story<font face="Times New Roman"><strong>THE HUNCHBACK TROUT</strong>The creek was made narrow by little green trees that grewtoo close together. The creek was like 12, 845 telephonebooths in a row with high Victorian ceilings and all the doorstaken off and all the backs of the booths knocked out.Sometimes when I went fishing in there, I felt just like atelephone repairman, even though I did not look like one. Iwas only a kid covered with fishing tackle, but in somestrange way by going in there and catching a few trout, Ikept the telephones in service. I was an asset to society.It was pleasant work, but at times it made me uneasy.It could grow dark in there instantly when there were someclouds in the sky and they worked their way onto the sun.Then you almost needed candles to fish by, and foxfire inyour reflexes.Once I was in there when it started raining. It was darkand hot and steamy. I was of course on overtime. I had thatgoing in my favor. I caught seven trout in fifteen minutes.The trout in those telephone booths were good fellows.There were a lot of young cutthroat trout six to nine incheslong, perfect pan size for local calls. Sometimes therewere a few fellows, eleven inches or so--for the long dis-tance calls.I've always liked cutthroat trout. They put up a good fight,running against the bottom and then broad jumping. Undertheir throats they fly the orange banner of Jack the Ripper.Also in the creek were a few stubborn rainbow trout, sel-dom heard from, but there all the same, like certified pub-lic accountants. I'd catch one every once in a while. Theywere fat and chunky, almost as wide as they were long. I'veheard those trout called "squire" trout.It used to take me about an hour to hitchhike to that creek.There was a river nearby. The river wasn't much. The creekwas where I punched in. Leaving my card above the clockI'd punch out again when it was time to go home.I remember the afternoon I caught the hunchback trout.A farmer gave me a ride in a truck. He picked me up ata traffic signal beside a bean field and he never said a wordto me.His stopping and picking me up and driving me down theroad was as automatic a thing to him as closing the barndoor, nothing need be said about it, but still I was in motiontraveling thirty-five miles an hour down the road, watchinghouses and groves of trees go by, watching chickens andmailboxes enter and pass through my vision.Then I did not see any houses for a while. "This is whereI get out, " I said.The farmer nodded his head. The truck stopped."Thanks a lot, " I said.The farmer did not ruin his audition for the MetropolitanOpera by making a sound. He just nodded his head again.The truck started up. He was the original silent old farmer.A little while later I was punching in at the creek. I putmy card above the clock and went into that long tunnel oftelephone booths.I waded about seventy-three telephone booths in. I caughttwo trout in a little hole that was like a wagon wheel. It wasone of my favorite holes, and always good for a trout or two.I always like to think of that hole as a kind of pencilsharpener. I put my reflexes in and they came back out witha good point on them. Over a period of a couple of years, Imust have caught fifty trout in that hole, though it was onlyas big as a wagon wheel.I was fishing with salmon eggs and using a size 14 singleegg hook on a pound and a quarter test tippet. The two troutlay in my creel covered entirely by green ferns ferns madegentle and fragile by the damp walls of telephone booths.The next good place was forty-five telephone booths in.The place was at the end of a run of gravel, brown and slip-pery with algae. The run of gravel dropped off and disap-peared at a little shelf where there were some white rocks.One of the rocks was kind of strange. It was a flat whiterock. Off by itself from the other rocks, it reminded meof a white cat I had seen in my childhood.The cat had fallen or been thrown off a high wooden side-walk that went along the side of a hill in Tacoma, Washing-ton. The cat was lying in a parking lot below.The fall had not appreciably helped the thickness of thecat, and then a few people had parked their cars on the cat.Of course, that was a long time ago and the cars looked dif-ferent from the way they look now.You hardly see those cars any more. They are the oldcars. They have to get off the highway because they can'tkeep up.That flat white rock off by itself from the other rocksreminded me of that dead cat come to lie there in the creek,among 12, 845 telephone booths.I threw out a salmon egg and let it drift down over thatrock and WHAM! a good hit! and I had the fish on and it ranhard downstream, cutting at an angle and staying deep andreally coming on hard, solid and uncompromising, and thenthe fish jumped and for a second I thought it was a frog. I'dnever seen a fish like that before.God-damn ! What the hell!The fish ran deep again and I could feel its life energyscreaming back up the line to my hand. The line felt likesound. It was like an ambulance siren coming straight atme, red light flashing, and then going away again and thentaking to the air and becoming an air-raid siren.The fish jumped a few more times and it still looked likea frog, but it didn't have any legs. Then the fish grew tiredand sloppy, and I swung and splashed it up the surface ofthe creek and into my net.The fish was a twelve-inch rainbow trout with a huge humpon its back. A hunchback trout. The first I'd ever seen. Thehump was probably due to an injury that occurred when thetrout was young. Maybe a horse stepped on it or a tree fellover in a storm or its mother spawned where they werebuilding a bridge.There was a fine thing about that trout. I only wish I couldhave made a death mask of him. Not of his body though, butof his energy. I don't know if anyone would have understoodhis body. I put it in my creel.Later in the afternoon when the telephone booths began togrow dark at the edges, I punched out of the creek and wenthome. I had that hunchback trout for dinner. Wrapped incornmeal and fried in butter, its hump tasted sweet as thekisses of Esmeralda.
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