The Fisherman

I smacked the arm of the chair, watching a thick cloud of dust particles float into the sunlight. Jill glanced up from her place in the yard where she was sorting through Mom’s clothes.

I wasn’t surprised that Mom had kept my father’s chair, but that it still held the scent of tobacco, metal, and desperation. Its rust colored cushion sagged in defeat, its arms slick and threadbare. No reupholstering would never change that.

I smiled at Jill. “Did I ever tell you about the sharks?”

My wife, holding a dress up to her neck–navy blue, cream lace collar, one I don’t remember Mom ever wearing–shook the hair from her eyes and took in the chair with a smirk. “Sharks?”

I nodded, the fog of memories hanging over my head, of me sitting on my father’s lap, equally fascinated and terrified as he poked me with the nub of his left arm. He’d take a sip of beer, settle deeper into his chair, and tell the story of the teeth that ripped his hand clean off his arm.

The weather changed depending on his mood. At times it was overcast, the sky as gray and murky and mysterious as the sea. Other times the sun glittered off the chop, an endless horizon that promised adventure. No matter the sky, my father’s eyes came to life on these rare occasions, and I saw him not as a tired and beaten man in coveralls and boots, but a fisherman who fought off a beast with his bare hands.

Mom would watch us in passing. Seeing my fear, a quick smile betraying the tone of her scolding. “Oh Harold stop it.”

I felt the sea, tasted the salt on my lips and felt the burn on my face as I rode the tide of my father’s belly, and held on as his chest hummed and wheezed until his laughs were capsized by a coughing fit.

But I kept my eye on that nub. Where my dad’s hand used to be.

It only happened maybe four or five times, that he told me the story. Usually Dad would walk in and fall into the chair. He’d crack a beer, turn on the TV, and Mom would have me come in the kitchen. The chair was where my father died, in between shifts and commercials. And even when he was gone he was in that chair.

For the longest time I was afraid of sharks. On the rare occasion I found a beach I never put more than a few toes in the water. I’d ball my hands up in fist, roll my wrist, and try to get the image of his nub from my head.

It wasn’t until I was eight or nine—too big to climb in his lap—when I figured it out. There was no shark. There was no boat. The only fishing my father had ever done was in the river as a boy. It was the foundry that mangled his arm and chewed up his lungs. Whenever Mom and I drove past and I’d see the black smoke pluming, and I knew that somewhere inside my father was doing whatever he did that left him sagging and coughing in that chair.

Sure, a shark could rip my father’s limbs off, turn the sea red with clouds of his blood, but that factory stole his hand. It ground him to bits and left clouds of quiet hopelessness hanging over our house. The nub, that chair, my father, it was my warning.

I didn’t want twelve hour days or metal shavings in my lungs. I didn’t want to be numb and useless to my wife. The foundry, with its pluming smoke and vast parking lot full of trucks and dented cars became my own bloody ocean. I vowed never to set foot in its waters.

“Sharks?” Jill repeated, snapping me out of my thoughts.

I ran my hand over that sad, ugly chair one last time, looked at my wife with my mother’s dress and said, “Forget it. Keep that dress, you look lovely.”

She smiled, as though relieved that chair wasn’t coming in our house. I was too.

My father could keep it.

 

–PeteFanning/2017

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