The Dog Stars

Free The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

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Authors: Peter Heller
nauseous. Never craved avocados and ice cream.
    She didn’t like to hunt at all but she loved to fish. She fished with me when she could. In some ways she was better than me. She didn’t have the distance and accuracy in her cast but she could think more like a trout than probably anyone alive. She would stand on the bank of a creek and just breathe and watch the bugs flying in and out of the sunlight.
    The guides, the freaks, did stuff like pump out the stomach of their first fish with a rubber bulb to see what they were eating right now. As if being caught, netted, held in the scalding air wasn’t traumatic enough. They put the fish back, but did they live after that operation? They claimed they did, I doubted it. She didn’t do anything like that. She snugged the halves of her rod together, strung it, pulled the line straight down from the top guide with a whizz of the reel and let her slender fingers slide down the length of the leader, the tippet, and pushed back the brim of her Yankees cap, and then she asked me.
    Hig what should I put on?
    I studied the hatch flitting in the sunlight or swarming the surface, turned over a few rocks to look at the larvae.
    Eighteen Copper John on the bottom, a Rio Grand King, pretty big, on top.
    She’d move her lips around looking at me like I was putting her on. Then she’d tie on a bead head prince and an elk hair caddis. Big and small just the reverse. Or she’d go with a purple wooly booger, the one with the brass conehead, which is like a swimming minnow mimic and an entirely different strategy.
    Why do you ask me? I said. I think you ask and then do just the opposite.
    Her smile, bright and sudden, was one of my favorite things on the planet.
    I’m not disrespecting you Hig. I’m doing a survey. Kind of calibrating what I’m thinking against the finest fisherman I know.
    Flattery now. Jeez. Fish on.
    She usually outcaught me. Except on the big rivers, the Gunnison, the Green, the Snake, where a long cast was helpful. The last time we went fishing we had a terrible fight.
    I drank the tea. It occurred to me that Jasper owned more special quilts than any dog in history. He had his Valdez recliner log cabin quilt, his flying hunting dog quilt, his outside sleeping quilt covered in Whos from Whoville. He was lying flat on his side withhis butt against me and his legs sticking off the cushion and he was snoring.
    Is it possible to love so desperately that life is unbearable? I don’t mean unrequited, I mean being in the love. In the midst of it and desperate. Because knowing it will end, because everything does. End.
    I drank in the beginning. Every kind of food, even the horses, were all consumed in the first year, but the booze was still tucked in cabinets and closets, in basements. Bangley and I used it for treating cuts. Bangley never drank because it was part of his Code. I’m not sure if he thought of himself as a soldier or even a warrior, but he was a Survivor with a capital S. All the other, what he had been in the rigors of his youth, I think he thought of as training for something more elemental and more pure. He had been waiting for the End all his life. If he drank before he didn’t drink now. He didn’t do anything that wasn’t aimed at surviving. I think if he somehow died of something that he didn’t deem a legitimate Natural Cause, and if he had a moment of reflection before the dark, he would be less disappointed with his life being over than with losing the game. With not taking care of the details. With being outsmarted by death, or worse, some other holocaust hardened mendicant.
    Sometimes I think the only reason he kept me around was so he had someone to witness his prowess in the winning of each day. I wonder if the stunt the other night was just to let me know that it was him. That he vouchsafed our survival every day. Remember that, Hig.
    I heard a joke once about a shipwreck. I heard it way back when a model named Trippa Sands was the woman in

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