Spring came like Tourette’s outbursts from the west. Storm clouds lined up in the jet stream, one bombarding our house after another. Our house was a ship lost at sea, wild claws of rain and waves ripping at its hull. I would lay on the floor, in the box garden of light, watching the skylight darken and brighten with each passing shadow, like a black-and-white television that lost its V-Hold. When the skylight stayed light for more than five minutes, I would make landfall, abandon ship and run full blast into the woods behind our house before the next storm drove me back inside.
Sometimes the rain was a relative that wouldn’t leave. It lingered for days. Oppressive. It was the echo of footsteps following me from room to room, the movie score that accompanied my daydreams of being Beverly Cleary’s Henry Huggins (without the lame haircut), the metronome in the gutter that propelled my pen forward, writing letters to Marvel Comics editors. I would lay in bed, isolated from the world, kept warm by thoughts of thousands of fellow comic book readers seeing my name and home address in print, all wanting to be my pen pal. Maybe even a girl. The latter possibility would send me into fantasies of her visiting for the summer, her warm hand in mine as I helped her into my tree fort to rule over the woods together. Before sleep carried me away, our lonely voices would caress each other in the gathering dusk, while our bodies swam in a pond of stars between the treetops.
One morning the creek behind our house, that was normally nothing more than a trickling sound effect between rocks, had grown into a monster. It sent bowling-ball-sized boulders tumbling down the hillside and jumped its banks in the middle of the night. When I woke I heard my dad talking to a group of men outside. They were all standing under the carport, out of the rain, looking down our driveway at our mailbox and dead end sign, never looking at one another, but all listening. I looked at them the way I used to look at my dad shaving in the mirror. A mystery. Why didn’t they look at each other? Was it unmanly to admit you were made of flesh? Better a disembodied voice, a silhouette on the concrete, a mixture of body odor, coffee and tobacco?
I looked again, but they all had left in a pickup truck. When I found my mom in the kitchen, she said the creek had flooded the basement and my dad and his friends had gone to pick up a sump pump from uncle Jake.
I could see them in my mind’s eye: standing around, rain dripping off curved bills of ball caps, no one looking at one another, work boots kicking at gravel, taking a nip of something and passing it around, listening to talk of cars, home repairs, jobs, but rarely families. Families were always “good” if anyone dare ask, even if things were awful.
These stand-arounds eventually turned to laughter. Whenever I sat in on these powwows, I felt like the UN delegate receiving the wrong translation in his headset. Laughter would break out like a bouquet of pheasant from underfoot, and my laugh was a step too slow. I would receive a side-eye from some man that treated my laughter like a loud fart at a funeral. I would get the hint, not sure why I tried to pretend my way into their circle when I really wanted to read choose-your-own adventures, watch professional wrestling and get lost in the world.
As my mom stood at the sink, cleaning, I asked, “So how bad is the basement?”
“Pretty bad. Go see for yourself.”
Then added, “But don’t fall in.”
I swung the door open, turned on the light and marveled at the murky lake that now lived in our house. It must have been five foot deep. Instead of thinking what a mess, I could only dream of opportunities. I could swim in it. I could lounge in a tiny inflatable raft and read books. I could reenact giant sea battles with models. I could build a couple of rubber-band-powered hydroplanes to race each other. I could raise frogs.
Before I could even think it, I saw a snout and fin surface by the submerged washer and dryer. Then another.
To my astonishment a pair of trout were now living in our basement.
My first inclination was to grab a rod, tie on a fly or a bobber with Pautzke’s eggs, and fish the day away. Then I remembered my dad. If there was anybody in this world able to coexist with a lake and two trout in their home it was not him. Soon that sump pump would arrive, drain my new lake without ever having been christened and leave the trout dying on the muddy basement floor along with my lost opportunities for fun.
Though still dressed in only underwear, I snapped into action. I ran barefoot to my dad’s work shed, grabbed a landing net and bucket, then hurried down the basement stairs into the water. It was freezing. So much so I immediately regretted it, but continued for the sake of Bonnie and Clyde (somewhere along the way I named them inside my head after the infamous fugitives). The floor was slimy. A creek bed pebble would shock my foot with pain and slow progress. By the time I reached the trout, Bonnie and Clyde treated me as if I were the law; they kept dodging my swipes of the landing net, making run after run.
After repeated falls, splashing everywhere, I was a murky mess from head to foot, but finally managed to capture Clyde and put him in the bucketful of creek water on the basement steps. Though he could have easily jumped out, he seemed tired of life on the run. Too many alien creek beds in too many unremarkable towns. He stayed put while I went after Bonnie.
Bonnie the trout was a firecracker. Even though it was in her best interest to give up and let me capture her, she was indomitable. She was a lightning streak in a dark sky, ever alluding the net. In frustration, I began to talk to her soothingly, but she was too hardened by life. Too many men in too many creeks had sweet talked her, had promised her the best gravel bar to incubate her young, the finest deep water hole for spacious living and easy access to mayflies, yet all she had received from life was one hardship after another. No matter what I did, how I pleaded, she was going to remain independent and free, despite the consequences.
Shivering and tired, I stood still for a minute, catching my breath, watching Bonnie’s fin tip writing farewell poetry to her beloved Clyde on the surface of the water.
When I heard the pickup truck pull in, I knew I could do one of two things: I could grab the bucket with Clyde and the landing net, hide them in my bedroom, until I figured out what do next. Or I could let Clyde return to Bonnie to face their fate together.
Though Clyde did not strike me as a trout that cared as much for Bonnie as she did for him, and though I thought she deserved better, I was not going to argue with her heart. I dumped Clyde back into the nameless lake that once lived at the bottom of my house and watched him sheepishly return to her side.
Before my dad and friends could see the dripping mess I had become, I ran up the stairs, turned off the light, shut the door, threw the net and empty bucket into my room (until I could return them to the work shed without notice) and ran a hot bath to wash away the evidence that I was a dreamy boy that would never quite fit into the mold of men.
“Bonnie and Clyde’s Last Stand at Lake Nameless” was originally published in WhiskeyPaper.