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Fish Out Of Water

Fish Out Of Water

Coming of age on the shoreline
By Katie Weaver
Jul 14
From the July 2016 Issue

I stuffed pillows under my duvet in the shape of my body and placed a black wig at the head of my bed—I’d always been a stomach sleeper. My dingy fan blasted room-temperature air, and made just enough noise to mask the sounds of my tiptoes.

It took a few minutes to nudge my patio door open as noiselessly as possible—squuueeeak—and then I was outside, clutching my Uglystik rod and my dad’s tacklebox, feeling a Great Slave Lake breeze brush against my cheeks. Freedom. My fingers tingled with adrenaline.

I called a cab from a parking lot down the street. It was just past two in the morning and nothing moved but the soft wind that rippled across the water on Back Bay. I stared until headlights approaching on my left snapped me back into reality. I got into the front passenger seat. “To the cemetery, please.”

The driver asked if I was meeting a friend there. I wasn’t. He then asked if I saw my friends often, but before I could answer, he began telling me how sad he was because all his friends and family were back in his home country of Kenya. I nodded sympathetically, like a shrink, responding with a couple words here and there. I guess that made him feel pretty comfortable with me. “Hey, there are lots of mosquitoes in here and I can feel some in my beard,” he said. “Can you please pick them out?” I considered telling him to pick the bugs out of his chin-mop himself but out of a mix of awkwardness and fear, I reached out, held my breath and plucked a mosquito from the man’s coarse foot-long beard. Be free, pal, and stay out of facial hair forests!

He thanked me and we were there. I pulled out a 20, told him to keep the change, and walked down the cemetery path. It was dark and I imagined lurkers lingering behind each headstone. I rushed through the graveyard, arms crossed and eyes peeled, and slid under a chain-link fence. From there, it was only a couple minutes downhill until I reached Jackfish Lake—the lake I knew from driving past it on the highway, the lake which cooled the Yellowknife diesel power generation facility sitting on its shores.

Jackfish Lake was nothing special in terms of its scenery or fishing, but it appealed to me. It was the chance for alone time, some space to myself and some quiet—luxuries not often found in my wacky home of six. My best friend had just moved away and I needed to process that. It was pretty much guaranteed there would be no one else on the shores of this lake at this time of night, so it was the perfect place to sort through my teenage emotions.

I threw out my bright red line, reclined on a rock near the water’s edge and breathed in the calm. It had all been worth it. Suddenly, I was pulled forward by an unexpected tug on my line. The way my fish was fighting, jerking from right to left like a bucking bull, I knew it was a pike. Five of diamonds, I thought, reeling in. Never fails. I lifted my catch to get a closer look. Gah! The feisty pike had a huge nose—I’m talking a big, round, pear-shaped nose. I held his body up in disbelief. He flipped, as if to say, what are you looking at? 

I didn’t realize at the time what caused him to look so different, but it dawns on me now that Elmo—yeah, I named him—spent his whole life in an odd body of water. Just last year, I read that Jackfish Lake was contaminated with blue-green algae and humans should not handle fish from such waters with their bare hands. (Whoops.) And then this spring, it was confirmed that Giant Mine’s arsenic had indeed crept into the lake, too. Maybe the little guy was a by-product of our man-made toxicity. 

Elmo’s hook wasn’t wedged into his lip too deep, so I released him. He swam away. 

And, then it was just me, left alone to again contemplate the changes happening around me.