A debut full of heart and energy.George Saunders

and I miss the tug of the rod, the crank of the reel, the stench of algae, the bob of my dinghy, the piney taste of gin, but I don’t miss tangling up tipsy in the fishing net and slipping into the lake’s murky blackness where I swear that two-hundred-pound monster sturgeon swam right by me: bubbles burping, chortling triumphantly as my lungs filled with plankton and my heart quit scratching and ticking like an insect trapped in the kitchen light fixture my wife Selma constantly nagged me to fix, but I thirsted to fill the void in me with two hundred pounds of monster sturgeon proudly arched over my mantle, and I miss the first forty years of my life, the lost second forty, the forty-foot creaky dock warped like the spine of an old woman or old man that I won’t become, and I miss the flashes of fireflies at dusk while playing tackle football with my boys, the flashes of leaping salmon at dawn while arranging my tackle box, and I miss painting Selma’s toenails, painting my lures, and I miss Selma’s slick tanned flesh as she skinny-dipped in our pool late at night, the slick sandy scales of the monster sturgeon taunting me before dipping down into the fluid blackness, and I miss the infrequent intercourse, of course, with Selma: her casting and reeling my bobbing dangler, and I miss Selma’s round stomach, where I’d listen to my fetal boys’ hearts strongly bate, baiting hooks with slippery night crawlers, and I miss the way my infant sons curled in my hands, the curls of the line cast into the crisp air, and I miss Selma’s rare bubbly chortles and the prickly touch of those often unshaven legs I ached to kiss and cry against and leave my legacy in teeth marks sometimes, and I even miss the hideous condemning vein in her taut neck, each vane of my dinghy’s purring propeller, and I do miss my wife’s beautiful bone structure: that acutely angled skull of hers, the scullers gliding through the morning fog like wooden storks, and I miss the taste of scrambled eggs with fresh salmon, the late night scrambled pornography when Selma made up the couch for me, and I really miss my young boys and their photo refrigerator magnets and every bedtime story I never read but should have, the wind whistling through the shore reeds and my thinning unaccomplished hair, and I miss menthol cigarettes, the silhouette of Selma fluidly gliding past the couch that I should have reached out for and stopped just once when she’d visit my nightmared children and lovingly gather them up under one blanket with her and I’d hear their whispers and her tired bubbly chortles, and I miss being a part of that blackness with them, and I won’t miss this chum heart and the endless casting of these threads dangling from my torso like pale soggy kelp until I reach that Great Lake Erie in the Sky, but what I miss most of all is being able to tell Selma and my boys that I’m sorry and they were my everything even if it didn’t seem that way, and I wish they could know just how much I love – but wait! here come those slick sandy scales, and oh I got you this time: hook, line, and sinker! and I cast another thread and stick my translucent face under the water and let the plankton fill my liquor-bottle lungs, and I hiccup out a few minnows and this is now my everything: my head is the world’s biggest fish tank, and I think I hear the bubbled chortling coming from somewhere in the blackness, and I get the curse words ready in my mouth and then that silhouetted monster just glides right by, and I miss

From the collection Congratulations on Your Martyrdom. A version of this story was first published in H_NGM_N.


Zach_VickersZachary Tyler Vickers is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where he was the Provost’s Fellow. He is the recipient of the Richard Yates Prize and the Clark Fisher Ansley Prize for excellence in fiction, and his stories have appeared in numerous journals. Congratulations on Your Martyrdom! is published by Indiana University Press. Read more.

Author portrait © Colby J. Vickers