part.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I want that half.”

I said, “They’re both the same! Now goddamn, watch it, I’m going to get mad in a minute.”

“I don’t care,” the boy said. “If they’re both the same, I’ll take that one. They’re both the same, right?”

“They’re both the same,” I said. “But I think I’m keeping this half here. I did the cutting.”

“I want it,” the kid said. “I saw him first.”

“Whose knife did we use?” I said.

“I don’t want the tail,” the kid said.

I looked around. There were no cars on the road and nobody else fishing. There was an airplane droning, and the sun was going down. I was cold all the way through. The kid was shivering hard, waiting.

“I got an idea,” I said. I opened the creel and showed him the trout. “See? It’s a green one. It’s the only green one I ever saw. So whoever takes the head, the other guy gets the green trout and the tail part. Is that fair?”

The kid looked at the green trout and took it out of the creel and held it. He studied the halves of the fish.

“I guess so,” he said. “Okay, I guess so. You take that half. I got more meat on mine.”

“I don’t care,” I said. “I’m going to wash him off. Which way do you live?” I said.

“Down on Arthur Avenue.” He put the green trout and his half of the fish into a dirty canvas bag.

“Why?”

“Where’s that? Is that down by the ball park?” I said.

“Yeah, but why, I said.” That kid looked scared.

“I live close to there,” I said. “So I guess I could ride on the handlebars. We could take turns pumping. I got a weed we could smoke, if it didn’t get wet on me.”

But the kid only said, “I’m freezing.”

I washed my half in the creek. I held his big head under water and opened his mouth. The stream poured into his mouth and out the other end of what was left of him.

“I’m freezing,” the kid said.

I saw George riding his bicycle at the other end of the street. He didn’t see me. I went around to the back to take off my boots. I unslung the creel so I could raise the lid and get set to march into the house, grinning.

I heard their voices and looked through the window. They were sitting at the table. Smoke was all over the kitchen. I saw it was coming from a pan on the burner. But neither of them paid any attention.

“What I’m telling you is the gospel truth,” he said. “What do kids know? You’ll see.”

She said, “I’ll see nothing. If I thought that, I’d rather see them dead first.”

He said, “What’s the matter with you? You better be careful what you say!”

She started to cry. He smashed out a cigarette in the ashtray and stood up.

“Edna, do you know this pan is burning up?” he said.

She looked at the pan. She pushed her chair back and grabbed the pan by its handle and threw it against the wall over the sink.

He said, “Have you lost your mind? Look what you’ve done!” He took a dish cloth and began to wipe up stuff” from the pan.

I opened the back door. I started grinning. I said, “You won’t believe what I caught at Birch Creek. Just look. Look here. Look at this. Look what I caught.”

My legs shook. I could hardly stand. I held the creel out to her, and she finally looked in. “Oh, oh, my God! What is it? A snake! What is it? Please, please take it out before I throw up.”

“Take it out!” he screamed. “Didn’t you hear what she said? Take it out of here!” he screamed.

I said, “But look, Dad. Look what it is.”

He said, “I don’t want to look.”

I said, “It’s a gigantic summer steelhead from Birch Creek. Look! Isn’t he something? It’s a monster! I chased him up and down the creek like a madman!” My voice was crazy. But I could not stop, “There was another one, too,” I hurried on. “A green one. I swear! It was green! Have you ever seen a green one?”

BOOK: Where I'm Calling From
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