The Old House
And if I don't recognize him? I will. 'Course I will. And if I don't? I won't. Boy changes more every time I see him. He'll call to me, maybe. "Dad!" he'll say. And I'll stare at the stranger, shake my head. Not my son, I'll say.
No, you won't—you’ll smile.
He’ll ask how the fish have been bitin’, the big dope. I’ll tell him, Like mad. He’ll toss them big words at me. Tell me ‘bout this book he read by some such ‘n such fella who’s got letters after his name. Where's your beard? I'll ask like always, and he'll blush, blame it on the girl. "Likes me clean-shaven."
Boy's beard looked just like mine.
A coin of silver moonlight drops through the tin roof of my tiny ship's cabin as I peel off my gut-stained bib, slip on some trousers that don't stink of striped bass. A couple tugs with a plastic black comb make little sense of my hair, all grey and stiff with saltwater. It's gon' have to be good 'nuff for this place, I think. The Old House, said his voice. I pictured the boy at age 5 racing through the backyard with grass-smudged knees; his feet stomping up the staircase whose steps creaked till the day we sold the place.
It’s Peruvian food, he said. What's wrong with a coupla filets caught by your old man?
Shuffling along the shoreline, I gaze across the Long Island Sound and 'member me and the boy some years ago, laughing with our lines cast, his dim grey eyes reflecting some wriggling bluefish as his mama snapped the photo I can't bear to take down, all yellow from filthy fingers and the passage of time. But Selleck Street looms and I shake it off, the place's simple sign coming into sight beside the boy's pristine Chevy.
I sit in front of a plate of fried fish and shrimp in a rich, creamy sauce, and I'm glad to have something to stare at beside the boy.
"They make their own sauce," he says.
"I catch my own fish."
"Where's your beard?"
So I start to. I cut slowly, chew slowly; keep my eyes cast downward. The only sound is the squeak of the fork tines and the knife on the plate.
"I graduate next week."
"I know." I can’t let him know it, but the fish tastes real good. Tastes like a Smithtown Bay fish.
"And then we're moving, Linda and I. To London."
I was trawling through Smithtown Bay yesterday. I stop eating and stare at the fish.
"I don't know when I'm coming home again, Dad.”
I lean down real close to my place and squint.
“Dad, you have to talk to me.”
"I b’lieve I caught this," I say.
I can feel his dim grey eyes all up in the top'a my skull, burrowing holes.
"May've you could've caught it with me, had you any sense in yer head."
I regret it the moment I say it, but my eyes don' leave this empty plate.
Long after the boy's gone I look up into the opposite booth, still thinkin' I'll see him there sittin' there, this stranger that usedta be my son. But he ain't there. And I summon the server over, order 'nother serving of the fish I prolly caught.
It's delicious, this dish with the sauce they make and the fish I prolly caught. It's delicious and them and me should both be proud.
It's important, I think, to have something you can be proud of.