We Talk about the Wind, by Alexis David
The cat tails loft upward, moving in the breeze. This is a place of light, where we are made of light, where we float on water. Sun makes our skin taste salty. A heron wings herself above us.
You kayak up as much as you want, my father says to me, and then when you are done, turn around and I'll go slow, and then you can meet me.
Plants grow and die. Now, it is summer and everything is alive, including him. You go ahead, he says. This command feels like practice. Like we are practicing, but for what? For his death? This is not a sad story. My dad does not die in the end.
I dreamed the other night that he was young. His hair was dark brown. He wore a yellow Patagonia bathing suit, and we were drinking coffee in Africa together. I woke with the taste of chocolate in my mouth.
I pull myself along in the kayak. I pull myself until I am alone with myself. Until my dad is far behind me.
The Greeks thought that we walked backwards into the future. We cannot see what it is in our future.
Recently, when I video called my mother from France, she was standing in a hospital. She told me my father was having stomach pains. I was at the home of my husband's family. There was a seven-hour time difference. I drank glass after glass of water to fight the jetlag. My mom told me they may have to do a surgery. Her mouth looked nervous.
I think of my dad's hands: they are always bleeding. Working hands. They are cut from rope, knives, tools. My dad is someone who makes things: furniture for his home, for the boat, fixes things. There is a little glass fish in my parents' bathroom. I accidentally dropped it one time. Its fin broke. My dad cut a piece from a pair of sunglasses. Now the fish sits on the bathroom sink, with her repaired arm, a little sad looking but also kind of cute.
People like my dad. His name brings a smile to the dentist's face. My French husband treats him like a close friend. They text with one another. This summer we will build a deck at my parents' house. My husband and my dad invited me to build it with them. I accepted, happy to be included.
It is in his older age where I get along with my dad the best. I meet him at my house on Fridays, and we come up to this lake, eat subs from gas stations, and we talk about sailing. We talk about the wind. If there is not enough wind, we go kayaking.
I slow the kayak down, not intentionally, and to my surprise, my dad is there. I had convinced myself that he was far from me, but he comes now, paddling along, stronger than I thought.
I make the motion to turn around without talking. He says nothing, and we both turn back to go where we came from. We pass a party of people on the island between Lake Ontario and the smaller island where the boats are kept.
A band plays Johnny Cash and my dad sings along. A Boston Whaler drops off more party goers. They look like the type of people who are ready to get drunk. They wear tank tops and cowboy hats. They hold purses and appetizers. They walk up the stairs to get to the house that has tablecloths and music. I know this feeling. They are my age. My husband and I go to parties like this, anticipating the first drink, the first nervous conversation with people who are your friends but those little bits of social anxiety creep in.
"We should go up there," my dad says. "We should see if we can join the party. Hey, why not!"
I laugh in a tired way. It's hot out today and these jokes aren't actually that funny. Not because I think my dad really wants to go up there and hang out with these people, but I don't know. It feels like my dad is asking to be a younger self. The self that played baseball with his friends. That ate fifty chicken wings and drank beer. For me, maybe I am repeating this cycle. I go to parties where people drink a lot of alcohol. I play volleyball with my friends, go camping, stay up late at night.
But, my dad is not old. The dentist tells me that my dad is in great shape. They work out together at the YMCA. My dad lifts weights and rides the bike and floats in the pool. The contractor for my husband and my business asks me how old my dad is, and when I tell him, he is shocked. He thinks my dad is young and vibrant.
In Geneva, New York this summer, my parents, my husband, my grandmother, and I stayed in a cottage on Lake Seneca. My husband was the first to cannonball into the water. Then the next day, I tried it. I was scared but I did it. And then, soon after I did, my dad ran down the dock and jumped heels first, twisting his body in the air, grabbing his shins with his hands, jumping like a thirteen-year-old kid into his uncle's lake.
My father comes from people who loved water. His dad would wake him up in the middle of the night, at that summer cottage on Keuka Lake, and they would fish together. Maybe my dad was a little scared of his father. Maybe he didn't feel like he truly loved him. I don't know. I know that my dad always wants me to know how much he would do for me. Anything. And I believe it. One time my dad flew across the country and drove my car home with my ex-boyfriend for 30 hours. My hippie ex-boyfriend and my dad in a car together, driving non-stop across the United States. My dad volunteered to do this without blinking an eye.
As we pass the people at the party, my dad asks if I want to kayak under the bridge. We go through lily pads and the shadows of trees. It is a sunny day here. This was years ago. This was before the pandemic.
I got a text in France that my dad made it through the surgery. My husband and I talked to him on the phone. He looked tired. His beard was growing out. I told him I will see him soon.
When I am home from France, my mom picks me up from my house. My dad is in the front seat. He is just home from the hospital. He is wearing socks and no shoes. His has an unshaven face. His hair is all white.
That was a year ago. It is spring now in Buffalo and my dad has just found a new kayak for me and my husband to use. My dad is healthy and vibrant. Sometimes he forgets words. Sometimes he seems a little confused. I am unused to being the adult daughter of an aging father.
He asks me to wax the boat for him. He has chartered everything out: the rags to wax it, the wax, the ladders to hold the boards that I will walk across. He meticulously tells me how he would do it. It will require me to move the ladder scaffolding four times so that I can wax each entire side of the boat.
My dad tells me that his friends at the club have figured out exactly in what order each of them will die. I think they do this because one of their close friends, Frank, recently died. As he was dying, he told his wife that he would send her dimes. Whenever I find a dime around my house or walking, I think of Frank. Frank: the older musician. My dad really liked Frank and I think Frank liked my dad. My dad told me that when he visited Frank in the hospital, as he was dying, my dad whispered in his ear that he would see him again. When my dad told me this, a lump of fear arose in my throat. I nod and laugh to get the emotion to move.
At Frank's funeral, his daughter spoke. She was crying and at one point said, "Oh my god, I don't think I can do this." I started crying when I heard her. I was way in the back of the church. I thought about how one day, maybe that will be me. What will I say? How can I tell people that my dad is my friend? My dad came to every lacrosse game I played in. My dad once collaged an assignment for me because I forgot to do it. It was late at night when I remembered, and he said he would do it for me. He would collage all of these "no smoking" pictures from magazines. When I woke up the next morning, the piece was finished. Sitting on the counter of my kitchen. My dad was drinking coffee: alert as ever.
Now, I have a husband and a cat, a family of my own. I just came down with COVID, and my dad comes by to my house with ten COVID tests for us, free from the library. Through the window, he gives me a thumbs up sign.
To other people, it may seem that I am closer with my mom. I call her every day. We laugh and check in with each other about writing. But, it is my dad who I worry about.
And so near Lake Ontario, back in the memory of kayaking, I pull myself into a space where I am alone except for the buzz and the sweep of insects. My dad is in his seventies. I want him to live until he is one hundred. And so my dad tells me, as if to practice, kayak by yourself, know how to be up here on this boat, in this creek, by yourself. Know these knots. Know how to start the engine. Know the names of my friends. Know the person who makes our sails. Know all of this. Because one day you will turn around to kayak, and I will not be there. There will be only the sound of cattails. There will be only the fading summer light.
But, then I turn around and kayak back to him. He is slowly paddling along, listening to the birds. His blue eyes are light and alert. He smiles and says, “Beautiful day.” There is plenty of light left, for it is only the afternoon.
Alexis David is an American poet and fiction writer who holds a BA from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, an MS from Canisius College, and an MFA from New England College. She published a chapbook called Animals I Have Loved with Dancing Girl Press. She reviews books of poetry for Tupelo Press, North of Oxford, and the Masters Review. Links to her published work can be found here.
Rebecca Ward is a full-time member of the 186th ARW in Meridian, MS, where she works as an NC2OPS Controller. She is a wife, mother of four children, and grandmother of two precious grandsons. After 30+ years of focusing of her family, Rebecca has delved back into her teenage love of art. She finds inspiration in writing as well as painting. This is her debut art publication.