Throw the Fish Back

A boy of twenty-five stands centre stage

throw fish.jpgthrow fish.jpg I just had an email through. My dad’s being buried tomorrow.

Beat

Don’t worry – I haven’t seen the man for eight years.

I had my last… ever… conversation with him out on the water. I’d planned that conversation for weeks. My every response. My every word.

Beat

The lake was empty but for our boat, our biscuits and us.

Beat

The sky felt like it hung in the balance.

My dad was wearing a baseball cap, we’d bought it in America the summer before.

Beat

That whole afternoon felt like a singular, repeating moment.

Beat

We said nothing for most of it. (beat) Sat around waiting for a fish. (beat) Ate a

custard cream.

Beat

It was uncomfortably still.

Beat

I could feel the energy of the water, of the trees and the sky, like everything was waiting to crack, just waiting for me to speak.

I can’t eat custard creams: they taste like sour words.

Beat

The moment buffered and replayed slowly.

Beat

Beat

There was a boy who sang in our church on a Sunday. He had undecided eyes, changing colour with the light like the stain glass windows. In contrast his jaw was angular. Cheeks bloomed over prominent cheekbones. Pruned eyebrows. Blond hair, and a curl that used to fall over his left eye.

I never asked his name. To give him a name would give him a life and I only wanted him to exist in mine. I wanted to take him home and sit him at my dinner table and for my dad to ask him awkward questions about his future. I wanted him to wake me up in the morning, his fingers walking down my spine before scooping me up by my stomach. I wanted to hold his hand. I still do.

Beat

When the light fell through the lake I knew it had to be then: Dad, I’m gay.

Beat

Nothing. I distinctly remember him doing nothing.

Beat

I don’t like girls, Dad.

Beat

‘I don’t like girls dad.’ He repeated my words slowly, dropping them between us.

Beat

Nothing moved, but everything carried on.

His eyes remained outward.

Beat

Dad?

Beat

Dad

Beat

Nothing. I distinctly remember him doing nothing.

Beat

I won’t bother with a suit for the funeral. A shirt and tie will do.

Beat

The worst thing my dad did wasn’t to stop talking to me, but to make me feel I didn’t deserve love. I’d been scared that my every thought was a sin and he confirmed that fear. Cemented it. Ingrained it.

Got to love who God gave you to love.

Beat

My mum will be there. (beat) Shit.

My mum picked his side. She had to pick one, he didn’t let her not.

She treaded water in the middle for a bit, but it was the incident in the shed that pushed her under, and she surfaced by my dad.

You see, in the garden we had this potting shed. It stank of soil and the dampness meant you could rub away the wood with your thumb. Every Thursday from six to six thirty, while my mum cooked tea and my dad added to his stamp collection, I used to sit in the potting shed and work out how gay I really was.

My investigation involved top shelf magazines, purchased under cover and stowed away in a locked box amongst the flowerpots.

I’d planned the operation meticulously, taking down all the timings of my parents’ weekly movements, until I found that half hour slot on a Thursday where their activities never deviated. I told them I was doing a science project on a mouse that involved two months of investigation. I had to buy a mouse. I called him Toby.

My analysis of the magazines was thorough, scientific even. Men on men. I was testing my reactions: emotional, physical. I liked my findings. I can still picture most of the men…

My mum excommunicated me two weeks after my dad.

I was in the shed. She came to the door with a mug of tea. Magazines splayed around me. My hand down my trousers. The mug split as it hit the back wall.

Beat

After that I became a stranger in the house. Carrying out my daily activities like the ghost of a child that had died.

They probably would have preferred that.

Beat

The shed smirked at them from the garden.

And then one evening it was gone.

I found Toby in the ashes.

And all because I would never bring home a girl.

A girl. Girls, girls, a girl, a boy. Boys with boys. Girls with girls. Boys with girls. Us. What about us dad? What about us mum?

All this because of what? All this because of what? All of this because of this: me. ‘I don’t like girls dad.’

Beat

Blonde hair, and a curl that used to roll over his left eye.

Beat

Dad?

Too late now, an email just came through.

Beat

Beat

I’ll take carnations for his grave: he always hated them.

 

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