This Side of the Fjord
The knitted winter cap muffles the crack of the boy’s skull. I don’t hear the sound of bone bouncing on sodden subway floor, but I do hear his shriek a moment later. From deep within the boy’s mouth comes a call produced eons before his birth and encapsulated within his DNA. A selected method and best practice for arousing the alarm and comfort mechanisms in a caregiver. A seal pup searching for his mother.
The boy’s father steps carefully behind his son, not wanting to slip, ever the learning animal. He scoops the boy up, both gloves tucked securely under an armpit. Again on his feet, the little boy’s tears trickle down to join the mess of melted snow, deepening the pool he stands in. The boy is a step above baby, and he still has rounded nursery cheeks. The father is lean, the sides of his face sunken, creating glaciers of jawbones and cheekbones. But when he laughs his cheeks puff, grow round like his son’s, water balloons filling enormously. The laughter spills out over the car, swirling and crashing ahead of us down the fjord of subway tunnel. It is the same laugh my father laughed when he sliced his hand shucking oysters, the melody eddying in the cove before floating out to sea.
The woman next to me stands, beckoning for the boy to take her seat. I stand too. We women are ready to give up our seats for this crying son and laughing father even though both of us are heading to long workdays in heightened heels.
This man is a good father, I think. And I do not think this because the man is being a father in this moment by scooping his son up, but rather because this man is teaching his son to laugh at shame or hurt.
My father’s palm dripped blood from the gash where white worm meat oozed. The towel in my hand was my mother’s. She had died a few months ago and left the duty of running the house to me. It was her favorite towel, with pink roses embroidered on the edges, but I rushed out with it anyway. My brother was there first, an oily rag streaked with fish guts in his fist. The two men wrapped the dirty cloth around my father’s wound.
A man on the opposite side of the train calls out, offering his seat more aggressively than my neighbor and me. The father grasps his son’s hand and climbs over New York knees and knapsacks, ousting an Indian grandmother from her seat next to the loud man so father and son can sit together. My subway neighbor and I sit cautiously to avoid falling as the subway picks up speed, crossing our legs to make ourselves smaller.
My father said he didn’t hear me say his name or see me standing near the garage. He said he wouldn’t have used my mother’s towel anyway. My brother drove him to the hospital for the five necessary stitches.
When I apologized to my father for not being able to fly home in time to say goodbye to Mom, he patted my hand. Water under the bridge, he said. He turned back to his TV show about glaciers, and I couldn’t tell him he was on one side of a steep cliff and I was on the other and I didn’t know how to reach him. How my voice is an unheard echo at home, and outside of home the crash of world is loud I wonder if I even saying anything.
Now the little boy is hiccupping, his hand on his father’s knee. My subway neighbor catches my eye, shrugs, and mouths, What’cha gonna do?
Ashley Lopez received her MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She works in publishing and is the co-founder and Managing Editor of Pigeon Pages Literary Journal.
(Previous: Artifacts of War by Jay Ruben Dayrit)
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