Before truly leaving town and setting off to the lakes, Connor took Laika to the stream running through the college campus. There was one bridge Connor particularly loved. But he’d never tell Laika the reason he loved that bridge. When Connor was first starting at the university, he was involved with Lauren. Lauren would visit Connor at least two weekends a month and each time they would stop and talk on the bridge.
“Fishies?” Lauren would joke and look over the edge of the bridge, expecting Connor to stop and look over the edge with her. Most of the time, there weren’t any fish in the stream. But a few times a year, a person could expect to see them if they looked. Lauren loved to stop and look at the fish. And, somehow, she always knew when and where to look.
Connor would pretend to be interested in the fish, while he was really only interested in Lauren’s fascination with the fish. It was enough to keep him leaning over the edge with her.
“You know,” Lauren would say, “when I was here, they used to tell us that we shouldn’t try to swim in this creek. They said it was runoff from the farms. But, you know, I don’t think any of that is true. I think they just didn’t want an entire campus jumping in and out of the stream all the time. And you know what? I don’t think I do either. Where would the ducks go? Where would the fish have to go? I kind of like that no one swims or floats it.”
And he’d sit and listen to her talk about the fish as if they were refugees, an oppressed population simply looking for a safe, if temporary, place to live. It was like meditating listening to her talk. Connor would stand and lean into her, and she would talk into his ear about how the fish know when to move and no one has to tell them to. How the ducks stop off here, and how if they didn’t stop off here it would affect so many other things that it makes a person wonder how much humans are messing with the earth when the ecosystems are so fragile, elegant, and delicate. It never occurred to Connor that Lauren saw all things this way. She saw her relationships and the rest of life this way. One thing could come in and screw up the delicate balance. People adjust to one way of doing or going about something and then something or someone comes in and rearranges things and the person has to adjust again. It made Connor proud that Lauren would take such a giant risk, make such a drastic adjustment, and allow him into her life. Everything was connected to everything else, but the connections a person made with other people were especially delicate. Love was a risk. Connor fell in love with how Lauren lived and loved in the world.
No matter how complicated Connor’s relationship with Lauren would later get, he always thought fondly of the times they shared on that bridge.
“You take me here to show me a bunch of dead fish or what?” Laika laughed.
Startled, Connor smiled and looked to his right to see Laika spitting over the edge.
“Dead fish?” Connor asked, concerned.
“Yeah,” Laika laughed. “About ten, probably.”
Connor leaned over the small concrete barrier and saw the fish, dead and floating, spinning in a whirlpool.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen any dead fish in here before,” he said. “I used to see them swimming in here all the time, but maybe I’ve never looked this time of year before. Or maybe I just never noticed and there have always been dead fish in here.”
“You know, I bet this creek is just full of runoff from the farms,” Laika said. “If you think about it, it’s the only thing that runs all the way through town, one end to the other. It probably collects a little bit of everything it touches. Those dead fish, for all we know, may be the only dead fish in the entire creek and they just got stuck here after dying who knows how far up. Now we get to see them all.”
“You have to figure, they spray for weeds around this creek all the time. They always have landscapers working around it. Some of that shit has to make its way into the water. Probably killed the fish somewhere on campus, just a ways up,” Connor hypothesized.
“Or it’s just as simple as a bunch of dead fish in a creek, Connor. If you spend too much time focusing on dead things, you’re likely to only see dead things. But if you stop and look for life, you’ll be overwhelmed. Like, look at all those bugs flying around those rotting things.”
Laika pointed to the dead fish as they spun in a slow circle.
“There’re flies and mosquitos and the birds and frogs, toads, whatever that eat those. And I’ll bet something will come here tonight and eat those rotting fish. Like, a raccoon or an opossum or something. There’s more life around a dead body than death, if you think about it. Isn’t that the point of funerals? To be surrounded by life, even in death?”
“Now who’s focusing too much on dead things?” Connor laughed.
Connor was still thinking about Lauren and wondering if she had ever seen the dead fish in the water, but chose not to say anything. He wondered if Lauren would see life or death surrounding the bodies of the dead fish, and if she would ever spit on all of it.