By Randall Osborne
A wing-splayed pheasant upside down in his fist, a trout slapping the boat floor, foam on the cold rim of his Budweiser can: my father, into whose barstool-shyness women stepped, and broke off pieces of him, and fed themselves. Some offered him a taste, which he accepted. Then, amazed at his own flavor, he cast his lure again, squinting through smoke.
How like me to think of a plan, now that he's gone! How easy it would have been to wheel him out, set the brake, and fix the pole in his hands, hands that could just as capably set the brake themselves, and release it. How necessary for me to fish beside him once more on the dock, a quiet weekday afternoon.
"I want to try just around that bend," I say to him, or, "I'm going to the car for the other tackle box. You'll be OK?"
His solemn, sideways nod injects me with a mute reply that will ooze from every nicked finger, and drum behind all of my excitements forever. He smiles. I want to believe he smiles as I turn away, and memory delivers to him a hope-shaped bundle, and this is replaced by his sense of life apart from me, full of delicious dirt and rain and launched arrows, and this is replaced by the hollow core of purified relief that waits for him.
And he decides.
Meanwhile, where do I go? Where have I ever gone? Where was I, when he woke that morning in the hospital and told them to "turn everything off"?
I push through brambles, down a trail. Set my pole against a tree and march farther into the forest where my father once crept, rifle over his shoulder, deep enough not to hear.
I know when to return. For once, I know.
The lake near the empty dock is calm, flat, and blameless, without so much as a bubble. I've forgotten my pole in the woods. I might never find it, but on the warped boards lies his—neatly, somehow, as if placed rather than thrown or dropped. Line in the water, for me to take up.
Randall Osborne lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is finishing a collection of stories.Randall's work Oedipus Hex also is available at VerbSap.
Photo "Going Fishin'" courtesy of Vincent Primeau, Tarmana, Canada.
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