I’m barefoot in a little cotton dress when I hit the river, running into it like my feet have always known it. Some of the fishermen, standing knee deep in the water, one every few feet as far as I can see, stare at me. Some don’t. I dive and catch the salmon just as it hits the water, bring it up, present it to the fisherman.
“Woops, you dropped your fish!”
Oh, no, he explains that that part has bones in it, and it’s better to just eat the little slice he’s taken off each side.
No. I show him how to clean the fish and how to cut big salmon steaks, and promise that the bones won’t hurt him any more than the bones in chicken wings.
Okay, he says, okay, I’ll try it this way.
Thanks, I really appreciate it. I smile, squeeze my boobs together with my arms, and invite him to the titty bar later.
I walk further along the shore, ducking the flicks of fish hooks from careless fishermen.
Soon I am jumping again, another fish.
“Woops! You dropped your fish!”
No, no, he says. I didn’t drop it, I’m done with it. Get out of my way.
No. My feet run deep in these rocks.
Where are you from, little girl? California? He snorts.
I name a village I was born in.
Oh, Canada, he says.
No, Alaska. Let me show you how you can eat this whole fish.
Whatever, he humors me and I walk back along the shore, ducking.
When they won’t take the fish, when they insist on throwing them in the river where the bears will come to eat them and they will shoot the bears, I take the fish and put them in my bucket on shore.
Do you believe in life, in staying alive? If you do, you’ll want to live in a world with more salmon every year, where they thrash in the water so thick and white that every scoop of the fish wheel brings you five or six of them. This isn’t that world though, the people in power don’t care about life, and so there are less fish every year. Less and less fish, so that no one has dogs anymore and pollock boats throw away hundreds of thousands of salmon every summer, and still they come from all around the world to kill the salmon that are left. Obviously, the people in power shouldn’t be.
I’ve converted fourteen men and have a bucket of salmon (they are big, so it doesn’t take many) by the time the cop comes. Fish and Game, Fish and Wildlife, I can never remember, but it’s the same guy as last year and he remembers my name.
“Tara,” he yells, “come over here.”
No, if you want to talk to me you come in here, I laugh and I move out to deeper water, crossing my fingers against the fish hooks that must float around me.
Hey, a grandfatherly man wades out to me, why don’t you make this easier on yourself? Just go talk to him.
Oh, yes, it’s always easy for us to do what they want, as easy as it was for the Jews to walk into those Nazi death showers. It’s easier not to resist, it’s just a shower. I tell grampa that resistance is self defense, and I sit down in the water.
The cop sighs, gets out his waders, and wades out to me. His feet don’t know the rocks, so he lurches and makes big splashes, even with his waders on.
Look, he says, you can’t do this, we went through this last year. You can’t take these fish, you have to catch your own, with your own liscense.
Do you want to arrest me again? Does it make you feel like a big man to drag a girl out of the river in handcuffs? Do you ever wonder why you can shoot me but I can’t shoot you? I want to ask, but I don’t. It’s really never a good idea to talk to cops, so I don’t.
He tells me that I want to be arrested, but he doesn’t want to do this. He wants to give me an opportunity to think about my behavior, to follow the rules. He’s going to take my bucket of fish, and he’s going to come back in fifteen minutes and I better be gone.
You better eat those fish, I yell after him as he splashes away. If you throw those fish in the river you’re going to hell!
Under stress, I threaten them with their own threats. I don’t know why.
I wait until he drives away before coming to shore, walking along, diving…
“Woops! You dropped your fish!”
The cop doesn’t come back this year.