There would be a lot less divorce in this country if more husbands and wives fished together. Spouses that fish together stay together.
My wife, Bun, for example, used to absolutely detest fishing. Whenever I dragged her out on the lake, she would sit there in the boat with her eyes fixed on me in an unblinking stare that I often imagined to be almost murderous. From time to time I'd even speak a few kind words to her in an effort to break the spell: "Row a bit faster along here, will you, Bun? I do not want my lure to get snagged in the weeds. " of course, there are some people who just do not respond to kind words, and Bun seemed to be one of them.
Besides my compulsive interest in fishing, what complicated our marital situation even more was that women find me extraordinarily attractive.
"Irresistible" would not be too strong a word. I sometimes have to laugh to myself at the great show they put on to make me think they're totally unaware of my existence. Just recently I was sitting next to a beautiful woman on the uptown bus. I could tell she was flustered by the way she rummaged around in her purse, finally dug out a compact, and started fixing her face. It was absolutely hilarious, particularly when she wiped off some excess eye shadow with the tip of my tie. I mean, there are no lengths to which women will not go in their pretense of ignoring me!
Bun, quite forgivably, used to be terribly jealous. I'd try to kid her out of it. When we would come home from grocery shopping, I'd say, "Did you see how that cute blonde at the store was pretending to ignore me? I nearly laughed out loud!"
"There's only one can of tuna here," Bun would say. "I could have sworn I bought two cans of tuna."
That's how bad it was. Mad, uncontrollable jealousy was practically destroying our marriage.
The combination of my obsession with fishing and my irresistible appeal to women took a more extreme turn for the worse one day when Bun discovered a reddish smudge on the collar of one of my white dress shirts.
"Aha, I've got you now, you rascal," she snarled. "What's this red smudge on your shirt collar?"
How had I ever managed to overlook that smudge? My mind raced, feverishly searching for a plausible lie.
"It's probably just a lipstick smudge from one of the girls at the office," I tried.
"Ha!" Bun snapped. "I was not born yesterday, you know! This is salmon-eggjuice! Here I think you're down at the office working, and actually you're sneaking off to go fishing. You've probably rented a secret apartment where you keep an extra set of fishing gear! "
But there's this other woman … "That's as far as I got. If there's one thing I can not stand about Bun, it's the way she expresses her jealousy by laughing uncontrollably.
Actually, there was another woman. Her name was Jennifer, and she worked in the same advertising agency I did. There was something about her that made it almost impossible for me to keep my eyes off of her.
As with most women she made a great show of ignoring my existence.
There was that time, for instance, when I was standing by the coat rack and she tried to hang her coat on me. Of course she had laughed in an embarrassed way, but not until she had made repeated efforts to keep her coat from slipping off my shoulders.
My job at the agency was to invent benevolent lies about a client's product. So distracted was I by Jennifer that one day I allowed a truth to slip into my copy and was nearly fired. Naturally, I was upset by the mishap, and as soon as the boss had gone down to the shop to resharpen his reamer, I whipped out my portable fly-tying outfit and began to tie a few Royal Henchmen to soothe my nerves. Suddenly I felt a pair of eyes on me. At first I thought it was Charley five, playing another one of his grotesque practical jokes. Then I realized it was Jennifer watching me. She came over to my desk.
"Hello," she said, holding out a hand. "I'm Jennifer. You must be new here."
"Oh, I've been here awhile," I replied suavely.
"Strange that I've never noticed you before. Our desks are only twenty feet apart."
"Yes, well I've noticed you, Jennifer."
"You have? Anything in particular?"
"Is there ever!" I breathed. "For one thing, there's the way you read Field & Stream so avidly at lunch while the other girls are gawking at Glamour. Then I saw the way you took that casting reel apart and put it back together when you were supposed to be typing the annual report. "
"Oh dear!" she cried, tittering. "You caught me in the act, did you?
I was just cleaning my Protron Ninety Double-Widget Power-Glide Pro-Caster. "
"You're telling me!" I said. "You have about the prettiest little Pro-Caster I've ever laid eyes on."
A flush of embarrassment filled Jennifer's cheeks, reminding me of the red-bellies I used to catch in the creek behind our house when I was a kid.
As she bent over to whisper in my ear, I detected the faint, lingering fragrance of OFF! "Did you notice anything else?" Her voice was husky.
"You mean … the way you rewrapped the split bamboo rod during your coffee breaks last February? Of course I noticed! It nearly drove me wild!"
She smiled. "You're really a very attract … You're not that bad look … I like large ears a lot, I really do."
I chuckled. The poor girl was practically tongue tied.
"What attracted me to you most, though," she continued, "was your little portable fly-tying outfit. It's lovely. Why do not u stop by my place tonight and we'll … well, you know?"
"I know!" I said. "I know!"
After I had slipped into Jennifer's apartment that evening, she poured us each a glass of wine and turned on the stereo. Then we got right down to business. I was amazed, I must tell you, at what that woman knew. In fifteen minutes she taught me more about how to cure fresh steelhead eggs for bait than all the grizzled old anglers I've ever known. Such was our mad frenzy of curing steelhead eggs that some of the juice apparently splashed on my collar.
That was the spot my wife detected.
"No one must ever find out about us," I told Jennifer as we shook hands at the door of her apartment as I was leaving.
"Oh, I know, I know," she said. "But next time, next time …"
"What?" I gasped. "Tell me what, Jennifer!"
"Next time I'll show you how to fillet perch!"
I was puzzled. "But, Jennifer, I know how to fillet perch."
She gave me a lascivious smile. "Not the way I do it."
My imagination did a wild dance, raising goose bumps on my flesh the size of bongo drums. "When can we do it?" I asked. "When can we fillet perch together?"
"Maybe next Tuesday night. Call me after eight. But if a man's voice answers, hang up."
"A man's voice?"
"Yes, my husband's. He is very big, with a short temper. And he hates fishing and fish. It would be most unfortunate for you if he caught us – you know – filleting together." I shuddered at the image conjured up by her warning. it was a long week. Every time I looked up, I saw Jennifer typing her reports a few yards away. I could scarcely tear my eyes away from her flying fingers, those very fingers which, but a few days before, I had watched … had watched knead alum into a sinewy mess of steelhead eggs. Once a man, an angler, has experienced that with a woman, there is no turning back. And she had this lovely way of tossing her head. It reminded me of the way a fly fisher, hands filled with rod and line, will toss his head in order to shake a deer fly off his nose. It was beautiful.
At home during supper, I found myself staring absently at my plate.
All I could think about was filleting with Jennifer.
"What's wrong with Pop?" one of the kids asked one evening. "How come he does not tell us those stupid stories about his childhood any more?"
"Do not complain," their mother said. "Your father has important things on his mind."
"We is not complaining!" the kids said in unison. "We is not complaining!"
"Have some respect!" I shouted at them. "I never once talked to one of my parents like that! Why, one time when I was only eight years old and had just walked the fifteen miles home from school in knee-deep snow …"
"Forget I mentioned it," the first kid said.
After supper Bun followed me into my den, also jestingly referred to as "the hole under the stairs." She put her hands on my shoulders and said, "Something's wrong. I know something's wrong. You get upset over the smallest things. I saw the way your eyes became all teary when you could not stab that last pea with your fork at supper . You can tell me! What's wrong? "
"Nothing's wrong," I said. What made me feel so bad about my affair with Jennifer is that Bun's a great wife. Sure, she has her faults.
There was that time she screamed as if she had found Jack the Ripper in our refrigerator instead of merely a mayonnaise jar containing live hellgrammites. Heck, Jennifer would never have screamed at the sight of a few crummy live hellgrammites.
The truth was that Jennifer did not really stand a chance of coming between my wife and me. Ol'Bun and I had just been through too many things together. She had stuck with me through thin and thin. The only thing to do, I told myself, was to try to forget Jennifer. But I could not.
When Tuesday night rolled around, I slipped out to a pay phone and called Jennifer's number. Jennifer answered.
"Is it all right?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, breathlessly. "Hammer is flying out of town on a business trip tonight and will not be back until tomorrow."
"Great!" I said. "I'll sneak right over."
I told Bun I was going to spend the evening with the boys down at Kelly's Bar & Grill and not to expect me home too early. She said fine, that she would leave the key under the cushion on the porch swing. I was halfway over to Jennifer's before it occurred to me that there is not a cushion on the porch swing. We do not even have a porch swing. We scarcely have a porch. I wondered if Bun suspected anything.
A sudden thought jolted me: Hammer? Her husband's name is Hammer?
When Jennifer met me at the door, I was disappointed to find her dressed in a low-cut, filmy negligee.
"You're early," she said. "Mix yourself a drink while I slip into something a little more comfortable." Presently she returned from the bedroom dressed in baggy, patched fishing pants and a plaid wool shirt sprinkled with fish scales.
"Hey hey hey!" I said. "Now that's more like it!" I thrust a package into her hands. "By the way, here's a little something for you."
Her hands tore eagerly at the wrappings. Nervously, I wondered if maybe I had made a mistake, giving her such a personal gift so soon in our relationship.
"Oh!" she cried, clapping her hands together in delight. "They're beautiful! You should not have! They must have cost you a small fortune!"
"Nope," I said, smiling modestly. "I caught them myself. Off the old Grand Street fishing pier. Do you really like them?"
Jennifer wiped her joy-streaked cheeks on her shirt sleeve. "Oh, I love them! They are absolutely gorgeous perch! All Hammer ever gives me are long-stemmed red roses and dumb furs."
It was obvious her husband was either a thoughtless clod or totally insensitive. Some men just do not know how to treat a woman!
Overcome by the excitement of the moment, Jennifer and I rushed into the kitchen and began to fillet madly. Never have I known a woman who could fillet like Jennifer! Perch after perch fell under her flashing knife. I became mesmerized by her very motions, the way she whacked off the heads, stripped away the skins, and sliced off the fillets.
Time ceased to exist for me, and all space seemed confined to Jennifer's laminated maple chopping block.
Then the earth moved.
"Did the earth move for you, Jennifer?" I asked.
"Yes yes yes yes yes!" she cried. "And do you know what made it move?"
"Hammer! He always trips on that last step at the top of the stairs!"
"HAMMER?" I yelled. "I thought you said he was away on business!"
"Maybe he missed his flight! Maybe he suspects something! But that is Hammer coming down the hall!"
Now I could feel the earth move with every step Hammer took down the hallway. The steps sounded angry.
"What do we do?" I hissed at Jennifer.
"What do you mean 'we," you burglar you! "She snapped.
Somehow I felt that Jennifer had chosen that moment to break off our relationship. Very soon I expected her husband to break off more than that.
"Look at the evidence!" I hissed, as Hammer rattled his key in the lock.
"He'll know we've been filleting together. No matter what you tell him, he'll know a burglar did not break into the apartment and force you to fillet!"
Jennifer scooped up all the evidence and flung it into the freezing compartment of the refrigerator.
"Jen?" called out Hammer, his voice rumbling into the kitchen like a slow freight.
A second before Hammer's shadow fell upon us, Jennifer lunged across the kitchen, threw her arms around me, and planted a big, wet, utterly disgusting kiss on my mustache. And then Hammer filled the doorway.
"Who this?" he demanded, pointing at me with a finger the size of a zucchini.
"Oh," said Jennifer, "this is just one of my professors from night school who heard you were going to be out of town tonight and thought he'd sneak by."
"You 'spect me to buy a cock'n'bull story like dat? It smells fishy in here! You two been up to something' wid fish, ain'tcha? Filetin '!
I'll bet the two of you have been filetin 'behind my back. Or maybe even, even – I can not stand the thought of it – curin 'steelhead eggs for bait! As soon as I leave town to do a little job for the Godfather … "
"No, no, Hammy, it was not anything like that," Jennifer cried. "Please do not kill him!"
"Repeat that last part, would you, Jennifer?" I whispered to her. "I do not think Hammy heard it."
At that moment Hammer blinked, giving me the opportunity to leap out the kitchen window and sprint to safety down the alley. When I finally stopped to catch my breath, I made up my mind right then and there that never again was I going to fillet with another man's wife, particularly one whose apartment was higher than the ground floor. For one thing, it's so darn hard to sprint to safety with your legs protruding from your armpits.
I had learned my lesson about other women and decided that the thing to do was to give my own wife more instruction in the art of filleting.
That way she might even learn to enjoy the sport. And the very next weekend I started her lessons.
"All right, Bun," I instructed, "Just remember that balance is everything. There, you've nearly got it. Raise your right arm a bit more.
Good. Now you've got the idea! Heck, you could carry the canoe all day like that if you had to. Get started toward the lake now, and I'll grab my fly rod and be right along behind. "
Bun still is not too enthusiastic about fishing yet. As a matter of fact, just the other day when we were out on the river she said if I would forget about the idea of making her my fishing pal, she would not complain about another woman or two.
Not a chance! "Listen, Bun," I said, you're the only woman for me, and I'm going to make you love fishing if it's the last thing you do.
I could have sworn that she was so touched by this remark that a single tear trickled down her cheek. It was hard to tell for sure, though, because of the cloud of mosquitoes around her.