That time of my life feels slimy and dank. My father belongs to the dredges of my memory where he sits, weaving a sturdy net with leather hands as I remember him. His boats leave a trail of shimmery black oil, the raw color of the sky on days of tormenting, angry waves and storms.
The fish my father brought in were always cold and tasted of the sea, no matter how thoroughly my mother cleaned them or doused them in oil. She hated cleaning them, hated eating the same meal for a decade, but I loved it. I loved my father, with his seaweed and fish smell. I would sit on his lap for hours, nodding off with callous rope fibers tangling my hair, my cheek pressed against the coarse ropes that he always wore around his neck.
I would wear his boots, even though his shoe size nearly tripled mine. He could conceal my hand in his larger paws by simply curling a finger. He could make me forget the mean girls at school, forget my brother’s strange disappearances, forget the world. I have searched for something like that for many years, but nothing compares to his deep, rumbling voice, like boulders moving.
He would tell stories, could weave a fairy tale or romance more sound than anything reality could offer. My father was a very talented man like that. He could fix any boat, net, or fishing pole in sight with nothing more than a screwdriver, a hammer, and a small box of bent nails. It was a shame, though, he never could fix his marriage.
My mother hated the fish and the sea, but she always loved my father. After all of this, I know that at the bottom of her heart, she loved him. It was just the little things — how he might have forgotten that she took her coffee with cream, how she needed red yarn, not yellow yarn, how my mother was supposed to be my father’s love, not the water.
My mother, for living at a small English fishing village, detested the water.
“Mama, come and swim,” we would call, my brother and I, standing in the dark waves as my mother frowned at us from the shoreline.
“Why not?” I imagine it must have been hard to marry a fisherman, a man whose love was the water when she harbored a hatred and deep fear of it.
You see, my mother’s father was a wealthy merchant who owned many sailboats. Once, my mother and her sister took out one of his boats on the rolling water, water that reflected the ominous clouds stewing at the horizon.
What her mother saw first at the shore after the storm was the boat, then my mother. She was pale and blue, suffering from pneumonia and hypothermia. What my grandmother never saw was my mother’s sister.
I think my mother never got over the grief and survivor’s guilt that followed my aunt’s death. She was always cold, long after she had been released from the hospital, long after she had scrubbed herself free of her nervous mother and her callous father.
What my mother wanted was a reason to leave and someone or something safe. She got both in my father, but in her heart, my mother always wanted more. She could have had more, with her dark, dark hair and pale skin and round, blue eyes. She was beautiful, and she knew it, and she wanted more. Well, more is what she got.
The young merchants came one day, smelling of spices and sporting funny accents and funny clothes. My father would stand at the door, watching their horses and wagons sputter past, kicking up dust and lugging shiny jewelry and colorful clothes. He would grumble a little bit, take a short sip of his black coffee, and declare that they would be gone soon. That, at least, was true.
The next day, my mother pursued the merchants in town, searching for a scarf that she never found. Every day, she found a reason to return to their small shacks, returning home with no more than she left with, except a smile.
My father noticed. He began to make her things, a pearl necklace with a chain of rope, specially seasoned salmon, bits of seaglass that he found at the shore. It was never enough.
The next month, when the merchants had exhausted the town and their wallets, when the fried fish no longer seemed appealing, they bundled up their wagons. Before they left, the young merchant dragged the circus-like procession to our doorstep. I will never forget the look on my mother’s face, how she let down her plait for once, and she pulled out one pair of my shoes and put them in a small suitcase. We were both still in our nightgown when she grabbed my hand and left. I wish I could have said goodbye to my brother, to my father, but I barely had time to blink before we were on a boat boarding for Ireland.
Somewhere along the way, my mother decided that the merchant’s life wasn’t for us. It was two days after the merchant came back with a new lady, a Scottish cleaner on the boat with red hair. We traveled across Ireland on a wagon selling hats, a long, quiet five months. I was eleven, young enough to be curious, old enough to have a gut feeling that I wouldn’t be able to wear my father’s boots again.
We settled in Southern Scotland seven months later. When my mother had passed, leaving behind a small bucket hat and a pair of flats, I picked up my few precious items and left. I was sixteen. That small Scottish town had nothing to offer me, but then again, the small English fishing village that I had called home hadn’t either.
The village was still the same, even after half a decade, even after the village had been worn by the new merchants and companies that wanted a piece of England for themselves. Little did they know that this pocket of England was mine.
My father’s house was still the same, physically, but it felt a little duller. I didn’t go inside, I didn't need to. My father didn’t own a blue bike or a pair of pink shoes. I walked for two miles until I reached the cemetery that they had buried my father’s father at, my father’s father’s father at, and so on.
His grave was small, bearing only his name and date of death… two months after my mother and I left. I wish I could’ve said goodbye. That’s all I wanted. Just a goodbye.
I don’t think my mother ever found her happy, her home. My father was born into his.
When I go to the harbor, there is only his small fishing boat, knocking a melancholy rhythm against the wooden dock. In it, I find two things.
There is a crystal blue sky when I leave, with no home but two things.
A fishing net.