4 What’d’ya catch?

“You spell it, ‘A.s.a.b.i.i.n.y.a.s.h.k.o.s.i.w.a.g.o.n.g..N.i.t.a.m.-.A.n.i.s.h.i.n.a.a.b.e.g’.”

“What language it that?”

“Um... Indian. Well, Aboriginal, First Nations. Do you want the English?”

“It must be easier than that.”

“Grassy Narrows, First Nation.”

“That’s the place. That’s the place we’ve been going for ... well since I moved out here to the mid-west.”

“Kinda of a trek isn’t it?”

“Not too bad. Just straight up through the Twins, then Duluth and across the border. Eleven hours unless you go up on a Saturday. We try to hit it mid-week.”

“And you fish.”

“Walleye, some Musky.”

I was lying on my stomach with my shirt pulled up and my pants at half-mast. He was feeling around my hip-bone, not on the side but at the back wear the Gray’s Anatomy illustrations show a fin of bone. The place where, if you’re as skinny as I’ve become, it’s right near the surface. He needed a good spot for bone marrow. That’s what he was after. Gina had joined us in the green and taupe examination office, bringing her dolly cart of needles, bottles, boxes of plastic gloves, labels. She had arranged all this on the side counter while the doctor had talked me up onto the raised bed.

“Getting a sample is a really simple procedure and there’s no point in waiting. I just find a likely looking spot. Then we’ll send it off the lab and we’ll know what kind of T-cells we’ve got.”

“And maybe we haven’t got anything,” I said aloud, but to myself.

“That’s the kind of day we like. When we come up empty.”

I changed the subject because he had tried to reassure me by describing the needle as “hair-thin”. I would have been happier something more like a dress-maker’s pin. Nothing bigger. I didn’t want a diaper pin, or one of you mother’s sewing needles for sure, much less a sail maker’s needle that was so triangular you could feel the ridge and the flat plane when you squeezed it. Or a galvanized roofing nail with accidental burs, or a high-speed bit in a carpenter’s chuck. That’s what I had imagined would be used for a bone marrow sample. A drill. I thought you had to get through the bone and would need to crank on it.

I went back to “hair-thin” for a moment and knew that if I had a mirror I could have caught sight of it in the stream of sunlight that escaped the Venetian blinds. It would have looked like those steady-handed strokes of white paint touched on the surface with a well-licked brush, a brush with so few badger bristles you could have counted them. The kind of last sun-lit stroke that only a fly-fishing oil painter would have bothered with.

“Do you fish near the pulp mill?”

“I think it’s north of Grassy Narrows. Up-stream.” He seemed to be concentrating on something. I could feel a numb pulling.

“So they didn’t cover Minimata disease in med school.”

“I must have been away that day. Heh-heh-h. That’s a neurological disease?”

“Yeah, Minimata is in Japan but the guy who figured it out went to Canada to prove it. To Grassy Narrows.”

“Well that’s where we go for walleye and musky.” He pulled again. “It was mercury was it?”

“From the bleaching process at the Dryden Pulp and Paper Mill, Dryden, Ontario, just up-stream from the Nitam-Anishinaabeg’s fishing grounds. They got this Minimata thing and the Japanese doctor proved it was from the pulp mill.

“Closed down now I guess.”

“I guess.”

He straightened up. He seemed to have got what he was after and handed it off to Gina. She was bent over the counter by her box of gear and was busy getting things ready for the trip. “Maybe we’ll try to find something a little farther north.”

“No, I’m sure it’s closed down and all cleaned up. It was almost 40 years ago.”

“Time enough for all that mercury to clear out I suppose.”

“And wash down into Minnesota.”

“Heh-heh-he.”

“Or time enough to kill ya.”

“I guess you never know.” He pulled off his gloves and wadded up the cotton swabs. “Sometimes that stream is full of walleye. You can’t see ‘em. And sometimes there’s only a couple. But one of them is just waiting for you.”