Docking the Boat

by | Oct 10, 2023 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Five

Pops begged for a cigarette in hospice. So Beth bummed two smokes off a tattooed nurse, lighting one in Pops’ mouth with hers—two cigarettes kissing. They smoked, Pops coughing and rattling. The nurse glared. Pops died.

There was no funeral, no burial. Cremation, lonely and hot. Beth wasn’t sure where to put her father. She decided to scatter his grey ashes in Lake Conroe. The wind blew him back into her face, her hair.

“Pops hit me on the head with a dictionary once,” she told her friend on the phone. “My head hurt for a week. He also taught me to two-step.”

“Still. You’ll carry him somewhere inside you.”

Beth sorted scraps of him, memories —Pops singing “Hello Walls”, Pops slurping gumbo.

Photos. Beth at nine years. Daybreak, Gulf of Mexico, bouncing in his fishing boat The Trout. Ice chest piled with Coors beers and all the canned root beer Beth could drink. Dad drinking, stumbling in the boat, Beth catching hammerhead after hammerhead shark on a worm hook, each grey shark flipping, battering and bloodying the boat.

“Careful!” said Pops. “That fin will cut right through your sneaker.”

A month after his death, something lurches, clanging, between her ribs. Behind her sternum sits Pops in The Trout —and pain. Pain for all that was, and all that never was. Pops lodging his boat between her lungs, dropping anchor near her heart, frothing seawater in her torso. Her chest aches, small boat bobbing like a heartbeat inside.

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