MONDAY MORNING, oblivious to the triumphant jocks and their victorious fans rampaging up and down the hall, I caught Kelleher in front of homeroom. I planned to punch him—first thing—and I didn’t care if Father Moretti excommunicated me, a kind of eternal detention. I wanted to maim Kelleher, to kill him. It was all I’d thought about for two days. Yet when I faced him, I found myself talking instead. Or maybe whining.
“I waited all morning.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Something came up.”
“I set the alarm for five o’clock so I could catch more nightcrawlers before it got light. “
“Hey, that’s a good idea,” he said. “Really. I’ll remember that one.”
“Sat on the curb like a jerk. My sisters are still laughing!”
“Oh, man, that bites,” he said. “I don’t have any sisters, thank God.”
“What happened?” I hoped there was a truly good reason for the betrayal.
He told me there’d been a mixup. That his father’d invited some men for the weekend. He didn’t know my last name, couldn’t call me. It occurred to me that I didn’t know his first name, but I was too pissed to think about that.
“I tried to call you,” I said. “There are no Kellehers in the phone book.”
“Um, it’s under my mother’s last name. And my father lives in Tonawanda. Sorry.”
My anger sagged. I’d kept it afloat as long as I could. “So your father went with his friends. Does that mean you didn’t go either?” The thought made me feel better.
“Oh, I went. Me and my dad and two guys he works with at the GM plant.”
“You went?” I was ready for the BS fish story. What would it be—sea-run salmon? Land-locked stripers? I was ready to nail him.
“We didn’t fish much,” he said. “Mostly we spent the weekend scouting for grouse.”
He told me about the feral apple orchards the grouse loved, the great bottomland woodcock cover, while around us jersey-wearing giants traded high-fives, lockers slammed shut, and students pushed on to homeroom.
“Woodcock,” I muttered.
“Neighbors have a cornfield, too, where we can get some pheasants—you know, when we’ve limited out on grouse and timberdoodles. You should come, opening day. No, you’re definitely coming. I’ll talk to my dad about it.”
Kelleher went on and on until the bell rang, and, trained as I was to respond to the stimulus, I drifted toward homeroom, his last words hanging in the air—turkeys, birdshot, modified choke . . .
I took my seat. A brute named Farnucci leaned over from the next desk to stab me in the ribs with a thick forefinger. But he couldn’t reach me. I was already halfway to the mountains.
Rich Chiappone lived in upstate New York for the first 32 years of his life. For the past 32, he’s lived and fished in Alaska, where everything is bigger: the country, the fish, and especially the lies. He teaches writing in the MFA program for the University of Alaska—mostly fiction, where you actually get credit for convincing deceits.
Illustration: Upper Beaverkill, by Galen Mercer