the name of the king

Don’t bother me with your needs. Look around you. Look at you. Fool is just a word for people who think they control their lives. You’ll see….”


by john brown


This rain I’ll call “Quiet.” Not because of it’s silence; Not because it was timid. It wasn’t. It was simply quiet because of itself. So much water, everywhere at once. What else could it do? Quelling a thirst no one knew we had. Each man was a bubble. Sealed and safe. The clamor of everyday life cut out from the crowd. Isolating the misery of every messy endeavor. Few visible droplets but the puddles swelled as a sign. So quiet you could barely hear your own thoughts. We should have more names for rain.

Listen, you can hear the gutters, creaking with the weight of worry and spitting out onto the street. And listen, that would be cars on the road rising towards the mall like yeast. Listen. That would be a truck on the interstate, pushing itself in front of a foaming wake in its sleep. And do you hear? That would be the phone.

“Do we have any chance to fish?” my brother Harry asked. “A chance for what?” “Drowning?” “Yeah, better than a chance, I think, if we leave now.” I was serious. “There’s gotta to be somewhere we can go?” “It’s hardly even wet over here” I felt the desperation in his voice on my face. This should have been the perfect week to fish the fall Chinook but, stacked up off our northwest shores, early winter storms were readying to surrender their seed. A bad wet dream for the prom queen. Swirling pom poms staggered across the weather mans screen, each waiting to have a go at a comatose hostess. If God had a finger, it was pointed at us. Never, ever, plan a fishing trip to the Oregon coast two weeks in advance.

I was committed to go. The wife and kids had plans, (to which I was half heartedly invited.) The rods were packed. My flies tied. “South ” I heard myself saying into the phone. The first rain amounts of the season were being posted on the evening news and showed them getting progressively smaller, from north to south. Worst case scenario, we’re eating chili and drinking beer by 10:00am. “South it is then.” “And, hey man,” Harry added, ” if you can’t sleep, call me. I’m actually ready to go.”

At 2:00am, awake, listening to the noises the unworried make dreamless, it was my phone that rang. I knew he’d call. I had turned down the ringer volume before going to bed and was probably on my way to pick up the receiver just before it sang. Harry and I were like that. Though two years apart, we looked and acted like twins. Forever connected . Seeing only the important things the other knows, when something is wrong and exactly to what degree. “I’m on my way.” Confirming all of what he already knew.

We met on neutral ground. The parking lot of a Denny’s like place where we had met before on such mornings. Repeating the same routine of shuffling gear into his truck and locking the back. Taking to the road talking quietly about coffee and rain, our faces and hands yellow in the lights miscellaneous that publicly prayed. The ever present business of never tiring in the creation of so many needs. We had to leave this, and other parts of our lives. We were tired, but beginning to get at whatever it was that ached inside of us since our last escape.

This rain I’ll call “Tiger.” Each time the road swung back a little north, it clawed at the trucks canopy from the underbrush along the highway. It jumps you from behind. It comes along side of you faster than you knew. Frightening. Even the alders had lost their senses, naked and black with embarrassment. Scratching out their own eyes out with splayed many fingered hands.

There, remember the froggy morning, following all those trailer tracks in the rime? How many drift boats were swallowed by that little rise? There, that was the clear cut from last year. Spooky, you can see it now, even in this rain. And there is the creek that still pays. That was the big slide where the unnatural angles of bearded trees still cling to the red ground. And now we’re passing over the creek that bleeds. You can hear her. And here the road bends slightly north again, into the shoulders of the first storm. Scream and the cat will know you’re afraid. And here is the coast highway south. We had never fished here. South into uncertain terrain. Now, there was no doubt about it, we were running. Jogging an unfamiliar track, away from so much, we started to run out of things about which we could complain. Only a few short miles had paddled past, down bound in a rain, and we realized our voices seemed two volumes louder when we thought of something small to say. This rain, I have no name for it, had all but given its’ ghost. The plan was working. Maybe we had a chance. Our optimism tempered when we realized the clock was not our friend. The playing field was not even. It was less than 4:00 am.

We found the river road about 5:45. Still, and dark as the blackest disease. Not sure of the access, creeping the truck along, we picked out two striped backs of, what appeared to be, two lawn chairs. A bit of red glare from the four eyes of seated strangers made us even more aware and unsure of our place. Plunkers had set up a little camp but we were the strangers here. We waited in the truck drinking lukewarm coffee. It had been one long year since my brother had offered me a drink from the bottle under his seat but like the fishermen, the poachers in the dark, I knew it was there.

With our rods already strung, over an hour passed before there was even a hint of light. The tang of a coastal mist hanging in the exhalations of the trees. The good news; it wasn’t raining and, if we figured the corrections properly by guessing at the nearest beach, the tide should be coming in.

Bear scat. Nothing compares to its slipperiness on the felt soles of wading shoes. A momentary scare. Then the mangy scent of decay. Mother nature and the half digested carcasses of silver salmon. The half alive late comers squirming in a side Channel. The wedding chamber a birthing bed a grave. Murmuring disappointment in the last act of, probably, their last day. “You are home now. Do not be afraid.” Cigarette smoke and more. Evidences. The vices of man. We were not alone. Salmon fishermen rarely are. Harry, took one look at the empty slate of the stream and not saying anything , forgetting nothing, turned back towards his old Ford. I really didn’t think about it then; even when he returned a half hour later, ready with the first light. He was holding out his free upturned hand. His gray eyes pulling his face down as they stretched to the sky. It was on again. It had started to rain.

This rain I’ll call “Nothing.” You are ten years old again and one short sad breath away from tears. Telling the finger of the bully in your chest “it wasn’t me!.” Now you are in love again and empty, lying next to your first real lover asking “what is it?” She’ll say “nothing” slowly, as if you were the parent of the teenager you could not possibly understand. You are a parent now and feel something short of shame when your child asks, like a farmer, “will it all be okay?” And then you are ancient. You question what it is that’s worth believing. You are crazy because you keep saying “what?” to the laughter that you think you hear. And looking at the sky you will ask “why?” But it will cackle and say, ” you, look away! I am nothing. I’m not even here. Not ever, certainly not today.”

“Well bro.” “Here we go.” “This could be over quick” We hunched over our shoulders and read what we could of the stream. Fish were clearly moving and we could already see the white belly of a fresh king on the bank some yards below. I quartered up steam with a sink tip line and a tied shrimp. Harry, a few sidelong paces, downriver with his corky and yarn on a level wind, attempted almost the same. We couldn’t get it right. The water was coming up and, despite the short distance to the far bank, we could not find the seam. The steady pop of rain on water, rain on stone. Rain on the bushes. Rain on bone. A man made falls some distance upstream, spoke volumes; “you do not belong!” Too many moments slipped by with our lines out of the water. The referee called “time.” The fishing gods said “I told you so.” Somehow in our frustration we smiled.

And Bang! Lightning. “That sounded like a screen door slamming.” Looking up and bending our necks to the rear. Even more surprised to see that it was indeed a screen door, slamming. A derelict camper tilted precariously along the gravel shoulder of the road. Already to the top of the trail was a t-shirted gray haired character, who I was sure I had given change to somewhere along the sidewalk of my other life. He appeared to be angry and a voice called after him from the guts of the pickup born crib. The voice seemed to make him roll. Grumbling, he cleared his way through the brush across the rocky shore and directly into the water between us. I think we just stared. I picked out something about “fancy waders.” “Fish. Fishing…” something? I couldn’t help it, I still stared. The whiteness of his faded denims darkening to almost blue. This crusty apperition was wearing deer skin slippers. The backs were smashed down. His socks were red. We tried not to keep looking but then he yelled out “Fools!” He had a fish on. There was no time to do the polite thing and pull in our lines. Frozen, we barely moved. The thing thrashed like it was snagged but it was fair hooked. He just stumbled backwards and reeled in. A half dozen noisy cranks and he had bashed in the head of a skinny 20lbs of Chinook. Brownish, dull and now dead. Making it clear to whomever “this one is for the smoker.” To whom, I wondered. To us? The voices in his head? The voice in the belly of the rusted crib? All went soft and silent. We returned our attentions to the stream. Just a momentary interruption as the slippered man clearly said “bitch” and started tossing handfuls of lose soft orange roe into the stream. He had pulled the fish out of her shallow red. Somehow I don’t think his curse was directed at the fish. Even he knows his female fish as hens.

Look now on the pale staring fisherman. Is that determination or sadness leaking through their thin grins? Are those tears or just the dried salt spray? Is that rain? Who is crazy? Who is cold? Who is more than hungry? Don’t bother me with your needs. Look around you. Look at you. Fool is just a word for people who think they control their lives. You’ll see.

To me, the water still had little color, but it was higher. My brothers slicker was at least two inches bellow the surface. I had worn that coat before, its scratchy wool lining smells like it was burnt onto the latex. It does keep you warm though, even when it is wet. “Dude, if you don’t pull up that coat it’s going to suck up so much water you’ll drown.” He said “screw it, it’ll still keep me warm,” snapping it up to the chin, his corky spinning like a gymnast around the last two guides of his rod. Facing upstream, towards me, speaking to the left side of my face, he asked without noticing the snarl ” what do you think, about your one o’clock, just in front of that tree?” My grimaced “yup” was the tell. Seeing him flush, controlling his anger. I said to myself “good for you.” It was then I thought about the bottle under his seat. We were being quiet now. Barely fishing. I guess we’re never really free.

“Yah-Yah-Youweeeeee-ahg-ahk-ahla-you… Whah!” Harry? Harry, is having a spasm. Holy flying figs. “Yiggeeee-yeaugah-yee yakka.” The spasm was boiling up from his feet. No foam on his lips or chin but dear Lord the water boiled. “Ye ow ugha wy!” That’s when I saw it. [Hello] Poking out from the middle of his sodden jacket; one bright perfect eye and the chrome plating above a salmons giant gill. It came upstream and somehow stopped to rest in the calm eddy created by the coat and sturdy legs. These fish can only go forward. When it startled, who knows why, maybe a small temperature change or a twitch in Harry’s leg, it shot off and up like a dragster. This was a picture. Rod arm held out high like a great green rodeo clown. Fu..uuuu..ooowg! Mee-yeee yaah Aaaaaaa haaaiee. Each time the fish paused in the horror, it fell just slightly back but it bolted up, again and again. Ayieeeeeee yike! Yike! yike! And finally, Harry, falling slightly forward, pulled at his coat. The Thing slipped free. It rushed up stream, just behind me, sliding on to it’s own, if not completely natural, destiny. She was a large Chinook. A King way too fit for the smoker.

“What the…?” Harry continued in a more quite exasperation, trying to make sense of his day. For some reason I apologized. Laughing, excused myself. I had to pee.

The old man, still wearing the slippers, climbed back out of his rig briefly, just to verify “we didn’t really catch a thing.” “Everything was just as it seems.”

Standing in the shallows, we tried to make a few explanations. A couple of the more curious souls drifted within easy earshot for news. Once they had surveyed the empty scene, retook their positions back in the edges of the browning water and the greasiness of their own thoughts and silvery dreams. It was 7:30 am.

God was watching. I know he built us, in his perfection, to desire. Separated at first, made to always to err and to always need. I guess that’s the hard part. Getting at the difference between what we think we want and what we really need. Auden may have guessed it with the metered words; ” about the difference between the ache, of being with your love and of being alone.” Northwest Indians, call another salmon a word that means king. The tribe or tribes, and that word escape me now. I know it’s definition though, coat of many colors. Hence, the “Chum” was called king. I have fished for them and have a tendency to agree. Then, the Chinook I will call “Chinook.” What I desire, what it is that I think we want, we need, is more names for rain.


Originally published:
Issue Twenty-Six
June 2003



(illustration: john richen)


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