The ice was 14 inches thick at the bank.
You could hear it shift as you walked.
Brendan was cooking cobbler in a dutch oven
a few feet from the shanty, coming and going
to check the coals. He had a beard, a white F-250,
and a concealed weapon permit. He loved one woman
and had felt cold twice his whole life.
Like this, he said, grabbing the auger from my hand, Angle it.
Warm enough to take off our beanies, we struck water.
We circled the stools and baited our hooks: mostly jigs tipped
with pieces of nightcrawler. I rotated through an imitation bloodworm,
a light green glo worm, and a purple teardrop most of the morning.
Perch aren’t that big, so we didn’t use poles.
Brendan didn’t even use gloves.
The first bite came before noon: an 8-incher, decent
for January but no trophy. We shook hands to avoid scaring the other fish.
Brendan came in before we could throw it back. Wait.
He scooped an eye from its socket with his thumbnail
holding it up between two fingers, Use this for bait.
He wiped his knife on his jeans and kicked the guts into the hole.