Upon arriving at our camp, I pulled Mr. Fish and his friends from the cooler and with no better place, set them on the hood of the truck. When I felt certain the bag wouldn’t slide off, I tried to figure out what else I could do to be useful, and starting the fire seemed like a good idea. I hadn’t built one recently, but I did know how to do it, and after strategically placing various sized kindling and natural fuel including needles and leaves, I stacked mid-size logs, and chunks of dried bark into the center of the fire ring, I felt thoroughly pleased with my accomplishment. And then I realized I did not have matches or a lighter. For the love of all that is holy, could anything go my way or was I just taking up space on this outing? I sat down on the same log by the fire pit as the previous night and buried my hands in my face, trying to think of a way to be useful, but mostly feeling completely useless, and momentarily relieved that I lost him along the way.
When I had finished my moment of self pity, I stood up emphatically, grabbed the bin of water next to me, and hauled it awkwardly towards the back of the truck. For the first time, I did not care if the Lumberjack saw this gawky, weak side of me, because I needed to do something to not feel completely unnecessary. When I got to the back of the truck, I lowered the gate and hoisted the jug so the bulk of its weight held it in place long enough so that I could unscrew the cap. I set it in the bed and began to splash water around the area, trying to create a clean workspace where he might be able to gut the fish. When I lowered the water back to the ground, I splashed a little, but not enough to care, closed it up, and swiped any excess water off the tailgate.
I retrieved the bag from the hood and pulled my morning’s catch, one at a time, from the sack and laid them parallel to the truck, addressing each of them as I did so.
“Penelope, hello.” I recognized her by her tinge of pink.
“Mr. Trout, you’re looking adequately deceased.” I only knew it was him because he was the smallest, but he otherwise looked like Mr. Fish.
“Speckles, you look great in polka dots.” He wore a covering of dots on him, so he was easy to identify.
“Mr. Fish, hello again.” He might have been my favorite, just because he was the first.
“Jason.” Contempt, just contempt. He was the biggest, but I still didn’t like him.
For such a massively large creature, the Lumberjack had a way of sneaking up on me.
“Little fish, we had a deal that you would warn me if someone was coming. But I guess since you’re all dead, this one is my fault.” I turned around to see him a couple strides away. I pointed to the last fish I placed on the back of the truck. “This is Jason.”
The silent pause, a slight smile, and a crooked brow all proceeded, “You named the fish?”
Perhaps this was a good time for one of those affirmative non-responses. I stood silent only sliding my eyes sideways to watch him.
He pointed to the one closest to him.
“Penelope.” He raised an eyebrow. How could I save myself further embarrassment? I tried asking an insightful question. “What kind of fish is she?”
“No, I mean what kind of trout is she? He?”
“Rainbow.” I would have guessed that. I should have asked that.
“What about the rest of them?” I wanted to learn from him.
“This one is a brook trout.” Brook trout have speckles. Got it. He kept pointing to it. I looked at his face and clearly he was waiting for me to say something.
“Speckles.” My turn. “These two are the same kind, aren’t they?” I pointed to Mr. Trout and Mr. Fish.
“Yes, those are brown trout. So is,” he paused, “so is Jason.”
See, this was educational, and only moderately embarrassing for me. “Okay, so what may I do to help with lunch?”
“You could build the fire and get it going.”
“Do you have matches or a lighter?” He reached in his pocket and pulled out the former. I accepted them and went to make myself useful. It started slow enough, but within a couple minutes, it was burning mightily, or at least to my satisfaction. Done.
I took the matches back to him. “Thank you.”
He looked up through the truck windows at the blaze between the gap of the two tents. He looked at me and then back at the fire. He might have been impressed, or maybe he hadn’t realized I already constructed the fire, but it was hard to tell. He was too slimily involved in his current project and couldn’t take the matches from me. He lifted his hip towards me indicating I should slide them back into his pocket.
Ummm, I could see my fingers reaching down into his pocket, getting just slightly deeper than necessary, and just on the edge of insinuating. This could be really fun. Instead, I pinched the book and slid them slowly, simply into his pocket. He returned to his working stance unphased and I touched the corner of my mouth to make sure I wasn’t drooling.
Penelope lied on the end, already been beheaded and gutted and he moved on to Mr. Trout. It didn’t bother me that he was gutting them, because I was hungry and this was the next step in that process. I grabbed the bag that I left in the corner of the bed and placed their heads inside it, then rolled down the edges so it would be easily accessible for him. He said nothing but dropped Mr. Trout’s digestive system in the bag.
“In the far toolbox, there’s a cooking grate.”
I walked around the front of the truck, noticed the fire was waning, found the grate, and brought it around back to the tailgate and set it up so he could lay the fish on it without its being in his way on the driver’s side. I went back to attend to the fire. Once I stoked it and controlled it, I went back to see how my fish friends were faring. Everyone was headless except for Jason.
“Do you want to try it?”
“Yes, but I don’t want to delay your lunch.”
“I’ll survive.” He stepped out from his location so I could stand next to the tailgate.
I picked up the knife and waited for instruction. He stood next to me and rested his arms on the back of the truck, hands clasped.
“Start cutting from just below its tail, along its bottom edge towards the front.” I did as he said, working slowly so as to keep my thumb for future use. “You can spread it open a little to make the cutting easier.”
When I reached its neck he continued his directions. Overall, this wasn’t as awful as I expected.
“Now you need to reach in and pull out its entrails.” Or maybe not. Nevertheless, I did it. “Look inside to make sure you got everything.” I threw the mushy bits into the bag and did exactly as he suggested, but since I didn’t really know what I was looking for, I held Jason open and showed it to him. He reached inside and grabbed a couple small pieces, tossing them into the bag, too.
“Okay, that’s it. You’re done.”
“What about the head?”
“You removed the others. Why?”
“To keep the mess limited to the back of my truck.”
“Sorry about your truck. I didn’t know where else to prepare lunch.”
“It’s okay. You can wash it later.” I glanced up and he was smiling.
“You’re amusing.” I looked back at the fish in my hands. “So what’s next?”
“Do you want to try cutting off its head?”
Cut off Jason’s head? “Yes, I definitely do.”
“Slice it from the gills towards his head.” Much like our earlier fishing lesson, he stood behind me, holding my knife-wielding hand entirely in his hand, and using his other hand to position the fish. “Like this,” He started gently applying pressure to me and the knife respectively.
When I got about halfway through the process he released his grip, but I continued pushing through the fish. It felt good to press the knife against Jason’s neck.
“You want to turn him over and do the same thing from the other side.”
I stopped, realizing he stepped back and I never noticed, or even appreciated his close embrace, or his sweaty, yet not entirely repugnant fragrance, still with hints of the morning’s intoxicating smell. I missed it all because I was forcefully applying pressure on the cold, dead fish. I set the knife down, and took a step back. I hadn’t finished, but I was done.