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Archive for August, 2010

Back to the Mainstream

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 3, 2010

Fishing is religion to many people.  Fishing in New Mexico is like that – it’s a spiritual experience.  Rick loved fishing.  He also liked to drink, and he liked to party – “Ajua!” – and he liked to grow and eat the hottest chiles you’ve ever tasted – “Yesss!” – but he loved just a few things: his wife, his sons, and fishing.  There probably isn’t a river or lake in the whole state that he hadn’t fished.
“Rick’s dead.”  That’s how I got the news.  Linda repeated it, because I just stumbled out a “What?”  “Rick’s dead.”  “Yeah, but, but, you mean, Rick, Hilda’s Rick?”  “Yes.”  “But, how? when?  Was he in another accident?”
Well, anyway, Rick was dead.  The deal was this: he was at home, “evaluating,” a friend’s gun to give his wife, Hilda, for her protection.  The reason she needed protection is a family secret.  Rick didn’t know if he would buy it yet.  The story we were told was this: while Rick was loading the gun, Hilda left him to call Damien, one of her sons, and ask him about the value of the gun.  Rick didn’t know if he would buy it yet.  Rick, who had just the month before wrecked their truck, and who had broken an arm here and a leg there, having a habit of being not quite careful, dropped the gun.  The problem with an automatic, however, is that, as it’s loaded, that action cocks the gun.  The gun went off when it hit the floor, and the bullet, well, the bullet found Rick’s heart.  It had to pass through the sofa cushion, then it severed Rick’s scrotum, and traveled up through his stomach, where it managed to hit a valve in his heart, and no one could save him.
Hilda was devastated.  I don’t recall ever seeing a woman’s face so utterly deflated with sadness.  All of the skin in her face seemed to droop.  She cried, sobbing between spasms of crying.  Of course, her family was soon with her, as were Rick’s and Hilda’s friends: those that fished, and those without that particular religion.  Everyone came, and we all brought food and beer.  You come together to try to accept what has happened, you sit together, you talk, you eat, you drink.
Just days before the accident, Rick had one shot from a new bottle of tequila.  He had said he wanted to save it, to make it last.  Now, since he was gone, everyone crowded into the living room, the room with that bullet-holed sofa cushion, and shared the rest of his bottle.  It was our last chance to share a drink with him.  Martín, Hilda’s brother, sang a corrido in a great full voice laced with sadness.
Curious, I looked at the cushion.  Someone had turned it over so the hole was not so visible, but it was there.  I put my finger in it. I couldn’t imagine how it had happened.  I didn’t know at the time that Rick’s huevos had been blasted off, or I wouldn’t have touched the sofa at all.  There was, curiously, no blood, as if the cushion had not been under Rick for long after the bullet passed through it.  Perhaps he fell over onto the floor.  If there had been blood on the floor, it was gone now.
Eventually people hugged, and cried some more, and went back to their own homes.  There had been a church service earlier, but Rick had long ago insisted that there be no funeral, and no coffin for him.  He was cremated.  His ashes had been brought from the church, and rested in a jar in the hallway.  In the morning his family and friends took the ashes to Rick’s favorite fishing spot in all of Nuevo México.
It was a long drive from Albuquerque, past Bernalillo, traveling highway 550, through Cuba, through Aztec, and on and on near the Aztec ruins, almost to Colorado.  Five trucks convoyed behind Hilda, in the lead, because only she knew the place.  We pulled off the road, and plunged down an embankment to a sudden stop near the water.  There was a short hike along a thin, almost overgrown path.  Damien poured Rick into his fishing hole, a slowly revolving eddy alongside the swift flowing San Juan.  The ashes whirled round and round and round, some of them heading briefly upriver, where they slowly sank.  We all tossed flowers in the water, and watched, and waited for Rick to join the mainstream.
As the ashes and flowers slowly spiraled towards the deep rushing water, Rick’s family stood on the yellow sandstone rock that balanced over the eddy.  I thought the whole thing might just topple into the water, and the entire family drown, what with the aunt, the cousins, the sisters, the sons, the dog, and the friends standing or sitting on that cantilevered rock.  The sun is mercilessly bright when there are no clouds, and creates silver highlights on the surface of water.  The swift splashing water has shadows between the ripples.  Perhaps that helps explain what we saw.
Damien saw it first – a fish, probably dead, swirling with the ashes and the flowers.  It listed in the water, but wasn’t clearly dead, so Damien poked it with a stick.  It swam away! but only for a few feet.  It remained there, lazily pulled this way and that by the competing currents in that watery grave.  Someone said, “It’s drunk,” and it was almost certainly true.  The ashes and flowers had been followed by brandy, and beer, and tequila.  Rick was known to take a sip from time to time, well, probably more times than not.  The fish was drunk.
It wasn’t long before someone decided that the fish was Rick.  It made sense.  Rick had been coming to this spot for a long time, and he had just returned for the last time in what was left of his human form.  The fish wouldn’t go away.  It kept reappearing at intervals, and drifting, drifting, drifting, like it was waiting for something.  It seemed to be watching us watching it.
The fish told us that Rick wasn’t dead, that he would travel the San Juan now.  That he would hang around the fishing holes, drinking the beer and tequila that slipped from the hands and lips of  fisherman down the length of that river.
Gradually, the tears dried, and the sobs quieted.  People laughed about the fish.  The dog barked at it.  The shadows were creeping down the bank, moving over the edges of the water.  It was time to go.  The fish became more animated, swimming faster, reappearing less, and moving closer to the central current.  Finally, he disappeared into the shadowy, reckless middle.
Rick had joined his compadres in the water’s mainstream, and we felt relief.  Rick was free.  Rick was home.  I swear I heard something in the splashing, gurgling water, as we watched the river flow.  I swear I heard, “Ajua!”

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