One-Hearted Stock Tankby
is a glimpse of what 20th Century American literature might look like if Ernest
Hemingway had grown up on the south plains of Texas instead of the Michigan woods.
The train that took him over the
river and through the woods dropped him off at the stock tank. He was glad to
not be on the train. The conductor had made him ride in a cattle car because he
was carrying two pounds of Stink Bait. The cattle car was good. It smelled a lot
like his Stink Bait. He liked the smell though the cattle car was crowded. Now
he was at the stock tank and he was going to fish.
e went to the edge
of the stock tank and looked down into the water that looked like chocolate but
smelled a lot like his Stink Bait. He saw an ugly bearded fish close to the surface.
It brought him a good feeling until he realized it was his own reflection and
not a fish at all. It was a bad thing to see a reflection of yourself and think
you are seeing a fish, the man thought. His name was Nick Adams. Nick Adams was
a man. Yes, a big man. He was not a fish. His friend Johnny Darter was a fish.
But he, Nick Adams, was not.
Nick Adams went to the other side of the
tank and looked down into the water where he could see the outline of fish at
the bottom of the tank. Catfish, he thought. He was right. Catfish can live happily
ever after at the bottom of a stock tank. He liked that in a fish but some people
A preacher in Barcelona, during the war, had once told him, “The
catfish is an unclean animal.” Nick Adams did not know about that. He had not
found any mention of catfish in the Bible. He had looked. He could not find it.
His failure was as simple as that but it was a strange thing. He could not find
a mention of catfish. Not at all. I am going to catch the catfish, the man told
himself. I am going to catch the catfish and then I am going to eat them because
I am a man and I eat fish. I am going to have a catfish buffet, the kind of buffet
I did not have in the war. The war was still there but he was not going to it
any more. The fish will be good. He sure hoped so. He had staked his entire literary
reputation on it.
Nick Adams opened
his can of Stink Bait and stuck it on a hook that was tied to the end of his fishing
line that was spooled through a reel and attached to a rod that would give him
the means to propel the Stink Bait out into the middle of the stock tank where
the big catfish were holding steady against a current that did not exist because
this was pretty much a stagnant stock tank and had no current, at least no current
that a catfish could call home.
He cast his smelly bait into the water.
He let it drop to the bottom of the stock tank where cows often came to drink
water and cool off with a refreshing dip in the water that looked like chocolate
but was not chocolate. No cows were at stock tank now. The man did not wonder
why. He was not the kind of man who wondered about things like that. He did not
wish for cows. He got his fill of cows when he was on the cattle car.
The man waited. He waited some more. As a change of pace, he waited. The man cursed
the hour for the weight of its leaden wing and thought, “Hey, that’s a good line!”
He promised himself he would remember that line in a story he would call “A Farewell
To Cows” but he knew that might not happen because he had come to the stock tank
to forget and that was what he planned to do.
Then he felt a tug on the
end of his line. “What line?” he wondered. See, he told himself. I have already
forgotten the line. The only line that mattered now was his fishing line. He reeled
in a catfish. He reached into the water and removed the fish, which stabbed him
in the hand. The man took the fish and smashed its head against a rock. In this
way he killed the fish.
Bleeding profusely, the man went to where he was
going to set up camp. He bandaged his hand. Then he cooked the catfish. He ate
it. Something about the fish reminded him of the cattle car. The man longed for
trout in a way that he had never longed for trout before. He went back to the
stock tank with his Stink Bait. It smelled very bad.
The man thought,
Someday I will write a story about rivers and trout. That’s what I will do. Sure
as shootin.’ At least it was pretty to think so.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" 8-12,
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