Some would call it arrogance but I call it ambition, thought Carl the salmon, and that’s why I’m up on this side of the damn and all the other salmon are down there thrumming around in the same murky pond they were born in. I’m going places, he thought, I got out of there.
Salmon are not meant to swim in dead-end ponds, he thought. We need excitement, challenge, new horizons, and for sure, having made that bold 145-foot leap straight up in the air and over the big concrete barrier, I have a new horizon up here and it’s pretty terrific. I can see the sunset, he thought, not to mention the sunrise. People have cabins up here that are different from the cabins down there. Things are going to be different now, thought Carl, if I can just get on my feet–
“Who the hell are you?” said a deep voice and Carl turned around and it was a muskie.
“Oh, hi” said Carl.
“You’re in my living room,” said the muskie. “What do you want?”
“Oh, sorry,” said Carl, “I’ll move..”
“You’re not one of those salmon who come up here looking for chicks, are you? Those ambition-crazed muscle-fish who leap up here thinking things are going to be a lot different than they were down there….”
“Aren’t they?” asked Carl, “and now that you mention it…where ARE the chicks?”
“Out there,” said the muskie. “But good luck with that.”
Good luck with that indeed, because what Carl hadn’t banked on was that all the fish on this side of the dam were lesbians. Very strong fish, some of them somewhat attractive (without makeup), but now that he thought of it, any fish making that leap would have to have a very, very strong tail, and none of the hetero girl fish he knew from down below had that kind of a tail. At all. These girl fish up here had tails the equivalent of speed skaters’ thighs. Sure, up here the lady fish were strong and capable, but at what cost? A very steep cost indeed.
“Want to come with me to the organic food co-op?” asked one of them in a husky voice.
Damn it, thought Carl. Damn it.
Carl thought of Brenda, back home. His depressive, downer of a girlfriend who had a great tail but never wanted to do anything but bake cupcakes, and when they were finished she would cry because that meant they would have to eat them and they would go away. What a drag. Remember, that’s why you’re up here, thought Carl.
“The co-up closes in ten minutes,” said the lesbian salmon. “You coming or not?”
“I guess not,” said Carl. The lesbian salmon swam off–rather briskly–and Carl went over to the lip of the dam and sat there, thinking. Give this a shot, thought Carl. You’re up here. You can figure this out. Give it time.
So Carl gave it time. He tried to forget about Brenda and he kept his eyes open for someone with a nice tail, but after a while his eyes got tired of seeing the same fish with the same short haircuts and stern faces, so instead he poured himself into his work doing motivational speaking to bottom-dwellers, of which there were many up here on this side of the dam, and who knew? He was amassing a pretty impressive following, and so far 43 bottom dwellers had pulled themselves up to the middle part of the lake, and one had become a leaper (Clem–a success story!) and Carl was getting written up in the papers and starting to make money hand over fist.
But every night he would go back to his undecorated patch of algae alone and he would feel it. The emptiness. He took out a picture of Brenda and then put it right back. He didn’t want to look at it. This was what he wanted, right? New horizons?
He looked out into the darkness. Is this a spiritual problem? he thought. Am I going to have to “go within” myself like I told Clem to do? Am I going to have to “love myself and believe in my own inherent value?” Because I really don’t want to, thought Carl, not one bit, and he cringed to think about it. It worked for Clem but who knows why? Maybe because I told him to do it. And here I am, and nobody cares if I do anything or not. I can go inside and try to be nice to myself (and what does that even mean?) or not, and either way, is it going to make a difference? Is that going to be a waste of my time?
He couldn’t sleep and so he swam over to the dam and just sat there, treading water against the big concrete slab. He couldn’t see over the lip and so if he wanted to go back to the other side, he was just going to have to jump and be okay with that big free-fall.
But there were so many bottom-dwellers who needed him.
And he would never see Clem again.
Another thing Carl didn’t like about this lake was all the motorboats. Down there there were no motorboats. It was a silent sports lake. Even though there was a bunch of drama going on below the surface that, if you were in a canoe, you had no idea about. People in canoes were lucky, thought Carl. It must be nice to glide along in your ignorance.
Carl knew the truth of it, but he didn’t know what to do. Maybe he would be lonely anywhere.
But maybe not. Maybe not.