Fish Tales: Your Number

I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE. And I have your number.

You live in a distant corner of Yellowstone National Park, in the middle of a set of broad meadows bordered by lodgepole pine, trampled by moose, roamed by wolf. Waist-high golden grass — home to coyote and fox — rims the stretch where you reside. Your dark and swirling home hides in a deep elbow of water bordered upstream by a flat and seamless surface.

I know your number. I called you once. You answered, and we spoke for a brief time beneath a drizzling October sky.

My rod nodded “yes” to every one of your head-shaking “no’s.” Our hearts pounded. Like dolled-up teenagers waiting for blind dates, both of us quivered at the prospect of seeing each other. And when that moment came, when your stout and shining body rocketed out of that upstream water, then splashed down and disappeared, my heart seized. Minutes crawled into years. I held tight, begged you to stay on the line — and you did.

After our gentle meeting — tired, taped and measured — all 23 inches of you darted off confused and angry, leaving me with a smile clamped on my face.

My heart always stutters at the thought of you.

It’s been four long years since I called, since we first met. But I remember your number, where you live.

In the crook of that elbow I now stand, hiding from you in waist-high grass, wondering if you still call these waters your home. I sort through my phone book, the one I labeled 1-800-STREAMR and tickle the feathered tails of each possible number until I find yours. I dial it up, knowing I have but one chance, knowing you will not answer twice, that you will not stay on the line for long — once you realize who’s calling.

I cast.

I wait, let the number drift into your dark home. I twitch and strip the line, all the while listening with my fingertips.

My heart pounds at the thought of you answering, tapping. The seconds become unbearable.

There is no tap.

The line swings, its belly slips past your home. At that moment when I believe you have not answered, that moment when all lost hope will be reborn in a second cast, another call, I feel a long, slow tug on the line.

But because I have called so many homes so many times before — and have received so few answers — I have come to believe in weeds, in wrong numbers. So, I don’t raise my arm; I don’t lift the line. And it’s at that very instant, at the tail-end of the call, when my fingertips hear you. My heart stops, just as it did four years ago.

“Do not believe in weeds,” you whisper.

I yank the rod to my ear, but the line falls slack.

I’m too late — and we both know it’s no use in calling again. Not today.

But I know where you live. And I have your number.

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