Daylight. The river skips and plays a buoyant rhythm. Upstream, rapids dissipate into eddies that breathe. Low-slung branches shelter Jesus bugs as they leave wakes upon the surface. Mid-river, a salmon pits its strength against the current. Poised. Firm. Quicksilver arc into darker depths, saving energy for the surge to come. Late October and the river’s cursive surface in the slanted light gives coy reply to the sky’s silent musings. With the onset of night eyes brooding over darkening water, reflections scatter and diminish. In the deep, salmon nightdream. Muscles flex, portend the odyssey. It’s time to spawn.
Earth colors are gone and nights are black-ice cold. The bear is mealbound, too hungry to plod the path to the river for hit-or-miss fish. Perhaps hunters have left scraps of gutted elk. His nose forages upward for reward, but no smell of carrion rides the chilly breeze. Instead, BBQ chips. Pork rinds. A trash barrel; yellowjackets be damned. The bear lumbers towards dinner. Then: a sound–one there, another there. He blindly turns towards the first, exposing his brawn to the second. The tranquilizer dart penetrates deep tissue with a decisive bite. The bear lifts his paw, cuffs his own ear. He can’t get up. His pungent virility leaves the air gasping for breath. No scent of earth or life or carrion. He is penned but for his instincts. The bear’s dream takes shape: a biped, he rises, spittle flying as he shakes his head, unleashes teeth too long vegetarian, and spikes a salmon in flight, airborne with its herculean power to go upstream. Rips the belly open and feasts.
The salmon lies breached, belly slashed, black pupil askance at preoccupied sky, tail weakly twitching, still spawning. A raven descends with eyes beady black, intent on succulent fish eye. The raven’s blackness fed, it retreats to the sky, oblivious to myriad eggs delivered into dens of tumbled rock.
A dreamgaze sees a palpitation of water ladle the roe into a nestling pool. The dying salmon downdrifts, settles, a nurse log in the estuary. Her roe, tiny now, will soon bounce the buoyant river rhythm. Unleashed, they will be tenacious, hungry for the run upstream.
Flash fiction by Heidi Juel
Heidi Juel is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and has an MA in English from the University of Texas at Austin. She has presented her poetry at regional conferences and enjoys the many opportunities for open-mic readings in Austin. Most recently, two of her poems were published in Boundless: The Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival Anthology 2020. She is currently a Professor of English at Austin Community College where she teaches courses in Magical Realism and indigenous literatures of North America. Writing is her passion, second only to inspiring students to value the power of words as an expression of self and an outlet in times of need.