By Sean Casey
Previously published in Australia in a magazine called Torpedo for a tribute issue to the American novelist, writer and poet Richard Brautigan.
As an adult of thirty, I learned of Armenia’s trout from a man named Albert. I had hired Albert to take me on a tour of the Caucasus. He spoke a language in which gusts of breath were used to cover consonants. They may have been vowels, but I’m not going to call them that. Albert wasn’t inscrutable, but he wasn’t far from it. He had grey hair, a slight hunch. He made use of minimal emotion and moved with perfect confidence. I did not understand anything he said.
“In Soviet times,” he said, “all families were given identical encyclopedias. The most well thumbed pages of this encyclopedia concerned Armenia’s trout.”
I didn’t believe the man. I didn’t understand a word he said.
Albert drove me across Armenia. I am not sure how to describe our transport. He called it a car. Minivan might have been an accurate term. I called it an exceptionally large goat, because that’s what it was. We traveled to Lake Sevan, stopping alongside the River Hrazdan.
“The trout here are despondent,” Albert said. “Abject.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said.
Albert may have been incomprehensible, but he was right. We started fishing with badly bent hooks. Albert said they were fine. They looked less like the letter j and more like lower case l. The trout were both gorgeous and fed up with life. They gleefully speared themselves on our hooks.
“Soviet trout,” Albert said.
“I thought you said Armenian trout,” I said.
“Sorry,” Albert said. “Armenian trout.”
For an hour we fished in silence. The trout’s reluctance to do anything but bite hooks was striking, mysterious, and boring.
“The KGB closely monitors this river,” Albert said.
“Still?” I asked.
“We all need activities to fill our days,” he said.
We cleaned the trout. Albert expertly cleaned his; I made a mess of mine. We threw what we didn’t want onto a flat rock. The innards glimmered like wet rubies, but were of value only to a few stray dogs.
“Done,” Albert said. “We have more than enough for my wife to cook.”
Albert drove me to his home in the village of Tsapatsagh and introduced me to his wife. I was pretty sure it wasn’t his house, and the woman wasn’t his wife.
It took four years to cook the trout. By the end of the four years I had grown impatient. I had also grown fluent in whatever tongue Albert spoke. We exchanged gusts of it over coffee and backgammon.
One afternoon as we waited for the trout, Albert reached for the encyclopedia. He opened it to the entry on Armenian trout, and passed the book to me.
“Now you can read this,” he said.
“This is in Russian,” I said.
“You don’t know Russian?” he asked.
“Not yet,” I said.
Albert began reading it out loud. He started off translating it into the language we shared, but within minutes was reading in Russian. From what I understood, the trout of Armenia were of magnificent intelligence. They had even developed a language. However, without the anatomy to properly pronounce the language’s words, the trout grew terminally forlorn. Many were driven to suicide, a zealousness to succumb to fisherman.
Albert’s wife entered. She dropped a bowl of apricots in front of us.
“Trout’s ready,” she said.
“Patience, woman,” Albert scolded. “I’m reading the famous entry on Armenian trout.”
Albert’s wife left the room speaking obscenities in another tongue.
“Albert,” I said, “what language does your wife use to curse?”
“Beats me,” he said.
He gestured to his wife with his thumb, and came as close to smiling as he ever did.
“I have no idea who she is,” he whispered.