Toward the end of their lives, Dell and Van Allen will take up fishing in these old mining pits out toward Cuyuna. The pits will be leach-infested and teeming with taconite run-off and blasting residue, and who knows if there are even any fish. That’s not really the point. The point is having a cold beer outdoors and dying real slow, dying while you’ve still got the time to enjoy it, and mostly they’ll talk about the past. Baseball. How the game done changed, and folks sure do drive fast nowadays, don’t they, and that’s the kind of bullshit they’re in the middle of when Dell one day catches a bite. Pulls up some kind of sunny. He looks at Van Allen, who, stunned, can only offer something like, “Throw that fucker back.”
“I’m not throwing it back, asshole. We’ve been waiting a year for this. This is the pan fish’s pan fish right here.”
“You eat that, your spleen will glow. I promise. Bet that thing’s been alive for 90 years. Probably has neon guts.”
“You wanna bet?” says Dell. “For real?” and Van Allen does. He really does, and so they sit up against a blown-out cliffside and slice the thing open with a set of car keys. They watch the insides spill onto the shore, and everything looks about the right color. Red. Green. These tiny streaks of white with maybe a hint of blue, and Van Allen says it reminds him of Highway 371 and how they used to chase down roadkill. Stare at it for hours. Dell would see all kinds of signs and wonders in the spatter, and, “So,” says his friend. “See anything good?”
“Yeah,” says Dell. “But not enough of it,” and in the space of a ripple they’ll be able to read each other’s thoughts. The fish is a miracle, they suppose. Just a real crying shame they always have to be so motherfucking small.
Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Masters Review, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. It’s also been chosen for Best Small Fictions and as part of Wigleaf’s annual Top 50 Very Short Stories. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, is available from Split/Lip Press.
Photography by: Jacqueline Martinez