We was tricked. We was told the sea was rising and unless our fathers felled trees and built a boat we’d take on water like a rotten pumpkin and then we’d drown. But what we did was secretly throw rotten pumpkins into the sea and we watched them froth and spin and sink only to bob up again on another wave. “Keep going,” we cried and we remembered how we’d lain down with the pumpkins on our mamas’ porches and this was before they settled and spread, this was when they were firm and we pressed our cheeks to their thick iron-grey skin and we stared up at the mountain and we thought of bombs and radiation and all the things that could keel a body right over.
Maybe if the adults let us look at the boat plans or explained why the big waves were coming or why Elder Joseph took the girl into the pumpkin field and she came home with a terrible look in her eyes we would have known something. But nobody was saying.
So we did our own trick. We said we were going to church but we ran off to hide inside the trees. We breathed in their good smell, rubbed together our woody elbows.
When light left the mountain we held our arms out to the sky and waited for moths to settle on the knobs of our throats. We thought we heard our fathers crash through the fields calling our names, but maybe it was waves rolling shingle onto shore. We knew they would later sob, hold our mamas tight, loosening their long hair, rocking into them, this way and that and forgetting about us.
But we was wrong. The adults sung and hollered all night about the boat. Then our fathers was running towards the forest swinging their chainsaws. We poked our heads out from the leaves. “It’s us!” we cried, “It’s us!” but already our voices had turned to wind.
The Fish My Father Gave Me
I drowned the fish even though I knew I was too old to be drowning a fish. It was as big as a real fish and I let it float for a while. My father stared into the bathtub. “Sweet Jaysus,” he cried, “did your mother teach you that?”
My father was a drunk, a dream, a chaser of women, a storyteller, he came from the Irish bog, his hat was riddled with bullet holes, he cried on Easter Sunday, got down on his hands and knees to look at a hedgehog, danced with my mother, smashed the shop window then stumbled home with a chocolate fish. “You shall have a fishy on a little dishy,” he sang, opening his mouth so wide you could see the gleam of his gold tooth.
I cannot write about my father or if I do the story meanders, twists away from me in a slither. How can you nail a father down? Every goodbye was a wink and “I’ll come back with something for ye!”
The fish felt heavy in my palm. I traced my fingers over the ripples of chocolate skin, from the tail to the blunted snout. My father stood there, pleased with himself.
To drown a fish takes time. It tries to change shape, squeeze through your fingers. It muddies the bath water. It gets your parents talking.