canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Gone Fishing

by Stacy Taylor

He never liked lesbians. There were many things Jack didn’t like but lesbians made him especially uncomfortable. They threatened his masculinity, his manhood. While most men harbored secret sweaty fantasies of woman-on-woman, my husband only ever expressed disdain for them.

There was something different about our conversation that day, or perhaps my perception of his words. Something that opened a window in my mind that allowed me to finally see Jack as he really was: weak, insecure, and often cruel.

"Fucking dykes. I just can’t trust a woman who doesn’t try to make herself look good," he said, his eyes on the road. "It’s the nature of woman."

I thought of Tori immediately. She looked good. She looked very good: her brown skin, her long legs, her green eyes, and that wild mane of black hair. Tori was beautiful.

What he said, as we drove to his favorite fishing hole, came out of nowhere until I remembered the barbecue the night before. Jack had watched her walk through the gate, his eyes fixed on the bounce of her breasts as she smiled and began her obligatory round of greetings. When she reached the picnic table where Jack and I sat with our friends, he’d made blatant efforts to draw her into conversation until Maggie asked Tori where her girlfriend, Maxine, was. Jack’s face tightened at the same instant that his mouth opened in surprise and he made no further attempts to connect with her.

"What about Tori?" I asked, goading him. "She always looks good and she’s a lesbian."

I saw him shrug from the corner of my eye.  Without even looking, I knew his eyes were wide open and his forehead creased, and those expressive eyebrows were bobbing up and down.  I knew he was moving his head rapidly as he talked in that too-loud voice, as if by sheer volume he could convince his audience that he spoke fact.

"She ain’t all that good-looking, and she’s got that chip on her shoulder. It’s pretty unattractive really."

"What chip?"

"The gay chip." He glanced over at me before turning onto West University Avenue. "She’s full of that fucking attitude, you know?"

I shook my head.

"Christ Darla, you can be so obtuse. All gay people think they have to shove it in your face. They’re all ready to pounce and claim they're misunderstood. Righteous fucking indignation, ‘cept it ain’t righteous at all. It’s rude and self-absorbed."

I opened my mouth to counter with something wise and honest, but I found myself murmuring agreement instead, and then feeling ashamed for not standing up to him. Jack kept on talking, spewing his opinion in words laced with anger and sarcasm. I turned away to stare out the window.

We were near the airport, cruising along at seventy-five miles per hour as if things like airport police didn’t exist. The world rushed by in deep greens and blues, and the clouds took on the shape of girls with curly hair. The blacktop stopped a half-mile farther under a sign that declared the land to be airport property and subject to all airport regulations. Jack turned down a path so small one would doubt whether a vehicle as wide as Jack’s truck could fit into the grooves worn there, but it soon widened into something resembling a road and we headed for the levee.

I hated the levee. Something about driving a car up so high with no turnaround available scared me, just like approaching a stoplight scared me. I’d hold my breath as a passenger, my left foot braking empty air because I just knew the light would turn red before I could get through and a bigger car would come along and smash me to pieces. As a driver, I’d even slow down some distance away, praying that the light would change to red before I reached it and save me the horror of having to face that fear. And if Jack were with me, the fear would be accompanied by laughter as he called me a coward then mocked me with those dark eyes.

"Just kidding!" He’d say. "Just messin’ with ya."

Layers of pale brown dust churned from under the tires and drifted in through the open windows as Jack took us up the steep road and over to the levee. I looked around, but there were no cars in sight. It was June 21st, solstice weekend and a big deal in Alaska, and so my apprehension was even greater than usual. Nothing like meeting a drunk driver on a road that only holds one car - and barely at that - but maybe the party people were still happy enough to sit by the river drinking beer and telling lies. It was still early after all.

Jack hummed an old song while he drove and I stared out the window, wondering how it was that a woman who’d once hiked across Alaska and Canada alone was now afraid of levees and stoplights. When had the changes begun, and how had I let it happen? My eyes filled with tears, and a memory fell into place as stunted trees and shrubbery flowed past my peripheral vision.


It was the summer of 1995, and Marty had made love to me in his car near the levee. Marty, who used Oil of Olay lotion and somehow made it manly; I could still smell him when I closed my eyes. There was the turnoff ahead, and I felt his touch again. Holding my breath, as if any movement might shake the memory away, I let it fill me.

Jack had a night job in 1995. Marty picked me up in the parking lot of Safeway, his face begging for a kiss. I could not deny him and leaned in close until I felt the familiar weight of his mouth against mine. Just a short sweet one before we pulled apart for fear of being seen. We agreed to go for a ride, to talk about our future and decide if there was such a thing. I was nervous, and so was he, but we were friendly and comfortable. We were always comfortable.

Marty’s wife had cheated and he’d caught her. It amazed me that he caught her because he was usually with me, and if he wasn’t with me, he was watching me. But, he’d known and set a trap for her. In the basement of his house, he’d planted a tape recorder in the ceiling tile and just as Marty predicted, his wife had taken his best friend to the basement, slept with him, then engaged in a detailed conversation about Marty’s foolishness.

It was difficult for him to take and he’d had to make decisions based on her infidelity as well as his own. We’d been seeing each other for four and a half years at that time. At first Marty felt that it was a good thing, catching her like that. A chance to make the break he wanted and maybe even find atonement for his sins, but things went from unpleasant to downright nasty when the accusations began to fly. Of course, he protected me, probably to his own detriment, and maybe that’s why it all failed so miserably and we both ended up with the very people we’d married in the first place.

"Darla, I just don’t see how I can afford the child support." He looked at me. "Lorna said she wants to get back together. I’m considering it, but only for a little while."

"What’s a little while?" I asked, trying not to cry. When he’d left her, I had started to make the changes that would enable me to leave Jack and be with Marty. I loved Marty.

"I don’t know. A few months, maybe even less. I don’t know what else to do. You know what I earn. You know I can’t afford the payments."

"Maybe you wouldn’t have been ordered to pay so much if you hadn’t busted the windows out of Lorna’s car."

"I was pissed off. It’s tough to take when your wife fucks another guy. You can’t understand that."

"Hmm, I guess not because you’re doing the same damn thing."

Of course, it was hard for me to understand, perhaps even impossible, though I had tried my whole life to understand men. Marty had told me about his deepest fantasy a few times. It wasn’t a threesome, or anal sex, or fucking cheerleaders. It wasn’t even sex at all. What he wanted more than anything in the world was to have me on his lap and Jack sitting across from us. He said that my response to him was important; I would be attentive and adoring. I would show that I loved only him, and then he would look Jack right in the eyes and say, "I’ve been inside your wife, man."

He became erect every time he recounted the fantasy, and I suppose upon deeper consideration that his confession would be followed closely with intercourse. Maybe even right in front of Jack. Marty also had deep ejaculation and pregnancy fantasies. I guess it had something to do with man’s conquest of woman, marking territory, and species propagation, but I’ve often wondered why so much head fucking must accompany it. So, no, I couldn’t understand what Marty meant simply because I was a woman and he was a man.


I heard Jack talking beside me and once more wished that I had the strength to leave him. How many times I had wished that wish was impossible to calculate; at least once a day for the past fifteen years. I’d tried a few times, getting so far as to pack my bags, or his, and have one or the other of us out the door. I always relented to Jack’s reasoning and anger. Every single time. Because I knew that no matter what, I’d never be rid of Jack. He was not the kind of man to be discarded, and his claim over what he considered his own was maybe the strongest instinct I’d ever encountered. Stronger than Marty’s had been apparently, because Marty was gone and Jack was still there. I admired him for that in a weird way. I longed for that kind of determination.

"Aren’t you listening to me?" He asked.

"Huh? Sorry, what did you say?"

"You can be such a bitch sometimes."

Funny, but he was smiling and he reached out to squeeze my knee. I jerked and slapped his hand away, but dutifully returned the smile. He did not repeat whatever it was he said; he just drove down the levee.

I tried not to have sex with Jack anymore. I didn’t like it. In fact, I hated it and it always felt like a violation of spirit. Many times I had to fight back panic as he thrust into me, nearly crushing me with his weight. Once or twice, I’d bitten into my forearm to quiet the terror that sex with Jack gave me, and foreplay was a serious no-no. I could deal with the actual intercourse, but the instant his fingers or mouth touched me, I recoiled in horror. He never noticed.

The sun was approaching the horizon, its descent--slight though it was on the longest day of the year--casting long shadows across the dusty levee. In a few hours, it would begin to rise again without ever having disappeared from view. I closed my eyes and breathed the Fireweed and Forget-me-Nots that scented the cab of the truck.

"Fuck, that stinks." Jack muttered. "It’s too damn sweet." But I inhaled again and swam through another wave of memory.


"What do you want to do, Marty?"

"I want to take Lorna and the kids back to California, and then come back to you after they’re settled."

Although I knew that would never happen, I also knew that he meant what he said. Marty was in love with me, there was no doubt in my mind. The whole situation with Lorna had messed with his mind, but I was the real prize in his eyes. He told me that he’d never met a woman he could talk to the way he talked to me. I understood what he meant, but I also understood that sometimes easy must outweigh hard. Marty and me were hard.

I nodded and held his hand, and at just that moment a cloud had covered the sun. Cool air filled Marty’s old burgundy Plymouth Aries and I took huge gulps, trying to figure out exactly what I needed to say. Some emotion beyond anger, or love, or even disappointment had started to climb out of my heart. It startled me to understand that it was simple regret. The greatest chapter of my life as a woman was about to close and I could do nothing to stop it.


"We’ll be there soon," Jack was saying, "I think it’s the next turn. I haven’t been out here for so long I can’t remember."

"What?" I asked, still holding on to memories of Marty.

"Jesus Darla! You never listen to me."

I could smell the river now; it came in through the window fresh and clear, like the ocean without the fishy smell. Tired, I lowered my head to the backrest and closed my eyes. Jack slung some insults my way, but I didn’t hear the words he spoke. Instead, I remembered a handsome young man named Marty Waters, and I smiled.


We turned off of the levee and drove down the road to a secluded part of the river at about 10 pm. I thought it was too late to fish and wanted to go home, but in Alaska, you never knew when the fish would bite and when they wouldn’t. Besides, Jack just liked going through the motions and really didn’t care if he caught anything. It was one of the increasingly rare things that I liked about him. That he preferred the act to the outcome.

He glanced over at me and grinned. "Having fun?" he asked, knowing full well that I was not. I returned the grin and nodded yes, unwilling to give him the pleasure of confirming what he thought he knew.

"Well, just sit tight for a second. I’m gonna get my shit together before we go down."

"Jack, I just want to sit in the truck and wait for you. I have a headache."

Truth was that I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, which was happening more and more. Sometimes I thought that if I never laid eyes on another person as long as I lived it would be too soon.

"Uh uh. I need you to help me carry a few things," he said, then he turned to look at me and I cringed when I saw his eyes. "Jesus! You bitch about us never doing anything together then you just sit in the car? No fucking way. You’re going to come with me and you’re going to have some fun."

I blinked and nodded. I’d never once complained that we didn’t do things together; it frightened me to understand how completely Jack invented his own reality. In his mind, there was never any question, things were as he said they were and discussion was not allowed. He busied himself with his tackle in the bed of the truck and once more my thoughts began to drift.


"I’m very pleased to meet you," Tori said.

Her grip on my hand was firm, and her dark but friendly eyes held my gaze. I couldn’t stifle the grin that rose to my lips as I shook her hand.

We were swimming at the rec center. Tori was there at Maggie’s invitation and this was the first time we’d met although Maggie had told me about Tori the day before at lunch.

"She’s a retired fashion model, Darla, and maybe the loveliest creature you’ll ever lay eyes on." She lowered her voice to a whisper before glancing around the cafe. "She’s a lesbian."

Maggie tossed her blonde hair from her eyes and lit a cigarette. I recognized the naughty gleam in her eyes. She wanted this woman and Maggie always got what she wanted. I laughed and ribbed her about it for a few minutes, my curiosity about Maggie’s newest friend growing stronger.

I suppose I’d built her up so high in my mind that when I met her at last, her impact on me was nothing short of amazing. I cowered in my modest one piece as she strode toward us in a suit so revealing I swore I could see the hue of her nipples. Quite risqué for small town Fairbanks, and already the ladies were whispering behind their hands as she passed by.

Maggie rose with enthusiastic greetings, her smile so large it seemed to consume her entire face. Tori sat down on the bench beside me and took a few seconds to look me over. I felt myself blush from head to toe.

The rest of the afternoon passed quickly, and Tori was the star attraction as all the ladies found a reason to approach our group and introduce themselves to the latest spectacle.

She seemed to take it all in stride, her smile never once slipping. It was the most alert I’d felt in a long time and although I couldn’t pinpoint why, I found that I childishly wanted to hold on to that fresh feeling.

Toward the end of our swimming session, the group was instructed to pair off. Maggie made a beeline for Tori, but Tori grabbed my arm and announced that she’d found her partner. I looked at her in confusion; she winked and leaned down to whisper in my ear.

"You gotta save me from that one," she said, grinning, "please?"

I agreed and for the better part of an hour, I was stunned into another round of silence by the strength and agility of the woman with whom I was partnered.


"Hello? Hello?"


"You’re pissing me off, goddamnit!"

"Jack, I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m so tired. Can’t we go home?"

His face actually softened. He made soothing noises and reached through the window to brush a loose strand of hair from my face. I recognized the look in his eyes and wondered how it could come on him so fasy. He was in "savior mode" now and I had no choice but to play the victim. I leaned my head against the seat and waited for his diagnosis.

"You just need some fresh air. You know how sick you always feel after a long drive. Come on, let’s go down to the water and we’ll find you someplace to sit."

The drive to the airport and beyond had taken all of twenty minutes at most, but Jack was Jack and no amount of arguing would sway his perceptions. Again the dutiful, good wife, I smiled my thanks and let him load me up with rope and canteens of fresh water. Glancing at the sky, I saw dark purple clouds moving in and felt the wind pick up a notch.

"Jack, isn't this Rock Cliff? It's dangerous here."

A small boy had fallen to his death the previous summer and the area had since been designated a "No Recreation" zone. Jack laughed at me, wiser than I would ever be.

"No, it's not, smarty-pants. Rock Cliff is still about three miles down the levee. Don't worry, you won't die today, Darla, I'll protect you."

He was teasing me, of course. I felt exhausted with the strengthening wind tugging at my shirt, but meek and quiet, I followed Jack down the trail.


"What's under your best friend's bed?" Tori asked.

"Huh?" I replied.

"It's a Cosmo quiz. 'How well do you Know Your Friends?' That's the first question."

I giggled and sipped my Margarita. Tori and I were at her place having a cocktail before I drove home to make Jack dinner. We had become friends and spent a lot of afternoons together. I had kept the friendship a secret from Jack, though I couldn't really fathom why. I only knew that I felt good when I was with her and wanted to keep her for myself. She listened to me, she was funny, and she never made me feel like a lesser person.

"Guess." I said.

"Guess what?" We both burst into laughter. "Are we telling jokes now?" Tori asked.

"No, silly. You have to guess what's under my bed."

Maybe I did it on purpose, as a way to initiate a conversation that I had never had with anyone in my life. Whatever the reason, Tori caught on, her face changed and she was serious, yet still playful.

"Hmm," she murmured, "a tough order. What lies under Darla's bed? I bet it's not a twelve-inch hot pink vibrator."

I shrieked with laughter, but my heart began to pound.

"I bet it's not a hidden subscription to Rotund Rods magazine."

More laughter, and my legs started to shake.

"What could it be? What is Darla hiding? Old love letters?" she joked. "Nah. New love letters from a secret boyfriend? Nah, I don't think so."

"Come on, get serious," I pleaded, my laughter gone and my entire body trembling. I felt like I was standing on the edge of a mountain about to take a tumble off the side.

"Darla, is this a good idea? I'm no shrink. Hell, I paid off my therapist's mortgage back in California." She paused and cocked her head, grinning again. "Well, nearly anyway."

"Go ahead," I whispered.

"Little girl, I love you, I really do, but this is crazy." She sighed; a long and drawn out hiss of air then she looked at me with sad eyes. "Truth is, I already know what's under your bed. I don't even have to guess."


Something large and firm slammed into my body, bringing me crashing back to the present. The first thing I noticed was Jack's voice screaming at me to watch where I was going. As I stared at the back of his faded flannel shirt and realized that he had stopped walking and that I had bumped into him, I noticed two other things. One, that the wind was blowing strong enough to signal a storm, and two, that it had begun to rain. I shivered, wanting to pull my sweater closed, but the burden of Jack's belongings in my arms prevented freedom of movement.

"Damn," he whispered, "where is that clearing?"

"Let's just go back. It's raining!" I yelled to make myself heard over the gusting wind. The sky seemed as if it had started to glow and dark clouds were swirling in angry funnels above our heads.

"You baby," he said with a smirk that I could feel more than see, and then he set off again, mumbling something about heading west.

I wanted to cry; I felt very small and very weak in the middle of a rising storm, but I readjusted my load and followed, still the dutiful wife.


"How can you know possibly know what's under my bed?" I asked Tori, afraid and excited to learn the answer.

"Because I know you. I know how you are, and I know how you deal with things." She upended her glass and drained it dry before looking at me again.

"Go ahead," I whispered again, fighting off the deja vu that had crept up on me. I saw Tori glance at my trembling body. I saw her shake her head a little, and I recognized the moment when she made her decision to carry on with our strange game.

"You have at least one shoebox stuffed way in the back on your side of the bed. It is filled with specific memorabilia. There are ultra-sound pictures, cards from your family, and tiny articles of clothing that you couldn't bear to part with." She let her words sink in and put her hand on my knee. "There might even be home pregnancy tests, and perhaps a photo or two of tiny infants in pink-lined caskets. Babies that were born and then died before their time."

I felt myself cry, though I didn't hear anything. It wasn't the tears slipping down my cheeks that I felt, it was the physical breaking of my heart and the exhilarating healing process that began at the very same moment. It had been so long and though dozens of people knew I had lost both of my babies, no one had ever dared broach the subject with me. Not my mother, not Maggie, not my doctor, and certainly not Jack. I was light and free, even while I was crippled with pain.

"One was lined with blue," I whispered, seeing my son clearly as he lay in his casket.

I put my head in Tori's lap and sobbed while she cooed and brushed the hair from my face. She didn't have to speak. I understood that she knew the sorrow that had lived in my soul for so long a time, and I understood that she didn't mind sharing some of that sorrow.

What happened next was predictable and silly. We kissed, which led to touching, which led to actual lovemaking, and through it all, I only knew that I felt like someone really loved me for the first time in my life.

Tori and I made love frequently. She wanted love, needed it, and I was willing to give it while accepting a nice slice for myself. In fact, we had been together three hours before the barbecue where Jack had met her for the first time. Apparently, I had replaced Maxine in Tori's life. I wasn't sure how I felt about that, but I was obsessed with her breasts. I think more than anything, I loved the comfort of laying my head upon them while she stroked my hair.


Nothing brought me from my memories the last time. I guess I brought myself, or maybe it really was the storm that did it. All I knew was that I woke up, so to speak, standing in the middle of a whirlwind. In all my years of life in Alaska, I had never known the wind to blow so mighty. My fingers tingled and my breath came quickly. The colors were crisp, clear, and the elements that raged around Jack and I were delicate and fierce at the same time. We had reached the edge of a cliff.

I stood there, the wind whipping my hair up to sting my face. Time crept and the scene sank into my brain in small, vivid increments. Something was wrong, but I could not determine what it was no matter how I concentrated. The midnight sun shone through a small break in the clouds as it lingered orange on the horizon, and a cock crowed somewhere behind me.

Jack walked a little farther out. Over the din of the approaching storm, I heard his corduroys slap a steady swish as his thighs brushed together, and the chromatic light seemed to frame his body in hues the color of anger. He looked good, perhaps even regal, and as he lifted an arm to wipe his face the glow parted and moved with him turning the scene to fluid colors and streaming trails, like an acid high. About his head, a circle of small insects swarmed but they never touched his skin.

I was awestruck. I’d never seen him look so good. His footfalls were confident, striding with purpose across the rocky base, weaving almost casually through the treacherous landscape, but my eyes and heart lit on the same emotion at once and I knew in a flash what was troubling me as the puzzle pieces clicked into place.

I spun around just in time to witness Mother Nature uncover what she’d hidden from us before. I saw the thing that had triggered my sense of order and told my brain that something was not right.

There, behind the branches that the wind had tossed in our path was the sign. It wasn’t farther down as Jack had insisted; it was right there in front of me.


Loose and falling rock!

Do not proceed!

Driven by sheer energy, I turned to Jack. He was looking at me and smiling. It was rare that a smile decorated his face and I realized that he was attractive. A million wonderful memories fell upon me as I saw that handsome, happy face: our wedding, our first apartment, our trip to Jamaica. I tried to cry out, but my voice was either gone or eaten by the wind.

His hat flew away and the wind blew harder. He stumbled once, disappeared from view, and then popped up on the other side of the rocks.

For the first time, I heard the river. It gushed and gurgled, its eddies swirling at record pace; its waves breaking against bare rock.

Jack's fishing rod went next and my feet came to life. I watched the rod tumble end over end and shoot off the edge of the cliff as though it were an arrow pointing the way home. Grabbing the coil of rope from the spot where I had dropped it, I began to run.

"Jack! Jack! Stop!"

His posture said he already knew the danger, and his second fall was much more punishing than the first as a scream overrode the pound of water on rock and the howling wind.

When I reached the cliff, Jack was barely hanging on, his fingers white knuckled and stretched. Tenderness surfaced inside me and I lay upon the rock so that I could look deeper into his eyes.

"For fuck’s sake… did you bring the rope?" The hate and anger in his eyes had the force of a similar storm as the one that raged around us and startled me into silence. I only nodded.

"Get me the hell outta here," he wheezed. All of his energy was focused onto surviving, yet he still managed to take a moment to address me. "Can’t you do any fucking thing?"

Another blast of wind, colder this time, caught at his shirt and pulled one slippery hand free. My heart beat so hard it was audible and I thought I might faint from fear, but Jack held tight with his other hand and struggled to reclaim his grip.

"Oh Jack. Hold on!"

"Hurry, damnit!"

I took a deep breath and clenched his free hand. I was strong, swimming every day and climbing on the weekends had made sure of that. I could save him.

Working quickly, I thrust the end of the rope between my teeth to keep it in place and began to unwind the coil. Jack, his face blue from exertion, began to slip.

I expected him to be nicer. It truly surprised me when he was not. I was his only hope for survival, yet years of knowing that I would do the right thing, which really meant whatever Jack wanted me to do, had turned his love for me into contempt.

He cursed me through gritted teeth, each insult punctuated by gasps. Still, I continued to struggle with the rope, never once loosening my hold on his hand.

"Hurry goddamnit!" He choked, his face darkening. "You’re so incompetent, Darla…can’t work…can’t have kids…can’t unwind a simple goddamn rope. Fucking bitch!"

Who could ever know why Jack chose to utter those words at that particular moment? It seemed unlikely that a person would do a thing like that when their end was staring at them. But the words were thrust at me even while death’s door stood open below him and a cold chill ran from the top of my hips all the way up my spine until it rested like an ice storm on the back of my neck.

Jack slipped a little more.

I tried to care.

He cried out.

I started to hate.

I could have saved him, I could have. But years of terror and hatred ruptured my flimsy soul and broke through the ice storm. I set my jaw and simply opened my hand. Jack's face was red with rage but he could no longer afford to expend the energy it would have taken to release his anger and still fight the wind.

Tears rolled down my cheeks as the rope fell from my fingers. I reached for him, and his eyes filled with hope. In slow motion, hearing the crow of the cock once more, and feeling the shower become a downpour, I stroked his cheek for the last time.

"I could have saved you Jack, but you never wanted to save us."

Overhead, a small aircraft corrected its position as the Coriolis force threw it slightly off course, and I corrected my own position, only it was my position within my life. I turned and walked away, not knowing if the river was swallowing Jack’s body or if he had managed to hang on.

Right away, the rain stopped and the wind died.


A displaced southern girl living in Alaska, Stacy Taylor is old beyond her years, yet young enough to be foolish. Her work has appeared, or is scheduled to appear, in Smoke Long Quarterly, Good Gosh Almighty, Tattoo Highway, From the Asylum, Lost in the Dark, Outsider Ink, and T-Zero:  the Writer's Ezine.  Stacy can be reached here:







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