In the early months of their marriage, Mom would follow Dad to the lake on Sundays to watch him fish. He never ate what he caught. He’d throw them back. Tell Mom that he doesn’t kill. She thought that ripping their mouths and letting them live was worse - fish with lip piercings gone wrong. They would never chew or swallow normally again.
Dad would bring his striped beach chair. Mom would bring the newspaper and her Virginia Slims, because she smoked back then, and she’d lie on the grass next to him and stare up at the armpit hair peeking through his shirtsleeve. He’d lift his catches by their lips and watch their wet bodies wiggle and flop. When he was done, he’d twist the hooks from their broken mouths and throw them back. Sometimes he’d chuck them, flinging them like footballs. Mom would smoke until she got nauseous, or until the sun set and the gnats came out.
This was what they did. Sunday mornings strung together by raw bait and cigarettes. Mom got tired of it. She’d tell him she wasn’t feeling well. When she couldn’t use that excuse anymore, she’d say that the fish smell was giving her a headache. While he was down at the lake, she’d lie on the hammock close to the house, with an iced tea to calm her stomach and a book of Tomaz Salamun’s poems. She was pregnant with me. She didn’t tell him. She wanted to wait. He drowned a couple days after she found out. Mom didn’t cry. That day, she sat by the lake in the same spot she used to and looked for fish until sundown. There weren’t any that day.
And when she sits out here with me now, in the hammock, trying to describe to me what Dad was like, she says that sometimes she still sees him down by the lake, the back of his hat, his beach chair, fishing pole cast out.