We witnessed the waves as bystanders, watched them spill into limestone gulleys, and we waited for something different this time: a new color, perhaps, to percolate from their churn, or for the sun to gild the shore with a little more gold.
You pilfered persimmons
from Missus Mead’s trees
- she can only eat one piece of fruit at a time
unless she slices them for pies
- then I will inform her of the deed
but if the trees grow elsewhere, will they even be hers?
- they will be closer to the water
such a long walk from her orchard
- they will grow in her memory
but they were still pilfered
- and now I fancy strawberries
Your words do not weigh enough, my father said. We need to build you up. You know how to use a walkie-talkie, right?
I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. Words don’t weigh enough? Walkie-talkie? I had just finished high school two weeks earlier, was about to turn 18, and he signed me up to work on a road crew. With muscles unleavened and shoulders like butter knives, I didn’t think that was a good idea.
But to look at him, even casually, you knew the word ‘no’ was not an option. His dimensions were broad, but, you would think, unremarkable; his face, a modest clay, was a little too plain without benefit of finely-tuned details. Chin, just so, maybe slightly too flat, but not insubstantially so, though his nose, a scintilla too blunt for a man who, you would suppose, possessed a diminished sense of smell; a broad forehead, yes, shaped for good hats, like a fedora or a gray felt Homburg. And eyes: well, that’s what would stop you from thinking him average or dull. Dark green, swamp green eyes. Curious eyes, but not yearning or imploring. You would conclude: here was an intelligent man, but wait, also a troubled man, but no, pointedly philosophical, brutal, vivid, imaginative. You never knew his temperament before he spoke, and the man was not a talker. His voice was naturally soft, but it carried, and it made you interested in what he had to say, made you crane your neck so you could watch him strip the words to their plainest enunciation.
So ‘no’ was not a choice. I joined a work crew as a flagman on my eighteenth birthday.
You craved the wild fruit of Pompeii, you exclaimed
and as a young man, i sought it
there was no such flora in northern California,
so of course in Sausalito, i just bought it.
I was to be put to rest in the second cheapest coffin he could afford. They haggled, Mr. Bueford D. Weill, Jr. and he, but the words ‘dignity has no price tag,’ put him off.
“That I should kiss my son’s cheek and lay my hands square on his shoulders is all the dignity he requires,” my father said. “He was not a ‘mahogany and antique bronze finish’ kind of boy; planks and sturdy bolts and a comfortable mattress would do him fine. He respected a dollar and a firm bed. He won’t think less of me, because he’s deceased, of course, but I think he might respect me, even dead, if I did not have to forgo a mortgage payment for the sake of a fluffed pillow and half a chesterfield.”
It was agreed, then, that I should be put to flame, and whatever residue remained of me be poured into the lake or, more likely, latch onto a substantial happenstance of a come-along wind to play-along with my ash.
I don’t know what I thought of this much fuss, with all corporeal appetites for sight and such no longer of any interest to me. I was waiting for him, I think, to say goodbye in a way that would end all complications between father, son, and whatever ghosts wound between us. A simple, even clumsy, goodbye, would be fine, but he held onto his grief with both hands.
My dream had a beginning, he said. We walked along a canopied path, prolific with beach grass and the skeletons of striped bass, and we were the same age. I could not feel the warmth of the sand, but I told you it was warm and you agreed, yes, it was warm. And then it was gone, all of it, except for the water, and it was gray and filled with stones. I told you it was cold, and it felt cold, and you said, yes, it was cold. You gathered persimmon seeds, my hand reached to receive them, and I woke up holding nothing.
And I told you that a Buick Skylark ignored my Stop paddle and sped past me, filled with boys my age, and they all wore the same cartoonish grins, shiny with spit and noise. I waved, frantic, to Ronny and his crew, who noticed the car, of course, and I was reprimanded by Mister Douglas Hawkes as we stood beside his pick-up truck. What else could I do? I memorized the license plate, but what else could I do? I forgot that I could speak, that I could yell, I only waved, waved like a dunce, as if I could command the waves to relent.
And my father, still dreaming, said, I dreamed of something that became nothing, and that was the beginning of our goodbye.