RIPLEY DUG AN OAR oar into the bank eddy and the raft spun in. The trout lay on its side, huge, gills pumping, its blank eye considering. Andy leaned over, slid a hand from beneath and behind and cradled it, one finger above the pectoral fin, three below.
“You’ll be fine, if—”
“If, Dad?” Andy slipped the caddis from the brown’s jaw with a single backward push.
Andy righted the fish, his hand moving back and forth along the belly, his other hand gripping just before the tail. It hung in the water, balanced, the red spots along its side burning like holes in a furnace. Then a few long, slow, undulating twists, and it darted away, Andy left leaning across the raft’s side tube, elbows dug in, hands hanging limp and empty and dripping. “If, Dad?” he said again.
“‘If?’” Ripley said.
“Then you’ll be the king of the world at something else.”
“Whatever you decide. Whatever comes next.”
“Did you really think you’d play soccer forever? When you’re my age?”
“Well, not that long.”
Ripley made himself laugh. “Yeah. There’ll be other things. Trust me.”
Andy still hunched over the tube, watching his empty hands.
“Damn,” Ripley said. “Forgot to take a picture. How long was it?”
ANDY SHRUGGED. The fish of a season, of some lives: 22, 24 inches? And already so gone. “Like what’s going to come along, Dad?”
“Girls,” Ridley said. “Life. Work. Kids.”
“The girls part sounds okay.”
Ripley touched his oars to the water. “Yeah, but the others have a way of following after.”
Andy shrugged—sixteen to the bone.
“You’ll be playing by the third week,” Ripley said. “I’ve got a side bet with Mom.”
“She bet against me?” He pushed himself up, swinging the naked white leg as if it were made of explosives.
“No,” Ripley said. “Not against you. Against me. That has a way of following after, too.”
“So if I start by the third week, you win?”
“I can make that. Split the money with me?”
“Start before that and you can have all the money.”
Andy blew on the fly, drying it. “How much?”
“Ramos money,” Ripley said.
Andy looked downriver, smiling, the fish still feasting, the moths helpless. But he turned, held out the rod to Ripley. “Seriously, you should do this.”
Ripley shook his head. “I have. Plenty of times.”
Andy shrugged again, then turned back to the trout and the moths. He pulled out some line, started the rod back. “Better get out the camera,” he said. “We’ll send a shot to Cal. Let him know what he’s missing.”
Pete’s latest novel, If Not For This, the life story of a couple of outdoor-loving river runners whose lives change forever with a diagnosis of MS, won a record fifth Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award last year. One of its early chapters first appeared here in Gray’s.
Illustration by Cole Johnson