512 Words

Outer Banks

Parris Garnier

I must have been eleven my first time there, that first road trip, first idyll with my Father after the divorce. Like shipwreck remnants washed up on a beach, family detritus still lay all about us, discomfort ratcheting up with each endless mile. Not much for talk---small or otherwise---and as always, we took Dad's silence for anger. Little brother and I whispered quiet games, fidgeted and giggled in back. And scrutinized neck muscles with fine precision as mood map to changes that might rain cold fury or worse down upon us.

Having left after a day's work, darkness now hid campsites beyond finding. Curled asleep, I molded easily into Dad's arms as he lifted and carried me to the motel bed. Stirred only in dreamy surprise by beard stubble sanding my cheek with the first and maybe only goodnight kiss ever. Drifted off again to strains of nervous questions sung by cellos in need of tuning.

The sun went to lunch as we swam in the pool before leaving to pitch tent the next day. I practiced team dives on the low board, and a game started---Dad teasingly snatching at me underwater between each dive and my climb up the ladder for the next. His awkward inaffection spawned fear of his touch and the game woke dark tensions in me.

He surfaced suddenly, just before me---huge arms arced over a devouring grin. I screamed in real fright; the beast father of day---and nightmares had come to life. Shock, shame, and pain chased each other in succession across his face. I flinched from now beckoning hands, and his slumping shoulders turned away.

We made camp down near Duk, in a stretch of sandy grass behind the long dune that runs between beach and road. We spent the day in carefree play, climbing and surfing Kill Devil Hills, exploring Kitty Hawk and the lighthouse. Grabbed a fast-food dinner, took in a movie, then returned to roll up in sleeping bags for the night.

A first night of sorts for me---my parents had always slept behind closed doors. Never had I been in the same room with my slumbering father. He wrestled with sleep, argued with unknown opponents, and mumbled mystic grown-poems. Fitfully waking, I surrendered at dawn, picked up gear to go fish the sunrise surf.

Manifold ocean essence---unparsable smells, sounds, and vapors---rolled up to greet me as I soldiered to the beach. Orange beams skimmed wave-tops where casts splashed and line trolled for treasure from God-Mother Sea. She rewarded me: a brown flounder breakfast.

I returned a joyful noise to the tent, waking Dad to witness my manly success. He was pleased; I could tell without the telling. And he taught me to cook fish. To wash dishes with no water. Later he taught me to lure long, brawny bluefish. And find clams in wet sand.

And the lessons continue, though now he grows foggy and days idling on Nags Head he somehow has lost.

But I remember...

Copyright ©1999 Parris Garnier. All Rights Reserved.

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September, 1999
Issue #41

512 Words