Courage

The barb of the hook dug in until his thumb sprouted blood. Three drops into the river, they bubbled away. The trout he was to be catching rose to the surface. "You might be getting old," it said, "you might be alone, but there's no call for self-mutilation." The fisherman shook his head and turned away, treading deeper, until his waders filled with water. "Your daughter," called the fish. "Three years ago she phoned you. You wouldn't answer the machine." The fisherman shrugged. "But your grandsons. The lady you ignore at the senior center." The fisherman sat, his feet wedged in the stones against the current. The icy water swamped his clothes, shrinking his skin. The fish came to him, pressed its yellow side against his arm. "Please," it said. "There's no more room in this river for pain. It's deep with it already." The man looked at the fish, its glassy eyes bright with sorrow. "If I wasn't to do this," he said, "I'd be eating you." At that, the trout became frightened and backed away. It considered leaving the stupid man to his silly end. But it came forward again, lowering its smooth belly into the man's palm. The man took hold of the fish and put it in his bag. He climbed out of the river and made his way down the trail. When he got to his car, he opened the bag. "Why?" he asked the fish. "What's the difference, if it's me or you?" The fish breathed deeply, a bubble of blood over its gill. "The difference is you'd have me die. You'd choose life for yourself." The fisherman thought about this for a long while, and it gave him courage


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