Each rotation of the tires brought one further movement away from pressing needs and one roll toward a momentary reprieve. He needed this, this washing away of memory, this forgetting, and few things cleanse as well as leaving Salt Lake City behind to fish the Green River. He turned his music loud and in unison raised his voice, singing some meaningless tune; the purging coming from the manner and act of letting it out, not the actual words spoken. 

Miles behind and the weight started to methodically lift with each marker passed; yet, he couldn’t help but replay his day with the same acerbic result. Why did he have to do that to me, and in front of others? Because he knows I get flustered with others there, that’s why. If he met me on fair ground, I would beat him at his own game, but he baits me along by using a crowd. He’s more cunning than I am. 

He crossed the last remaining town, and after a short climb, entered the barren plain making up most of Wyoming. The wind, generally a sign of a storm in other places, battered daily upon the bitter tundra making it suitable habitat for only the heartiest of plants and wildlife; aside from sagebrush, muleys, jackrabbits and antelope, little lasted through the winter. The barrenness signaled he was minutes away from the Green. The moon lay obscured behind the thin clouds which kept dissipating to make room for the next wave to funnel in. One more subtle incline and the river lay below, a blue ribbon cut through burnished copper.

He couldn’t see actual water in the darkness; he marked its path by the line of Cottonwood’s escorting it wherever it went. He parked his truck and went straight to setting up his tent. It was late, and the day had been taxing. A bitter cold clamored against the nylon. It didn’t matter if it was August; weather on the plain follows unpredictable patterns. He finished pounding the last stakes into hoarfrosted dirt and decided against starting a fire. He was too tired to do anything but get in his sleeping bag and let the night owl’s “who” to him. The coldness made it impossible to think about his boss making a fool of him, and though too gelid to sleep until his sleeping bag absorbed some of his body heat, it was also too cold to think about anything derogatory. He didn’t have to think, he just had to get warm and listen to the river in the distance, and the owl’s “who” and the wind howl against his tent. 

He woke up revived. He ate, masticating little, gulping water to wash it all down. He threw on his waders, boots, and jacket, unsheathed his rod from its case and instead of heading directly towards the water, he set up his rod with his back towards the Green. Not a superstition, just, he knew how anxious he gets when he sees the water running and fish rising, and he would rather set up collectedly, even if he put on the wrong fly, than fiddle with anxiety.

Ritual complete, he headed to the river. He scuttled down a deer trail, and there in front of him, constantly moving, yet ever staying still, stood the mighty river with its blue-green algae swaying to the flow of time immemorial, captivating fisherman and fish. The early morning blue-winged olive hatch had ended and the carcasses, half-submerged, no longer littered the river. He waded out into the shallow current, far enough to cast his fly without catching the overgrowth near the bank. The natural line of the current swung his fly into the feeding path—the slower, whitewashed eddy kept fish covered and flies spinning until they jettisoned onward. The trick was to keep his slack up and out of the water so the fly would look natural and rotate without dragging through the water, leaving an unnatural wake.

He used a roll cast, flipping his line up the shallow ripples. Entering the ripples, the natural anatomy of the river transported the fly to the exact spot the fish would be feeding. He did this for five minutes before he felt the subtle nudge of a fish. He set the hook with a quick sideways jerk of the rod and a downward pull of the slack line in his hand, assuring the fly would lodge itself in the corner of the mouth, but nothing attached itself to the end of his line.

He watched the water for sign of sipping fish. He recognized the ruffle of breaching fins and noses poking through the brackish white water. He changed his leader to a 5x, so the reflection of the sun would not catch the line, and put on a WD40 emerger. He would float it just beneath the surface. He began casting again and forgot about everything except the running water, the gaggle of geese above him, and the best course his fly should travel. Then he began to replay the awful office scene once more while the water enveloped him.

He sat next to a beautiful woman named Bridget. They had been conversing for three weeks before he worked up the nerve to ask her out. When he did, he could not help but notice the curious heads popping out from cubicles to see the spectacle. Bridget behaved demure, and kindly thanked him for the offer but then mentioned she had been married for two years. He apologized for being so upfront and then went back to work as if nothing happened, too abashed to move and treating his cubicle as if it were his cocoon for the next few hours. Not until lunch break did he realize just what an ass he had made of himself. His co-worker, Stan, approached him and asked if he realized Bridget was married to the boss. But where was the ring, he thought. After lunch, he slid back into his cubicle, doubly abashed, and didn’t emerge until everyone had gone home.

He snagged a small rainbow or two, but the WD40 wasn’t an exact match. The older, shrewd fish glanced at the fly as it drifted in their feeding alleys, but being too small of a midge and the wrong color, they glided by it un-bamboozled. Time to change flies. He reeled in, inserted the line, just above the knot, between his teeth and broke it off. He tied on a size 26 Zebra midge to the remaining tippet and began casting again, using no sinker, slowly letting the fly catch the current and then roll around in the brackish eddy until the excess line would pull it unnaturally out.

By Friday, he figured all had been forgotten. Sure, he got some jeers from his co-workers, but his faux pas wouldn’t make it up the company ladder and into the boss’s ear. The Friday meeting would go as usual: him dozing in and out of sleep, and then the weekend. When he first started the job, he used to ask himself, Would Hemingway ever put up with a job like this? He knew the answer, but it comforted him to ask the question. Sometimes, crammed in his cubicle, he would think what Captain Ahab would make of such tight quarters. He’d probably stick the doubloon to the computer screen and give it to the first person who could knock down every wall around him.

The meeting progressed as usual. Time was turned over to the boss man, the stereotypical, khaki’s and sweater vest, gel in hair type of guy. He commented on numbers and policies, and then, as if everyone in the room were cognizant of his next move, he says to his wife: “I’d like to thank you for not sitting next to Adam during the meeting. Who knows if he would have tried to play footsies with you or not?” The entire gallery erupted into one hilarious uproar. Adam has no comeback because what comeback does one say to their boss without getting fired? Tell him they are way beyond footsies now; that he would rather pick at the mole on her left breast (even though he hasn’t the slightest clue if there is one there)? No, Adam sat stolid, his face turning myriad shades of red, sweat dripping into his eyes, smiling like he wasn’t affected by the joke, but he was.

Yes, the distance had done him good. The embarrassment was dissipating, flowing away with the river. He cast his fly beyond the ripple and let the slower current drift the fly into the backside of the eddy. Using a midge without a strike indicator, it is all touch, there is no way, other than touch, to know when the fish hits. The arm has to become an extension of the rod. The Zebra midge entered the eddy, creating a crease in the foam. Then, the foam splashed unnaturally. He lifted his arm while tightening the slack slipping through his other hand. Six feet down from where it had taken the fly, a fish scudded out of the water. It was running with the current in hopes of finding a log or large rock to wrap itself around and break off the line. With such flimsy line, he could do nothing but go with the current and hope to reel in the slack faster than the fish yanked it out. But the fish was taking slack out and causing the reel to zing quicker than he could reel in. One hundred yards down, he made it to the bank and ran adjacent to the fish. He angled his tip downstream and towards the bank, applying pressure to the fish, making it fight the rod and work against the current. The fish slowly worked its way out of the faster current, away from any fallen logs and into the slow water by the bank, where it could be reeled in.

Once he saw the fish flipping its tail and wobbling back and forth, he netted it and took the small midge out of its cartilage mandible. Keeping the fish in the water and net, he scrutinized the beautiful colors. The Snake River Cutthroat metamorphoses a beautiful flame orange with multitudinous black spots along the back and tail. He held the fish by the tail and worked oxygen back into its system, swaying it back and forth, forcing water into its gills, then he let it go. He watched in awe as the fish slithered back to the current and began swaying with the algae, acting like nothing had happened. After a few moments, the fish darted from its hiding place and gorged on a caddis pupae caught in the flow of the river then it returned to the same spot as if it had never left, as if the fish had no memory, as if it had already forgotten being duped into eating something that looked like food but wasn’t. He watched for about ten minutes then decided he had better move on if he wanted to catch the larger Brown Trout lurking in the deep pools.

He fished until dusk, loaded up his supplies, broke down his rod, stripped off his waders which were stained the color and smell of the algae, then headed home. He had nearly forgotten he had to work for a few hours tomorrow afternoon. Oh well, he thought putting his foot to the accelerator, at least no one will be there to make fun of me.  

He kept his defrost cranked up to combat the crystals from accumulating on the windshield. As he entered the final turn before Kemmerer, Wyoming, he thought to himself, No. There is no room for the likes of Hemingway anymore. Then he thought about the Cutthroat he had caught. He stopped at the gas station and paid at the pump with his new credit card. He didn’t even have to go inside. How convenient.

Alec Bryan is the author of one novel, NIGHT ON THE INVISIBLE SUN. He has a blog at www.alecbryan.com. He has been published in Pank, Dogplotz, and numerous other awesome magazines and journals. He fly-fishes and writes when he has time, and even when he doesn’t have time, he watches the Detroit Tigers.