The way salmon return, rostrums bludgeoned and deformed, I crossed the bay in his boat. I’d seen him like that. The trip over was too rough for spotting whales, the smell of tobacco juice, cormorants hauling fish out of our wake. We found a scrabbled cabin on a bank of fog, glacial moraine, beside a stream choked with salmon, decomposing and still swimming upstream to a birthplace of pebbles and sand. I waded in the icy water, let salmon rest against my ankles. Dead fish cluttered the shore, their bellies eaten out by bear. He tweezed loose a plug of pink flesh and ate it raw, something he read about bear saliva and the heart. We stowed the boat belly up in willows and went to have a look inside the cabin. A bed big enough for two, a few shots of whiskey, a can of squaw salmon smoked red and tender. It melted in our mouths like taffy. In a coffee-stained journal, he counted exclamation marks, how many made love on the hard slab bed. Three days of heavy rain, the table cloth checkered red, our sleeping bags damp and cold, the Jack of Spades missing from the deck. He scattered forget-me-nots and wild rose in the bed and when the weather cleared, I paddled across the bay alone and knew I’d never find my way back, the streambed inevitably changed, the sleek round backs of minke whales, waves boxing the sides of the boat.
Susan Austin lives between two creeks bordering wilderness. She is the author of two chapbooks, The Disappearing Word (Seven Kitchens Press, 2020) and Requiem (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, The Cincinnati Review, BOAAT, Puerto del Sol, High Desert Journal, among others. She is a former James Michener Fellow. www.susan-austin.net