I Later Learned the Fish was a Gar – Chad Simpson

It was yards from where the floodwaters already had reached and mostly intact: long and thin with black spots, a talon of skin missing from where its neck would be, if fish had necks. I’d pulled carp and catfish and striped bass from the river. I’d caught bluegill and sunfish and perch. I’d never once seen a fish that looked like this. Prehistoric. I thought this dead one might have been the last of its kind.
            I called over Uncle Luther, and he buried the head of his shovel in the pile of sand we’d been bagging.
            “What is it?” I asked him.
            Uncle Luther’s brain didn’t work like most brains. He took medications that helped him see the world straight, that kept him docile, but meds alone didn’t always do the trick.
            “It’s a fish,” he said.
            He turned back toward the sand, and I stopped him. “But what kind?” I said. “It reminds me of dinosaurs, of something extinct.”
            Uncle Luther stopped walking away when he heard the word extinct. He came back to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and spun me around until we were both looking out at the Mississippi, still rising, soon to crest.
            Uncle Luther spoke with his hand still on my shoulder, told me there was no such thing as extinct. “All those animals,” he said, “the woolly mammoth, Steller’s sea cow, the dodo. They aren’t gone. They’re just hiding.”
            For some reason, I lifted my eyes from the river to the sky. Which was stupid. I was only ten, but I knew nothing ever hid for very long in the sky.
            “Those animals,” Uncle Luther said, “are just biding their time until things are safe. They’ll return. Just you wait and see.”
            Sometimes Uncle Luther quizzed me on the Ten Commandments. He talked about people from the Bible like they were real. Like they were still living.
            Behind us, Mom and Dad stacked the sand Uncle Luther and I had bagged waist-high around our house, hoping to keep the water out this time.
            A few years later, Uncle Luther would get in trouble for crucifying himself on a homemade cross in front of the public pool, for scaring the children. One Christmas, he would retrieve from his wallet a sheet of paper containing only the letters A and B. He would tell me that these two letters, you could use them to write in code anything you wanted to say. He pointed to a string of letters and said, “This is how you write my name, right here.” Then he pointed to the next line down. “And this is your name,” he said. “Spell it out.” I read A and then B. B, then A.
            I was the only person in the family who would ever let Luther talk, the only one who gave him the time of day. The only one who listened.

Chad Simpson is the author of Tell Everyone I Said Hi (University of Iowa Press, 2012), which won the 2012 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. He lives in Monmouth, Illinois, and is an associate professor of English at Knox College.”I Later Learned the Fish was a Gar”



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