I saw my father at Starbucks a few days ago, his profile drawing my attention—the hooked beak, a sure giveaway of his Italian heritage. I remembered it bumping against my cheek when he kissed me goodnight as a child and my mother fervently praying that I would never inherit that nose.
He should have been brushing dirt from his mouth or cobwebs from his eyes that afternoon, not sipping coffee in a white T-shirt and characteristic jeans. Oblivious to me drinking chai though I shared his blue-gray eyes and physical intensity. Still, he’d been dead for thirty years and it’s easy to forget a daughter.
The stranger began speaking to his friend about Berlin, how cosmopolitan it was, and of the English, how dearly they paid for petrol. I liked the thick bracelet encircling his wrist; it reminded me of the pinky ring and love beads he wore in the Sixties, testament to his counter-culture, anti-establishment proclivities.
I thought of asking forgiveness for hiding from him in 1976 when he passed my friends and me in front of Elm Street Junior High School. I couldn’t face my father, another drunk Vietnam vet careering down the sidewalk. At twelve appearances mattered. But before I could approach him, the man rose, tall and athletic, a little stiff in the knees from all the years he’d skied Stowe Mountain. He climbed into a Mini-Coop, turned the key, pulled into traffic, into the rest of his life.
Does he ever dream this?
He wakes us at 4:00 a.m. to go fishing; I am six and John is five and it is so dark the stars still shimmer in the sky. Though summer it is cold and the wet grass slapping against my ankles makes me shiver. My flip-flops carry me to the gold Impala and I slide across the vinyl seat, making room in back for my brother. My father has forgotten to feed us but remembers to pitch a Styrofoam cooler in front for later.
I lean my cheek against the cool window, staring into the night while the car speeds along the back roads to Hollis. No police, which is good because he can’t afford another ticket; I’ve heard my mother say as much.
“One more and you lose your license.”
When we arrive at Silver Lake, my father takes out the cooler, loaded now with crawlers, a bag of ice, two six-packs of beer and snacks from the bait shop. He sets it beside the trunk, from where he pulls out bamboo fishing poles with silver loops where he’ll thread the line.
I take mine and walk toward the lake, slipping from my flip-flops and walking across the sand to a log pitched from surrounding woods. I eat from a bag of chips, rubbing grease from my mouth with the back of my hand and listening to water lap the shore. Above the treetops, dawn stains the sky.
My father attaches a red and white bobber to the end of our lines and a night crawler to the single hook, then he demonstrates casting in a lazy arc. We avoid snagging trees that dip toward the lake and once our lines are set, he reaches into the cooler.
I hear the pssht of the lifted tab, see the release of foam. He draws on the can then screws it into the sand to send his line. When my brother hooks a rock, Dad hands his pole to me, kicks off his Keds and wades into the lake, where dead leaves slick the bottom. On the surface, water striders stretch their legs while the sun continues to rise.
Returning, he takes his rod in hand and soon the reel is ticking. Dad slaps the water with his line, flicks his wrist landing a bass. He tears the hook from its gasping lips then tosses the fish to a bucket he’s filled with lake water. Afterward, he sits on the log, finishes his beer, opens another.
He fishes, releases them to the bucket, helps us with the few bass and sunfish we catch, calling out fewer instructions as he continues to drink. The day grows humid and when he strips off his shirt, I see the Screaming Eagle insignia of the 101st Airborne tattooed on his bicep. On the drive home, I will touch its blue outline and if he is in the mood to tell a story, this stranger, my father will speak of the war—how the elephant grass stood well past his head and the chanting monks sounded like Father Anthony singing matins at Saint Mary’s.