by mr choo
Fable/Realism. On how small lies change everything in the family
When you travel twenty two miles out to sea all you can see, in every direction, is horizon. That’s what he’d heard. It was a passing comment that someone made on the next table in the canteen at work. He thought about it all afternoon. It didn’t stop there either. That sentence seemed to pulse around his mind so intently, for so long, that he saved up and bought a little motor boat. He kept it in his garage on a trailer and took it out on Sundays.
The first time he went out in it he intended to travel twenty two miles but he didn’t know anything about currents and tides – he just wanted to be enveloped in horizon. He soon realised that anything more than two miles was quite dangerous in the boat he had. Still, two miles out, facing the distant horizon, he felt like he hoped he might. Unless it was a particularly clear day there wasn’t much land left to be seen behind him anyway. Besides, it was as close as he could afford to get.
He told his wife, children and friends that he was out there fishing. He said that he threw his catches back to sea but his hooks never actually touched the water. He didn’t think anybody would understand why he wanted to be out there in the middle of nowhere. The truth was – he didn’t know himself. He just knew that sitting there, on the front beam that crossed his boat, in the midst of his big blue semi-circle, he felt rocked like an infant in a cradle – distant but at one with himself and all other things – as though Mother Earth were tending to only him.
His lonesome recreation went unnoticed for over two years. It was about then, around the end of spring, that his wife (though not through suspicion) told him that it was about time that he took their eight year old son out fishing with him. “Just take him once,” she said, observing that the idea unsettled him. “He’ll be so bored he won’t bother you again.” He began to worry. He didn’t even know how to fish, not properly. He’d done some research in the beginning (to cover himself if he was ever questioned) but now he really didn’t know what he was going to do.
During the week he bought his son a little fishing rod and life jacket, made sure his bait box was full and went to the Angling section in the library and got a book on fishing at sea. He read the book on his lunch breaks at work. When his colleagues commented mockingly he just said that he needed tips because the fish weren’t biting at the moment.
That Sunday he felt prepared; at least theoretically. He and his son rose early, ate toast, drank orange juice and prepared a packed lunch. Then they attached the boat to the car, went to shore and reared the boat into the sea. He still wasn’t sure if he’d be able to fish but he thought he knew enough to disguise how much of a novice he was from his son.
They couldn’t have asked for a better day. It was fair but the air was moist. That meant at two miles out they couldn’t see land. The water seemed particularly calm. There was barely a ripple on the sea. He even let his son hold the stirring stick on the way out. “Hold it straight, Captain,” he said to his son’s overwhelmed smile.
Once they reached two miles he cut the motor and dropped the anchor.
“Wow,” said his son. “We’re really far out… It’s a little bit scary.”
“We’re not that far out,” he said reassuringly. “You travel this far to school everyday.”
“It seems further,” he said. They both took a few moments to take in the distance of the horizon. “Dad, why do we have to come so far out?”
“This is where the fish are,” he replied. “And don’t worry; I always check the weather forecast, we’re perfectly safe.” On this his son nodded and then slumped his head a little bit.
Thinking action the only way to dispel the nerves he started sorting the rods out; threading them with line. His son eventually took a deep and courageous breath.
“Dad?” he asked. “Do I have to fish?”
“No, you don’t have to fish,” he answered, taken slightly aback. “Why?”
“I like fish,” the boy replied, looking over the edge of the boat and into the water. “We’ve got fish in class… They’re called Goldie and Merlin… I don’t want to hurt any fish.” He looked relieved now that he had got this off his chest.
“I like fish too, son,” he said. “That’s why I let them go. We don’t have to fish if you don’t want to. Maybe we could do something else?”
“Like… just sit here?” he suggested.
His son looked him in the eyes innocently; though not without intent. It was as though he thought something bad might be looming in this suggestion.
“Ok,” he said finally; finding no wrong in his father’s eyes.
“Unless you think it’s silly to come all this way to just sit here?”
“No,” he said, reassuring his dad. “I don’t think it’s silly.”
“Good… Neither do I,” he said.
Without speaking they decided to sit back to back, each on their own wooden beam. He was facing seaward whilst his son faced the shore. Although the effects of the situation had changed slightly for the father they were by no means worsened. He felt that it was more realistic with his son there. This way he always had a link back to shore.
They spent a calm hour and a half sitting with the horizon enveloping them. A serene quiet fell around them. Something seemed to click into place. After that time they both suddenly came round to themselves and, hearing that the other had done so, they turned to face each other, smiled, pulled up the anchor and headed off home.
“Can we tell mum that really we went fishing?” his son asked on the way back.
“Why’s that, son?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
They looked at each other, openly feeling friendship and holding back nervous grins.
“Ok… If that’s what you want,” his father replied, breaking into a smile.
That’s how it came about that they started going out together in the boat. Every Sunday they went out and, after their tranquil time at sea, they always went home gleaming; happy that they were sharing something together. They invented stories about the small fish that they’d thrown back to sea. It wasn’t a huge weight to burden; going home and telling a couple of white lies. It was easier than you’d imagine. Neither of them knew why they liked it out there, and they knew that they couldn’t explain it, so they both thought that there was no real point in telling the truth.
All week long they both looked forward to sharing that time together; journeying out to sea, staying there for a while and then journeying back to their lives on shore. It was their time; their special time. Once summer had peaked it began to feel like they’d been doing it forever. He was still content and fulfilled by the nature of the situation but, with a growing mind and imagination, his son was beginning to become unsettled. He wanted to understand what it was exactly that he and his dad were sharing so he started frequently breaking the spell of their silence by asking questions. One week, when the humidity of late summer was stifling, his son was agitating and finding it particularly hard to reach a resolve.
“Dad, do you close your eyes?” he asked, breaking the silence for the fourth time. His dad hadn’t realised, and he had to open them to notice, but he did. He could close his eyes anywhere, he realised smiling, but he knew it wouldn’t be the same as closing them here on the little patch of water he shared with his son.
“Yes,” he answered. “I didn’t realise it; but I do.”
“Me too,” said his son. “It’s weird. We could close our eyes anywhere but it feels different here.”
“Yes. It does,” he said, proud of his son, soon settling back down.
“Can we face each other?” his son asked after a moment’s thought. “Do you think that would be weird? If we’re closing our eyes it doesn’t matter does it?”
“I don’t know,” said his father, uncomfortable with the idea. “We could try it next week?” His son nodded readily and then settled back down. It was agreed; next week they were to face each other in the boat. His son felt that it might provide him with some answers. They went home as usual, told their little white lies, ate a Sunday roast, watched television and had an early night.
That week summer seemed to pass suddenly; the moist hot air thinned out and it even rained a couple of times. Neither of them could get the idea of facing each other in the boat out of their heads. They both foresaw an intensity that they weren’t looking forward to but, by the time it got to Sunday, it was calm and the forecast was mild so, as usual, they packed up their fishing tackle and made their way to shore.
In the car and on the water they were both nervous. Even the sky, unwilling to commit to blue or grey, seemed nervous. To spite his nerves he drove the boat out a little bit further than usual. He didn’t offer for his son to take control of the stick and he didn’t call him Captain either. He was trying to postpone the inevitable but it soon began to feel like they were too far out and reaching unpredictable portions of the sea so he cut the engine and dropped the anchor.
He stood up and cupped his hands on the back of his head whilst stretching his spine this way and that. His son sat waiting for him to sit down facing him. Without saying a word he eventually took his place on the opposite beam with an awkward smile. His son smiled back just as awkwardly. They were all knees and legs and had nothing much to say, so they just closed their eyes.
Try as they might they just couldn’t seem to occupy that special place in their minds. The rocking of the boat seemed disconcerting, the emptiness of the horizon seemed full of loneliness and the sky seemed to be settling for grey over blue. They tried shutting their eyes tighter, thinking soothing thoughts, they even tried rationalising but it was impossible to find resolution.
“Try pretending you’re alone,” said the boy, unable to ignore the tension any longer.
“We could just turn around?” replied his father; but neither of them could think of any great reason to do either. Sitting there, it all just seemed confusing now. It was a peculiar situation for a father and son to be in.
They were both lost for something to say when, from nowhere, a silver fish jumped high out of the water and landed on the deck, flipping and flapping about, between them. They looked down at it, back up at each other and then back down again. Of course, they both thought to grab it and free it back into the sea but their limbs just lay motionless. All they could do was watch. Spellbound.
A minute or so passed and turbulent clouds seemed to be suddenly gathering high above the sea. The world seemed darker but the air more clear. The fish, afflicted with an unimaginable suffocation, began convulsing sharply; it was dying, and finally, it was dead. Looking up and then back to the shore they both silently agreed that the time had come to take their first catch home.