A Site for the Expansion of Consciousness

The Fisherman

 

Hi, Everyone,

I haven’t posted here for quite some time because I have been engaged in writing two books on past lives.  But, when I realized that Father’s Day is just around the corner, I felt an inner push to publish here an autobiographical story about my relationship with my father who passed over in 1987 at the age of 77.  I wrote this story not long after he left this world and made mostly stylistic changes over the next twenty years or so.  It has been published online in a couple of men’s web-based magazines.

This is a story about my discovering my father’s complexity, about gaining insight into who he was beyond being my father.  It is about my growing out of the constrictive definitions of myself and him that I later realized I–not he–had put on both of us because of my then limiting beliefs.  I had to get bigger and help him get larger than those constraining beliefs would allow.  Ultimately, the story is about opening the heart in the face of pain and stereotyping of self and other.

I hope you enjoy it and allow the story to stimulate you to a wider awareness of your own father.

I love you, Pop!

I.

August, 1975      

 

I am putting on his clothes again.

Years ago, similar mud- and blood-stained pants, bottom-rolled into cuffs, hung like two big balloons around my legs. A blue, hooded sweatshirt with ripped elbows, like this one now in my hands, had drooped in a pregnant way on my stomach. He was still alive in his clothes when I wore them. How could I make room for me?

“Here, wear these, too,” he says now. “So your mother won’t have to wash yours.”

“I won’t get dirty.”

But he pulls the pants off the hook from the back of the basement’s door and dumps them on top of the sweatshirt he had already thrown to me. A door slams shut upstairs, sending air billowing down the cellar steps. “Shit!” I say; “I left it open again—she’ll be blowing.” Hunching his shoulders forward and shaking his head, he flips both hands over into empty, outstretched palms.

 

Two hours ago, after coming down from Cambridge, I had taken off my shoes outside the door on the second-floor landing and tossed them against the shopping bag propped near the entry. It was filled with empty tin cans my mother had thoroughly washed out. He would be late taking the bag on his daily trash run to the fifty-gallon cans in the back alley. Her muted “Damn you!” filtered through the door’s thin, wooden panel. Feeling the rebuke intended for him, I stooped to arrange my loafers neatly beside the brown rubbers lying on several sheets of the Providence Journal. The yelling stopped. I rapped, heard her click open the lock, and then walked into my mother’s too fervent smile. Her plump arms enveloped me. When I was five, my nose against her perfumed and powdered neck, I had gazed just below my chin and imagined falling into the dark hole between the swells of her flesh. Now she drew back, her hand patting the red, Harvard insignia on my jacket. “Wait’ll you see what I got you. The olive oil was on sale, so I bought you a gallon. And Nick says, ‘Hi’; he sliced some nice cutlets for you. And guess what? There’s homemade macaroni drying on my bed and a meatball gravy I made last night—don’t forget it like the last time.”

He was standing behind her then.

I looked over her shoulder at him. “And I got salami and proscuitto and soft loaves from Crugnale’s for you two to take to the ocean,” she went on while he stood silently beside the stove, fingering a plastic bag filled with tubes of glue, a salt-water lure, and rawhide shoelaces. Above the old Tappan on a knick-knack shelf he had built, I used to leave my straight-A reports from Providence College. My mother would say, “He told me he’s proud of you—his father made him leave high school and work on the farm.” He looked away, then pressed the bag, his own gift, into my hand as I came up and brushed my bearded check against his slightly stubbled one.

A half hour later, my sister Anne told me the yelling had started when my mother found a Playboy under the T-shirts she had carefully folded into his second bureau drawer. “Remember the time,” I said to Anne, “when we couldn’t figure out how we’d ever been conceived?” “You mean,” she said, “because they didn’t sleep in the same room for years supposedly because she couldn’t stand his snoring?” I didn’t tell her that at fourteen I had still wondered about that even after his buddy, Ernie, sitting beside me on a battered rowboat at Fort Getty, had explained about the transparent balloon he had unrolled over his thumb. Then he had chuckled, “Ask him,” as he jerked that covered thumb toward his buddy, fifty yards away, who was watching the rod tips and munching an apple.

 

“Go get the lunches,” he says now, “and I’ll get the gear together.”  I climb the sixty-two steps to the third floor—I counted them once on one of many such trips I had made for him. Lighting one of my Benson & Hedges, I recall the Camels he had chain-smoked until he found out about his angina and switched to cherry Lifesavers. My mother would tell my sisters and me, “Don’t give him an attack.” “Go help him,” she would say when he worked around the house, laying linoleum in each of their bedrooms or building pine shelves to store canned goods. And I would go. Occasionally, I would hand him an awl, a C-clamp, or the ripsaw he always had to identify for me. Mostly, I just sat, jiggling my leg, or stood, shifting from foot to foot. There had been one more message: “He needs you to go to the ocean with him. To relax,” she would say.

 

From age five, every Saturday and Sunday, even sometimes at night. For twelve years. At seven, I tried to tell my mother I couldn’t go because I had to keep using the bathroom; she simply stuffed more napkins into our lunch bags. In the car, I would hand him one of those half loaves of bread filled with potato-and-egg omelet that my mother sent with us until his weight became another threat; munching them kept us from having to talk during the long drives to his favorite spots. At Matunick, Beavertail, Fort Coney, and other places, in order to go home earlier, I timed myself with his cast away from me and then liberated the bait crabs, one or two of which would always crawl sideways, insanely, back to the bucket. In another place, for hours in the pelting rain, I stood with a rod sideways, cow-like, against the gusts, feeling invisible in a tent-like, borrowed poncho. Or, at still another place, upon the water where it lapped against the barnacled pilings, my cone-shaped shadow lay undisturbed, except for an occasional plop from a sinker dropped by some red-haired kid on a family outing.

 

                        Now he counts two- and three-ounce sinkers into a bucket. He doesn’t notice me return with the food from upstairs. They are store-bought sinkers, somehow different from those he used to make—as I would look on nursing a headache—with a stinking, portable, gas stove and various molds. Now I linger just outside the threshold with the two, neatly-folded, lunch bags. And with her note crumpled in my shirt pocket: “He’s still upset about his father.” Zippering his soiled jacket, he pulls the white bucket, bristling with sand spikes, off the cluttered workbench and negotiates the already-rigged rods through the doorway. Only the “Sunday Ones,” fresh from Church, he always said, went with ties, jackets, green-metal tackle boxes, street shoes, and already-rigged rods. His thinning hair, more white than gray, curls untrimmed down a neck much paler than it was during past summers. As he ascends the wooden stairs to the screen-door, the clicking of his leather soles seems to rap out his erratic heartbeat.

 

II.

 

The screen door to the backyard now whirs and pops back shut. My fingertips touch the blood-stained clothes. I throw the pants aside and begin to lose my hands in the sweatshirt’s softness. I hold my breath and plunge my head through the opening. But I still sneeze. Maybe it isn’t the salt. Maybe it’s the sawdust yellowing the bench and cement floor, or the mold and lint of this one place safe from my mother’s vacuum.

1970

                        The sneezing had started five years ago, in Dong Ha, South Vietnam, eight miles from the border with the North. Even fresh laundering by mama-sans could not rid my fatigues of the mold that smothered everything. A five-minute bout of whole-body sneezing stretched my lungs to the limit as I lay on my cot in the hootch that housed the Bird Dogs, the Colonel’s field escort. When my chest stopped heaving, I inserted the tape into the recorder and pushed the PLAY button. It was his first message. It began with his own sneeze, a cough, and a gargle and then his demand, “Shut the damn door!”  Then another shuffling sound and he began the already prepared script: he told me about the twenty-pounder he nearly lost at Beavertail—“Joey, it was so-o-o beautiful!”—when a Sunday One crossed his line; and he chuckled about how Anne’s son wasn’t yet baiting his own hook—“He’s squeamish about blood like you were once”—and he sighed about how the price of crabs had climbed twenty-five cents in one season. He ended, “Take care of yourself. Love, Dad.”

 

I did my best. Four months into my tour, wrapped in a bandoleer and fingering the safety on my M-16, I helped the Bird Dogs escort the Chaplain on a clanking APC to Quang Tri, eight miles away. As the vehicle jerked to a halt, the spotlights of the descending chopper illuminated Tiny’s face. He had done this before. Our jungle boots soon clomped on the corrugated iron pad as we smashed our steel helmets down on our bobbing heads, defying the chopper’s whirlwind. Six pairs of mud-caked, boot soles faced us out of the chopper’s black hole, stacked on top of one another.

Our boots, I thought, we’re running toward our own boots!

                        Ahead of me, at the other end of the canvas stretcher, Tiny pulled me into position. The door-gunner had been shaking his head, his helmet slipping over his Army-issue glasses. “Damn bad luck to have ‘em in here! Get ready.” Then, with a grunt and grimace, he bent down and lifted the long shadow attached to the boots selected for us: it bounced twice on our canvas trampoline. Earlier that evening, Tiny had pushed aside the blanket isolating my section of the hootch. “You sly bastard, give me some,” he had said, pushing his mess dish into the steam rising from the small pot. I had reached into the pot and lifted out a half dozen white Rigatoni, dropping them onto the plate and then dripping tomato sauce on them.   My mother had written, “I hope the gravy won’t spoil with no icebox there.”

“Where?” “Into the freezer.” But it wasn’t cold there. Tiny left me staring at the boots. They were dirty brown, not green and polished black like mine. And they were laced with laminated string, not with rawhide like mine. With a magic-marker in hand and label tags in his teeth, the attendant dismissed me: “That’s all.” It was 2:00 A.M. I was neither asleep nor awake. I had to look. Beyond the boots. I saw my mother, who had scrimped to buy an expensive steak, watch the butcher grind it into coarse, white and red shreds. And, sometimes, she would supplement the hamburger with what he would bring home from the ocean. But when he skinned and gutted them on the cellar sink, they never looked like what lay on the canvas stretcher. He had been a more skillful meat-cutter. An hour later, back on my canvas cot, I stared at a pregnant spider on the two-by-four above me.

There was nothing real for me to cry about.

“Father,” I said to the legs clutching the beam.

                        “Father, Father!”

 

I flew home in January, 1971. I was allowed to keep my combat boots and duffel bag that served me well as a laundry case. But it would hold more than dirty clothes. When my newlywed wife went to work, I stuffed our kittens into the bag, their invisible, furry bodies thrashing it into odd shapes. Suspended from the bedroom door, the pregnant bag swung slowly from side to side. Plopped on the bed and scratching a five-day beard, I listened blankly to their cries. A month after my wife left, taking along with her the tortured animals I had given to her instead of a son, I watched him on the Matunick beach pull a four-foot scavenger out of the surf and past my combat boots. Unhooked, it quivered its gills and ground its harmless sandpaper teeth. He was re-baiting when I grasped its sickle tail. I wound my arm into a whirlwind that knocked off my cap as sea-flesh thwoped against rock. “Hey, that’s enough! It’s dead.” Its shredded snout pointed at his sneakers. “I know,” I panted, “I know.”

I was waiting for someone to die. A kind of exchange. His brother’s wife died of a brain hemorrhage on Holy Saturday and was buried the day after Easter. I had known her, five years older than I; and I cried a little. Three years later, my girlfriend’s dog, Ollie, was run over by a car and dragged himself to her porch’s stone landing where, for two hours, he slowly dribbled saliva and blood. “He was like a person to me,” she sobbed over her uneaten dinner. I had known Ollie and cried harder. But neither of them was the one.

Then, two months ago, his father died.

 

III.

August, 1975    

    

                        The sweatshirt reaches only to my navel now, and my elbows poke through the holes. Splotched with sea-stains, the pleated pants lie where I dropped them to put on the sweatshirt; one leg is draped over the rubber, knee boots thrown into the corner. He’d found the boots in his father’s toolshed under the rakes and hoes. A legacy. He’d taken them, but did not wear them, these boots his father had worn for years when he would work isolated in the manure of his quarter-acre garden, burgeoning with escarole, broccoli, green beans, and those huge Italian tomatoes my mother called “beefeaters” and used in her sauces. “My father said they were for you,” he would mumble to her, dropping the bag on the kitchen table and then stepping down to his place in this cellar.

I draw the trousers to my waist and notch the belt in the first hole. My ankles gleam white beneath the cuffs. He’s getting smaller.

 

June, 1975

                        When my mother called me in Cambridge two months ago, she said, “Go to him. He’s at your grandmother’s.” But I stopped first at my mother’s, soothed her, and went to the cellar. Still on the stringer, their puffed lips and gills oozed bubbles and blood into the dark, cast-iron well beneath the faucets he had installed. I turned the spigot, but some of the blood had already coagulated on their scales. Grabbing one of my mother’s discarded terri-cloth towels, I used it to grasp the collapsed tail of the one left hanging over the side. It belonged with the others. But it slipped out of the towel. In the way that he had taught me, I tightened my thumb and index finger around the gills and flapped it into the tub.

 

As I parked my car, I saw him through the windshield, sitting alone on the stone steps, his hands lying lightly on his knees. At my approach, his head popped up like the bobbers he had abandoned after switching from fresh to salt water. He hadn’t changed his clothes. Behind him, through the screen-door, muted voices hummed.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

A hand lifted and dropped back into place. I sat heavily on the stair just below him and drew my hands around my knees. The shadow of the towering pine his father had planted at the edge of the garden before I was born twenty-seven years ago draped over us like a black arm. From the tomato side of the garden, the odor of fresh manure wafted around us, slowly obliterating the smell of sea-grass wedged into his sneaker’s sole.

The pine’s shadow deepened with the coming of twilight. Only the chirping of crickets and the scraping of a bottom shifting its weight disturbed the shared silence. I lit a cigarette. Through a crack just below the filter, smoke wisped away. I flipped it in a long, sparkling arc toward the darkening grass. A tiny coal that illuminated something, a scene nearly forgotten:

 

The ash had glowed brighter as he sucked on the Camel clamped in his lips just inches from my seven-year-old hair. From behind me, his left arm had twined under my enveloping sweatshirt, and his right hand had slipped over its smaller image as I clutched the rod. “Throw!” he said. On the monstrous wharf at Fort Coney, with his head near mine, I threw, rewound the line, and threw again and again until he let me go and I cast on my own, teetering to and fro on my short legs. He smiled down at me, “You see. You can do it.” A few years later, in the cold, pelting rain at another place far from the parked Chevy, I saw the fruit of twelve hours of casting and waiting. “How many should we take home to Mom?” “All of ‘em!” I said, tears mixing with rain pellets on my flushed cheeks. Soon, under the weight of twenty-seven “white-chinners,” strung, higher on his side, between us on a dead pine branch, I stumbled over into the mud. “I don’t care if I get dirty,” I said, my gleaming eyes fixed on his. “I don’t care!”

 

                        The coal ashed out. Sitting now on the stone stair below him, I could not hold him. I rocked slowly back and forth.

 

Two days later in the living room where the wake had been held according to his father’s instructions, the family waited for the undertaker to come and screw down the casket’s lid. Sitting beside my mother on a funeral parlor chair, he fingered the still-folded handkerchief on his knee. Ten feet away, I was being introduced by one of his sisters to a stranger leaning on a cane: “This is my brother’s son. They used to go a lot to…Fort Getty, right?” She had turned toward her brother. But he continued to stare at the lacquered pinewood mirroring the bright gold handles. Her head returned. “We’re proud of this one, our oldest nephew,” she gleamed at the man with the cane. “He goes to Harvard.”

On the walls hung several of her other brother’s paintings. My aunt patted the man away and followed my eyes. “Did you know that, thirty-five years ago when your Pa first started at the Coro factory, he won a scholarship to the R.I. School of Design to fashion jewelry? He dropped out, I think, when your older sister was born.” His eyes seemed as lacquered as the wood. When I didn’t nod, she whispered, “Did you go with him to the ocean two days ago?” My head slipped sideways and back. “Going there was the only thing that made him feel alive…feel himself…after Pa sent him to work on the farm at sixteen.”

I excused myself and went out to the yard where the tree dropped its Mackintosh apples down into the escarole and broccoli popping out of their side of the garden. I climbed into the main crotch, my leather soles slipping on the bark. A fat apple near my face bounced on its twig in the light breeze. On the tomato side of the fenced-in garden, as though tearing its roots from the manure that nourished it, the pine arrowed up into the blinding sunlight and into the wind that, in contrast, swayed the apple-laden branches down onto the dark earth. Once, years ago, he and I had watched his towering father turn his back to us, step over the chicken wire, and begin mulching the soil, his knee-booted legs protected from the manure. Raising me then into these branches that now brush my face, his son had supported my stealing of the biggest apple, and then, hands linked, we had slipped quickly towards the waiting car.

The wind picked up and pushed an apple against my cheek. Sap-stained from my climb, one hand clutched the trunk as my Sunday trousers slipped on the bark. I pulled with the other until the twig snapped its leaves back into the limb above. As the undertaker’s hearse pulled into the driveway, I rolled my lips away from my teeth and crunched hard into the red and white flesh.

 

I was to help carry his father. Waiting while the family knelt on the velvet stoop next to the casket and then were escorted out to their cars, I watched him, the oldest, waiting for his turn. My mother, holding the lacey handkerchief to her cheek, went up alone, parted her lips, touched his face, and then turned and walked toward the door. I turned away before her face sent a message. It wasn’t my turn.

It was his turn.

His rising took hours. He hitched up his trousers; he hunched his shoulders; his fingers tugged at the edges of his coat. As his lower jaw began to go flaccid, saliva touched his lip. His eyes traveled from the foot-end to the name-plate and back again and then to the edge of the opening. He straightened his arm out until his fingers touched the gleaming handle and then walked themselves up to the head cushion. His index finger began to lift above the others. I swam miles to reach him. One arm reached round him from behind while the other slid down his extended arm rigid like pinewood. I felt my stomach press into the small of his back and send him forward the last few inches. That hand that had sawed a straight cut and cleanly slit gills wavered on the plastered eyes.

“Pa,” he cried, “oh, Pa!”

                        I held on to him.

We were united, one. Three of us…and one more. It loomed behind me, pressing into my spine. I had to look. Beyond the arms. In that coffined, withholding face, I saw the battered scavenger, Ollie who was a person, my hemorrhaged aunt, boots with laminated laces. And him.

And me. Fingered by that shadow summoning my inconceivable son.

“Throw!” I screamed to him without a sound. “Cast it out!”

But his sobs banged him against the sparkling handles.

I had to break this, pull away, and take him with me. I had to help him. It was my turn.

 

IV.

August, 1975

 

Now, two months later, I am taking him with me in my Rabbit.  On its sloping hood, he had set the bucket of sand spikes and waited for me to emerge from the cellar. Unlocking the driver’s side, I get in, reach to open the passenger door, and stuff the gear he hands me into the backseat. But he sets the lunches between us and extends the rods from the rear deck and between our seats to the dashboard. With legs half extended, he sits where I have always sat in his Chevy.

“Where’re we going?” I say. He hunches his shoulders. “How ‘bout Fort Getty?” I say. His lips curl inward. As I turn the wheel, my borrowed trousers tighten around my crotch, and my forearm stretches out of the sweatshirt. I am getting bigger.

His hand lifts to shield his eyes from the sun streaming through the windshield. Unlike his Chevy’s narrower one, split by a bar into two sections, this windshield affords us unobstructed visibility. With one hand steadying the wheel, I grab the lunches with the other and fling them into the backseat. My hand returns with the broad-brimmed, red wool hat an ex-girlfriend gave me. I nudge his knee with the brim, my hand hiding under the crown. He takes it, looks blankly at the sweatband with the red-lettered words, “You are mine, forever,” and plops it on his head. It falls over his ears. Only his recently acquired, black-rimmed glasses stop the hat from dropping over his eyes. Immobile, he sags into the backrest, the hat with its collegiate look wiping out years of his life. After a minute, he takes it off and smoothes back into place the hair that had stuck to the wool and then flips the hat into the space where the lunches had been, just as he would throw back one of those flat ones he would catch, his erstwhile keen eyes watching them flap slowly away through the water or bury themselves in the sand.

I reach back to a bag and pull out a sandwich wrapped in several layers of waxed paper and foil. I hold it in the air over the rods between us. But the back of his head has no mouth. Recalling how he would do it, I partially unroll the wrapping to form a cup for the dripping ketchup soaking into the white Italian bread. My teeth rip out a huge semicircle from the soft bread and proscuitto. I swallow it in lumps. She always told me to chew my food.

“Ma…,” I say to the unobstructed windshield. “Ma…can be a real…bitch, can’t she…it took…guts…balls…to keep that Playboy…good for you!” The words, like sinkers, arch over the rods between us and drop into him, the accompanying hooks pulling at, twitching his shoulders.

And I dare to upset him, to take his erratic heart into my hands, to rip it open to reach him. And me.

“You know….” I say, and his head begins to pan towards me.

“You know…you…you know…I hated you.”

My sounds sink again into his gaping mouth, hooking down with them his nose, eyes, whiskers, cheeks, ears, everything until his face is effaced and there is nothing but water.

Everything drowns, even my own eyes.

And the salt lodges in the corners of my mouth, and I am lured into his heart, ripped open by my astounding hook.

“And…and…I love you,” I whisper, choking now on the red bubbles oozing slowly to the surface from my own heart wound.

 

The windshield starts to clear. As I unhook my fingers from his wrist, he draws his sleeve over the dribble from his nose. I brake slowly for a red light. But I have to plunge deeper: to our roots and the manure feeding them:

“And you hated him—he did to you what you did to me.”

His jaw pulsates. He says to the windshield, “I guess he did the best he could.”

In my invisible currents, something stirs. I bob now just below the surface: “It wasn’t good enough,” I say, “not for you, not for me…you made me invisible…dead…and I…I wanted you the same way…you should’ve told him…like I just did.” But there’s more—from him—and it comes from a greater depth, its sickle tail slicing to the surface, its teeth gleaming like no sandpaper could.

“I can’t talk like you…I didn’t go to Harvard.” His lips draw back from his teeth: “I…I…I ain’t…I ain’t you.”

                        “The light’s green,” he repeats.

It takes years for the wrist he has been jabbing to switch from first to second gear. It shreds from the arm. I am not him. I am nobody. I am eaten.

 

“Go to the end of the road and park near the wharf.” I obey, as he searches the white caps beyond the wharf’s solid bulk. “Maybe there’ll be a few left to catch,” he says; “Nobody’s here.”

Yes, I say to no one, nobody to hear any more.

As he shoulders the rods and lifts the bucket, I drop the lunches and the cake-box of worms into the bloodstained cooler. I walk in his steps to the wharf. At the edge of the walkway onto the wharf, he waits for me and then reaches into the cake-box, pulls out some squirming seaweed, places my rod on the planks, and walks to a distant position on the wharf.

Nearby, the three uneven pilings are still steel-cabled into their mutual embrace. I drop my exposed ankles over the wharf’s edge and search inside the cake-box. I stretch a worm out of its tangle and lay it coiling on a plank. After carefully threading the hook through its mouth, its tiny pincers clutching the steel shank, I wipe the blood on my sweatshirt, cast the rig, light a cigarette, and wait.

After a few drags, I flip the butt, tasteless, into my cone-shaped shadow undulating on the surface. It hisses, whirlpooling its white body. Food for the blind. Just beyond and below my shadow, something flashes, catching the sun. We couldn’t go anywhere without them: her lunches of loaves bulging with coldcuts and mozarella, of thick pizza without cheese, of homemade pepper biscuits, of polished Delicious apples with their tiny yellow spots. They fed us and choked us. Like trousers and sweatshirts. Like rakes and hoes in a jewelry designer’s hands. Food for the hungry blind. A long slender shadow swims just below a trough and stupidly jabs the butt into bits of tobacco and paper.

Reaching out to the cooler, my bared forearm snakes into a bag and feels out an apple like the ones he and I used to bring home from Sunnydale Orchard in Scituate’s pine-covered hills. Once, when he had refused me one from the bushel carried between us, I nearly broke my seven-year-old teeth on a pine cone I had angrily snatched from the stand’s decorations. I leave the apple in the bag. I am sick of apples.

The line tugs my finger. My rod curves toward the water as I swing upward to set the hook. When I turn the crank, the drag on the reel unwhines some of the line I take in. Whirlpooling itself against my pull, the shape soon loses its darkness to the sun. I reach beyond the teeth into the gills and flap it into the cooler. The styrofoam bounces along the planks. I can hear, coming towards the cooler, the far-away clicking of his soles.

I have seen this before in another cooler. I couldn’t cry then. I can’t cry now. The footsteps rap his heartbeat closer. I will not look beyond the cooler. I will not wipe my blood fingers on his trousers. I am not expiring flesh in a cooler, or Ollie on the steps, or boots in the freezer, or my aunt into the ground, or plastered eyes in pinewood. Or him.

I am only me, totally alone in my shadow.

Nearly behind me, his footfalls stop, and I see another shadow merge with that of the pilings supporting the wharf. Then a long thin shadow splits away and moves toward my own.

He coughs. My drowned eyes swim over the cooler to his soles and up towards his shoulders leaning against the cabled pilings. One arm is hidden behind his back; the other points, palm outstretched, to the dead fish in the cooler.

“You see,” he says. “I told you they were here.” I nod, squinting in the noon-day sun. He pushes himself off the barnacles, and his worm-stained finger touches my shoulder: “How ‘bout taking off that sweatshirt and putting this on.” I look up into the hat’s red-lettered sweatband.

“It’s warming up, Joe.”

I touch his soiled finger with my own.

“Yeah, Dad, it is.”

 

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