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Tales from my Fisherman Father (If I follow my hands, can I shake the winter fish from the trees?)

By Uncategorized

  by Rachel Slotnick

In Tiburon, on a Wednesday, I saw a seabird with my father’s face. “Why don’t you get yourself a decent boyfriend?” it cawed. As it flew, it sprouted up and vanished, and it cast a flicker on the sand by my feet, like the limb of a tree, breathing out slowly.
*
On the night before a final exam, I dreamt that my father was eaten by a bear. There was blood everywhere. The bear’s belly bulged, and the very next day that same bear grew an enormous fisherman beard, and complained of uncontrollable cravings for seafood. I didn’t realize I was still dreaming the next day.
*
When I turned seven, my father’s beard filled with silver carp and curls of seaweed. His brown spotted cod eyes scrambled from reef to reef. When he spoke he emitted an enormous gurgling noise, which made everything prickle because it sounded like death. But to me, this was his lullaby. It was the sort of burbling tonality I needed in order to believe in things like that stuff that shifts the clouds.
*
When my father was a child, a shark bit his arm off. He replaced it with a wooden stump. Logically, he became a shark hunter of a fisherman, and he hated all trees for daring to resemble him. Stumps were the worst of the trees for my father, because he knew they were already dead.
*
My father was tormented by winter fish. He saw them everywhere, dangling, ornamenting the trees, reflecting lures chiseling the air, hiccups of green ocean swallowing the sky. I tried to explain that they were only apples. “See, they’re not fish at all,” I said as I plucked a red, ripe one, but his scaly skin tautened, and so, like he had taught me so many times, I threw it back. Like a falling plea, the apple hit the ocean.
*
“My skeleton is shivering,” he said to me once, when his thoughts were cataloguing the winter.
*
One Passover, I brought home a handsome, rich, fish of a boyfriend.
“Is he Jewish??” asked my father, clutching the neighborhood in the palm of his hand.
*
Once, in the Tiburon hospital, I understood my father’s sadness. I tried to tell him so by scooping an octopus and spooning it to him. He slurped it in like an inverted wind. I watched legs and legs and legs swarm, and as they were consumed, they clung to the curls of his silver beard. I had never felt my hands so concretely – so many fingers to follow, so many unnecessary digits. That was when I first noticed it, supple and brimming, a perfect tentacle eroding from the heart of my palm.
*
There we stood, just two humans looking out the hospital window, at the edges of the fish bowl, talking about the weather.
*
My father’s stump arm flailed wildly as the train shook. When it went underground my father got confused. “But, look,” he insisted. “There’s a beautiful glowing fish at the end of the tunnel.”
*
“We’ll call him Charlie,” my father said once of a tremendous rainbow trout, as he gutted it and the paint colors spilled out. The clouds were gray as fish skin. My father wiped the purple blood on his pants, and he said, “Don’t worry, Sweets, he’s already dead.”
*
I knew when the clocks were still in the fish skin sky, and the carp rained down from the dying trees like rotten apples. “Be stilled,” said my father, like fishing for rotten apples. The leaves hummed, and everywhere was tentacles for hearts. I knew then that this was the beginning of something slow.

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