Monday, June 29, 2009

Wheelchair Shadow

Wheelchair Shadow

My father sat in his wheel-chair, baiting a hook with a night crawler, as water lapped the pilings of the dock.

“Dad, when was the last time you went fishing?”

“I can’t remember. I think we were living in Myrtle Beach. Remember that creek that ran behind the Air Force housing where you and your mother used to catch tadpoles?”

“That was over thirty years ago.”

“Then it’s been over thirty years since I’ve been fishing. Hand me another weight out of that tackle box.”
I watched my father crimp a weight onto the nylon line. The sun bounced off the chrome of his wheelchair and cast a shadow across the deck. The cigar in his mouth had become a long tube of ash and the smoke made an aromatic veil around his head.

For twenty years my father has lived in a fog and hidden in a pine-paneled den with T.V., computer, and telephone. He never opened the blinds and never left the house. I brought him his mail and groceries. His leg muscles weakened from lack of use, but according to the doctor, my father has always been capable of walking.
“Daddy, why don’t you put out that cigar? It‘s just hanging there, dropping ash all over the place.”
“Hand me that cup by your foot.”

I handed him the cup, he doused the cigar in watered down soda. I asked, “You think those B12 shots are making you feel better?”

“Must be. I got more energy these days.”

“I noticed. It looks good on you.”

He squinted at me and smiled his toothless grin, then pointed at something over my right shoulder.
I turned and saw a bird fold its wings, dive down into lake, and come back up with a fish wiggling in its beak. It was lightning fast.

“Whoa. What kind of bird is that?”

“Osprey. They’re fish birds.”

“Its beak is like a harpoon.”

“Remember when we gigged those salmon in Alaska? Your mother cried cause she thought it was cruel.”

“I remember you laughing and doing a jungle dance around the campfire waving your harpoon in the air. You were drunk and fell into the flames, claiming George Dickel pushed you. I went around asking all your buddies if they were George Dickel, cause I wanted to fuss them out for pushing my daddy in that fire.”

Dad laughed and cast his line out into the calm water. “I remember that. I didn’t get burned though. I had those quick reflexes back then. I remember something else. I used to tease you when I was stationed in Florida. I tried to keep you quiet when your mother was resting after chemo. I’d tell you I was gonna feed you to the gators--tie you to the dock at supper time if you misbehaved.”

“I remember that too. You gave me nightmares with that talk.”

Dad pulled up his shirt with his left hand and showed me his gall bladder scar. “See this?”

I nodded.

“When I had my gall bladder removed, your mama brought you to visit me and you asked if I was hurting. I told you where they cut me was very tender, not to touch it. You twisted up your mouth, then your eyes lit up and you announced God was getting even with me for threatening to feed you to the gators. Your mother laughed and said that’s what I get for teasing you.”

We both laughed then got quiet; our eyes locked. That little girl who never grew up, swinging on the monkey bars somewhere deep inside of me wanted to cry out, ‘Mommy, look, look‘. I pulled my eyes away from his muddy-water gaze and I glanced back at the osprey hovering in search of fish. I whispered, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” in that sing-song way my mother used to do. When I turned back around, my father was standing, reeling in a rainbow trout. His wheel-chair shadow was nowhere to be found.

Paula Ray is a musician from North Carolina. She rescues instruments from local pawnshops and repairs them for her band students. When she isn't performing, teaching, or writing music, she writes poetry and stories. Her work has appeared in: Dew on the Kudzu, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and Thirty First Bird Review, among other literary zines. Her blog is: http//