My knowledge of the brook’s existence would establish my legitimacy. Proof that I was no mere faker, no Saturday Johnny who just wanted to romp in your backyard forest. The brook is about a mile away—a little less. I spent a lot of time walking to that stream that seemed like it should have gone dry in summer but was always ready to greet you with its sound as soon as you got within twenty yards, and somehow managed to be louder on the days it rained, which didn’t keep me from my walks.
The water was never very high—only inches deep in most spots. It barely covered the pebbles on the bottom. Still, something had made them smooth. You had to give it up for that current and its efficacy, even if the workings of how it all went down were baffling. Or perhaps give it up all the more as a result.
I was shocked the time I saw a rainbow trout—a big sucker—half in the water and half out—breathing through one set of gills while the one facing the sky pulled away uselessly at the air, trying to get something from it that just wasn’t there.
“How on earth did you get here?” I thought.
I looked around me, as if it were a prank and the doer of the baffling, jocular deed was about to leap out and shame me for my gullibility in entertaining the notion that such a fish could have lived in such a brook.
How dumb was I? This trout had been planted. Surely someone had transported this inarguably impressive fish from somewhere else and dropped it into the brook. But to fool whom? Me? Who else came here? Were there spirits? Was this an offering? And was it made to them, or were they themselves the doers?
That trout legitimized the brook to me as nature. Up until then, it was a spot in a hollow you could walk to behind our house. Now I kept my eyes open for beaver, foxes, prodigious snapping turtles that I never saw, but which I steadfastly believed were out there in expertly hidden droves.
I pushed the trout over the surface of the brook, such as it was—a companionable, nudging presence against the bottom of my sneaker, for it was a dry summer—hoping I wasn’t scraping its skin too much on the pebbles, but as I said, they were smooth, and I successfully transported the trout into this one deeper pool between the roots of a tree that extended from the bank into the water where a family of crayfish stashed themselves behind the dead leaves on the bottom.
The trout floated for a few seconds, then smacked the surface with its tail, and began to revolve slowly, swimming but not swimming, defining the extent of a fixed place. I had a feeling it was going to die there and I didn’t want to watch. Or, if it wasn’t going to die, that it’d be less encumbered in freeing itself without my gaze.
“You got yourself here,” I said aloud, while thinking, “Now get yourself out.”
The next day when I went back to the brook, the trout was gone. I called him Mr. Spangles after the fact, because I had learned that word at the beginning of the school year that had just started, and the trout’s skin spangled, which is how I had first noticed it, and was perhaps the only reason I had noticed.
The brook was in a darkened spot, which meant you were more apt to take note of light, but light had a harder time remaining in that particular alcove of nature. It felt cooler, too, down by that water than it did on the path that led up to its edge. The spot seemed to fit. Whatever that meant. Because how can a spot not fit? It’s a spot. But some spots do seem to fit more than others. And while I knew that a trout has scales and not skin, that still felt like the proper term with Mr. Spangles.
I never knocked on the door of my old house when I went there with the person who had been my wife. I didn’t tell her that I wanted to. I was scared of the possible interaction with these strangers who seemed like they should have been anything save strangers, the same way I was when I was a child and people thought I was shy, because I was shy.
In this dream of mine, I end up staying multiple days. I think about making an offer on the house. Starting again within it, as I had before, with results that would produce happiness. I was a child then, and I’m an adult now. I think of symmetry. There are worse and less compelling selling points. Is there anyone who has ever wanted just a fraction of a circle? The god of half moons, perhaps. Not that I know him, or if there even is such a thing.