Thursday, April 14, 2005


Salmon Bellies

[The following story was a Finalist in the 2004 Indiana Review '1/2 K' Prize for short-shorts. It is also included in the collection Life as Festival by Jay Taber.]


We sat on Clayton beach near the tidal-sculpted sandstone outcropping and ate the salmon the seal gave us. The small blackmouth--a resident King of the Salish Sea (inside Vancouver Island) that chooses not to roam the Pacific Ocean with its much larger cousins—was just enough for two after our roan relative had bitten off the rich, egg-laden belly. The taste of its alder-smoked fat went well with our Irish breakfast tea.

The night before, drummers down the beach kept us awake till the stars began to fade. The evening before that, we ate Port Townsend Waterfront Pizza on the Whidbey Island bluff, engulfed in a lingering vermilion sunset that painted the placid Strait of Juan de Fuca in reflection of the brilliant hot-coal clouds, stopping unsuspecting tourists and campers dead in their tracks, their mouths and eyes agape in awe.

Even the elegant forest of delicate pink wild rhododendrons--interspersed among the madrona and salal surrounding our campsite--absorbed the blazing orange hue, rendering us bounded by a benign, smokeless wildfire.

When I crawled out of our tent into the soft powdery sand that dawn, while Marianne and our dog Ajax slept, the seal rose from the brine barely offshore with our breakfast, and staring at me momentarily, flipped the blackmouth within reach of my fingertips next to the smoldering ashes of last night’s campfire. After gathering a handful of smooth, sun-bleached alder sticks to rekindle the fire, I slit the breast of the little Chinook and butterflied it on stakes around the dancing yellow flames before wandering into the woods to look for salmonberries and redcaps to round out the morning’s menu.

Returning to our camp, Marianne and Ajax were seated next to the fire boiling water in our charred kettle and wondering how I caught a fish without a pole or net. I said, “It just dropped in my lap, like the cinnabar sky and countless carcasses our ancestors scavenged before they became predators and upset the balance.”

She mulled that over a moment and then responded, “So what happened to the belly?”


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