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My eyes shoot open to a knock. It echoes around the empty house. When I open the door I meet the sorrowful face of Margie. She walks in, uninvited. Why should she be invited, it’s her house anyway. She then embraces me; her hug is cold and somber.

I wake from the dream realizing the cold was due to a window that flew open in the night. The drapes blow about in the breeze and the left side of the bed is even colder, Margie's side. Getting out of bed is rough due to the seventy five year old knees I have. I creek my way to a sink full of unwashed dishes. I scrub my teeth whilst congratulating myself for doing at least one productive thing today. As I trudge my way through the cabin, I spot Margie’s simple rocking chair.

“I don’t much want anything to fancy,” she had told me all those years ago. “Just something that rocks.” So we built it together by hand after moving into the cabin. Once we sold our city house we moved all our furniture and fortune into Montana’s mountains. Many and more we had built out of the wood the forest had provided us.

Now her chair threatens me all so ominous. It doesn't move and probably hasn't since her departure. My chair is a direct contradiction to hers. It is cluttered all about; Margie would have scolded me. Though now the whole house is cluttered. The single sense of cleanliness would be from looking at her chair; as if she had snuck here every night to keep her legacy clean.

I walk from the house crushing the dead branches and leaves of late fall. I keep my eyes from drifting to the old tin that used to be full of food for squirrels to snack on. It now lay bare and rotting in the sun. Beside the door is a light, wooden fishing pole margie had bought me when we first moved to the mountains. After some travel I find  my old friend. A pond lay ahead of me. It seemed a meteorite had struck the mountain side millions of years ago creating a habitat for hundreds. Though Margie claimed aliens had struck the ground.

A ledge of rock shot above a portion of the pond, the perfect spot for fish to find shade. I unfold an old red blanket beside me. Utop it I place the last book Margie was reading. My eyes glance over the wooden pole. It is smooth yet weatherd with years. It’s not a thing for salmon or any open water for that matter, but the pond trout don’t give it a hard time. Right above the handle is carved the letter W, an inside joke Margie and I had made long ago. The spot is shiny and smooth with years of good luck rubbings. 

My hands dig through a basket that holds pliers, clippers, and other fisherman’s tools. I untie some knots in the line and tie my rusted hook to it. After piercing a kernel of corn with the hook I toss it into the blue pool. My surroundings grow warm as the bright sun peeps over the snow-crested mountain peaks. The pond is smooth and the only sense of movement are the ripples the cast created. And so my mind fades with the singing of birds and light trickles from the pond’s many streams that envelop the mountain. A cool breeze fills my nose with the aroma of dirt and pine. I close my eyes. The pine trees used to be so full and green in the summer. 

My eyes snap open to the bright day as my pole twitches like a mad man. The fish hasn't taken the bait but is most like laying on it, keeping the others away. “Come on fishy,” I mumble, slowly shifting my firm grasp on the pole.

 I slacken the line and wait. Suddenly the line grows tight. Instantly after, the wood bends and creaks. After setting the hook with a tug I strengthen my stance and reel the catch to shore. The fish tugs but I tug harder, and with my thumb I rub the lucky W.

As the fish flops upon the dirt I steady my pole and grasp the slimy creature. With trembling hands I pull the hook from its gaping mouth. The fish stops panicking all the sudden and stares at me; its mouth opening and closing. 

I must kill and eat it, I tell myself. I haven't had a true meal in months. Though Margie always hated when I had to do it, not that it happened all that often. I stare at the fish and it stares at me. Then with a toss I release it back into the water.


I leave the pond to the beasts and make my way home. I stride on soft ground and through warm patches of sunlight that creeps through the trees. Then I find her.

  The Red Maple is not as fancy and large as the other trees but its red leaves do stick out splendidly compared to all the green that lay about. It’s the only one of its kind for miles. It is alone. Jutting beneath it is a lone stone; a beautiful name carved upon it. Though every ache in my body protests, I lay upon the dirt and rest my eyes for what feels like eternity. She visits me in my sleep and lays beside me. Her warm hug surrounds me and we stare at the clouds. The birds sing as bees and other insects buzz about for their queen. The sound of spring is all too memorable.

As the days went on the house grows more cultured and the ground beneath the Red Maple grows colder. Finally one morning when I wake from false dreams I am greeted with the white glitter of frost on the pines. With my breath visible I shook into a large jacket; the cold even manages to chew through that too. The ground is hard and frozen as I stride with pole and sorrow to the pond.

When I find my ledge I roll out Margie’s red blanket and set her book attop it. From a sack I pull a more ragged woolen sheet I sit on. I hook a piece of corn that is old and smells. I cast into the blue water that steams in sunlight then close my eyes.The cold air numbs my face and mind. Then from within the black void I see her. She comes to me in a yellow summer dress. She is wrinkled with age but strong with endurance. Oh Margie how strong you were. She is loving as well though. Her hands are soft and warm. I can feel them, brushing hot tears from my face.

Though before dream can take me any farther down its path I feel a tug. My eyes blink open to a sudden bending of my pole. I rub the smooth W and begin to real. Though whatever heinous creature is hooked tugs too hard for my withered hands. My palms soon cramp in exertion as the pole creaks and bends. I flip the bail arm which causes the line to flow freely. After some time of the line unspoiling due to the fish’s desperate escape I flip the bail again. With a whip the line grows tight and what follows is a splintering snap.

It takes my mind a second to comprehend what happened. Though the two jagged pieces of what once was a fishing pole is all too apparent. Without thinking I pull out a knife and cut the line letting the fish go. I stare at the pole and its many splinters, the silence around growing dreadful. With a painful crash I fall to my knees. I look at the broken pole then to the red blanket.

“Oh Margie,” I croak, dropping the pole and crawling to the blanket. I pick it up and pull it to my face. “Oh Margie,” I repeat into the blanket, smelling her old perfume. I taste dirt and feel the stuffines in my nose. My face is hot even against the frozen ground. “Oh Margie,” I muffle into the blanket. I cough and cry not caring for there would be no witnesses to my sob.

The next day I stay  in bed my sheets are the only thing that fends off the weather. The day after that my body forces me to drink water out of the bin that is nearly empty. I crawl back into bed and hug Margies blanket that is ruined with snot and tears. My mind is empty as I lay there. Even fishing seems numb. And eating, I had grown numb to that long ago. When the water bin becomes empty my natural instinct causes me to fill it up. Though my personal instinct is to deprive my body of hydration and let the bugs feast upon me.

I load many large bins into the bed of the old truck then climb in. The soft seats feel old and strange. The truck creaks and shakes as it bounces its way down the mountain. Through thickets of trees and hundred foot cliffs I drive. Last time I drove down Margie was sick and could barely talk. The last time I drove up she laid in the bed of the truck.

Finally I see the tops of small buildings and relics. The truck rolls over a bridge that covers one of my pond’s many fingers. As I drive through the village many eyes look up at me as if I was an old legend from the mountain. Into the building I go and order for tubs of water to be loaded into the truck.

“I’m glad to see you back again Ralph,” the tender says as I hand him a check. I give him a half nod and sit, quietly and hunched, in my truck. Two men load the barrels and I step out to help them with their task.

“Ralph?” I hear, wincing at the fimallier voice. “Ralph, it's been so long.”

I Look up to see Jim, he once tended a bingo bar Margie and I would go to once a blue moon.

“How is everything?” Jim gives me a somber smile.

“Fine,” I reply not meeting his eyes. Jim helps load the rest of the barrels. 

“Heavy buggers,” Jim says, short of breath. “Say you haven't been down in a while. I thought you’d run out of water long ago.”

“Not with just one person drinking,” I say.

“Oh, right,” Jim’s embarrassment is plain. “You’ve gotten quite thin. All you eat are the fish eh? Or do they not taste too good after a while?” I just stare at Jim not giving the effort of a verbal response.

“Oh Ralph,” Jim says. “Tell me you’ve eaten something.” 

He offers to take me to a restaurant and I, unbidenly, oblige. For his talk has soothed me some. Though I deny eating.

The cafe we go to is simply named Lincoln's Cafe. They named it that in honor of when the town was made; due to the administration at the time. The restaurant looked fancy enough with union flags and pictures of the sixteenth president strewn about. Though the menu is as typical as any other.

“What would you like?” Jim asks.

“Nothing,” I say. Jim orders an extra plate of food anyways.

  “Me and the lads are going for salmon pretty soon,” Jim says, sipping his water. “Would you wanna come? Something a little different than trout, eh?’

“I think I’m good,” I say, staring at my water. “Thank you though.”

“How are the fish up there,” Jim smiles. “Any Cut Throats.”

“A few,” I say, still staring at the perspiration of the water glass. “I don’t fish no more.”

“Why not?” Jim asks abashed.

“My pole broke,” I blurt.

“After this, let's go and get you a new one,” Jim says.

“I think my fishing days are over.”

“And why is that?”

“Don’t know.’

“Okay then,” Jim takes another sip. “What do you do now?”

“Think of her,” I say.

‘Oh,” Jim says, and I feel a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Yes, it is hard. But you must still live on the mountain. Not reside in it.” Silence takes over once more then Jim speaks again. “Margie is the Mountain Ralph. Enjoy it to your fullest. She is the reason you were up there in the first place.”

The burger I am served is called Willie’s burger named after Lincoln's son. It is full of meat, vegetables and juices that sizzle upon the plate. The smell is forien but good. And as if in trances my hands take up the burger and bite into it.

Jim takes me to an old surplus store with candy bars, fish bait, and poles. Every pole I hold feels wrong and unnatural. Each time my thumb searches for a W that isn't there.

“I can’t Jim,” I start blinking. “I can’t fish no more.”

“How ‘bout this Ralph,” Jim walks over to a rack of wooden fishing poles. “Take this one. It's not as fancy as your old one. But it's wooden and sturdy.” He gives it a bend. “If you don’t like it you can bring it back down to me and not have to touch another body of water again.” I stare at the pole that seems annoyingly intrusive. Then I agree to the terms.

I don’t let Jim pay for me but I do let him walk me to my truck.  I thank him and he wishes me better times. The drive up the mountain seems smoother than the drive down. With the new water I have I wash the dishes cluterd in the sink. I set a bowl out for the animals. Taking a hike to the Red Maple I bury the broken pole beside it.  I clean my chair but before I can sit down I feel an urge; an urge to fish.

I find my pond and my ledge. I rig up the new pole and stick a kettle of corn on a hook. I cast my bait then wait. And for the first time in twenty years I don’t unfold the red blanket.


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