Twelve Days

Judith Nakken

Copyright 2022 by Judith Nakken

Photo by Brandon on Unsplash
Photo by Brandon on Unsplash

Tell him I’ve already hoisted the damned flag!” Mike groused over the top of yesterday’s Post-Intelligencer, only halfway through the headline article about the Cuban missile crisis. Geraldine stretched the black phone’s kinky cord. He didn’t want to fight this early in the morning on the eleventh sober day, so he reached a trembling hand for the receiver, spoke to his brother-in-law. “Hello. George?”

“I saw the sky first thing this morning, George,” Mike reported. “Went up and raised the red flag. There was no one on your little lake, and there won’t be now, for sure. Between the warning flag and the chops gettin’ higher every minute, no one will risk it. Don’t worry. That’s what you pay me for out here, isn’t it?”

Geraldine’s other brother, Joshua, continued empire-building by constructing the freeways that scarred the verdant hillsides surrounding Seattle. The Boeing company’s move to become the world’s primo builder of jet aircraft after its impressive WWII B-29 bomber success was causing worker exodus to Western Washington State. Those workers earned top dollars and George was making a killing creating ticky-tacky bedroom communities near the new on-ramps. Geraldine martyred herself into contentment with the crumbs thrown by her brothers to her nearly-12-year, childless union. Her Korean War era marriage to the striking Native American guy in uniform had brought her to this end, she often bemoaned, caretaking beside a troubled husband who still shivered and groaned in his dreams of the frozen Chosin Reservoir.

Geraldine called from the tiny kitchen in the modular they called home. “I’m cooking - do you want breakfast?” He had been off his feed for most of these eleven days, but the shakes were gone and his belly felt empty. It was a good empty, too, he decided, and his response was nearly cheerful.

“Yup, honey. Just some toast and an egg, though. Gonna take it easy.” The large lakeside window in the modular revealed a darkening sky in the southeast. “Gerrie, I’m going to go topside and get a good look at the sky. Be down in a few, okay?”

The tower, a stick-built addition, small and sturdy, was accessible from the modular’s storage room. Its pleasant, cedar odor permeated the stairwell as he climbed to the workroom where a CB radio, mounted telescope and field glasses riding a logbook greeted him. With the glasses, he scanned the tiny lake which hadn’t existed until late spring.

Mike had personally cleared the site and supervised the damming of the creek and creation of the quiet lagoon. The ticky-tacky appeared as if by magic to the south, as did his caretaker’s home on the opposite side of the soon-to-be “water paradise” in the brochures. Working mostly alone, of course, George’s concession to his drunken brother-in-law.

Fallen leaves from autumn maples were the only movement on the turbulent water, besides the rowboats tied to the north and south docks. He was about to take his eyes from the glasses when he saw motion, large red and silver motion, on the far east side by the dam. A kid? It submerged and then flashed again. Yes, it was there. Could be a little kid. He flew down the cedar stairs, some of the third and fourth days’ shakes returning.

Ignoring Geraldine’s excited queries, he shook off his carpet slippers, slung his field boots over his shoulder and raced barefoot down to the dock and into the boat. Should have a motor for emergencies, he thought as he pulled eastward against the choppy water. Soon at the east bank, nothing was to be seen on or in the 15-foot depths, but a flash of movement entered his peripheral vision. Yes, there was something at the dam’s corner.

The something was two large fish, Coho salmon, called “Silver” locally. A male and a female, the male already changing from his ocean-going silver to the red and toothy of a spawning male. Flopping wildly, the pair seemed to be heading further up the bank. They came up the creek to the lake, he thought, and then got lost looking to go further to their spawning grounds.

“Can’t help you with that, Brother Coho, Sister Silver. But, here, let me save your lives.” He had to get out of the boat to return them to the lake, but suffered no mishap and enjoyed a long-lost feeling of being one with his grandfathers as he returned to his breakfast.

Geraldine spooned at his back that night for the first time in years, a vague dream was warm an pleasant, and he awakened with JFK’s “new vigor” on the twelth day. The blockade had stopped the Russian missile ships, last night’s storm did not materialize, and he salivated at the smell of frying bacon. Maybe ‘God IS in his heaven,’ he mumbled as he climbed to the tower.

He recognized the undulating flash of color on the southeast bank immediately, and called to Gerrie to hold breakfast. The female he buried was small and dull on a bed of brown leaves. “Brother Coho,” he told the ugly-faced male that attempted to bite his arm as he slid its 12-pound body into the lake, “I can’t keep coming out here to save your life.” Before Mike could even unlock the oars, the salmon leaped feebly onto the bank once again, instinctively thrusting his battered body in the direction of the waterway that should be there, the one to take him to his ancestral place.

Dry-eyed, stoic, Mike reached into the boat’s tool box.

Geraldine was thrilled with the large salmon, and promised a meal fit for a king that evening, but Michael Moses didn’t go in to dinner. He had escaped to the narrow garage below his tower workplace, wiped the late-season ants from the wine bottle, and did not see Day Thirteen.

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