I interrupt the Brule River with my waist and slice the air with the swing of my fly rod, an Etch-a-Sketch rhythm only I can repeat, in a current where I can change its direction unlike the weaving, darting brook trout who birth from the shadows. I’m like the invasive boulder that no one quite knows how it got there. It’s the only game of chicken I know I can win if I don’t move.
But then, as the sun drops, the river paints my thighs and bones cold, and my arm begins to tire, the current pushes me free, and I think about my older sister, who, just recently, told me I’ll be considered “high risk”—“You can’t wait much longer.”
I know brookies become sexually active at age one.
And, I think about my mother in the garden hilling green beans, and I asked her if I could go on birth control, and she didn’t say anything, which meant “yes,” which meant “no,” which meant, “I’m hilling beans right now.”
I know one brookie can lay 400-600 eggs.
And, I think about when at twenty-six, my first husband and I tried, and then, I tried before I released him. After our divorce, he told me that he had a dream about a little girl that looked just like me. I didn’t tell him about having the same dream—a skinny, wild hair, thick-lipped reflection running towards me, smiling like I was hers. I woke up before I caught her.
I know brookies don’t live past four.
I think about the lump I found when I was thirty. The size of a baby at seven weeks. The size of the blueberries that grow wild along this riverbank. The size of the indicator I just slipped through my line. For weeks in the shower, I pressed the lump into the dip of my breast to make it disappear, and eventually, it just did.
I know where the brookies surface in this river, where they take their break in the calm of a rock. They are unaware of where reality begins and ends: my lime green streamer staccato-ing through the water like a silent Morse code crying wolf. I envy them for their unknowns, their “I give in; you win” nature when I cradle them in my palms for a photo. I think, I know I will have to call it a draw. I will have to leave this river. I will be replaced by the water heading downstream.
Jodie Mortag, a true Wisconsinite, having labored four summers in a mozzarella factory, received her MFA from Wichita State University. Mortag is an assistant professor of writing at Lakeland University. Her work appears in North Dakota Quarterly, Counterclock, Fourt
Photo by Jacob Sapp on Unsplash
I love this short. I have loved everything written by Jodie since we were children. Her growth and talent is unprecedented.
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John L Backman
November 24, 2020
What a brilliant and poignant essay. Thank you.