The Fisherman’s Daughter

Photo by Siyan Ren : Story by Erin Davies

The dock stretches twenty feet into the ocean. I remember a time when I would stand at its end, for hours, waiting for my father to return. I remember squinting into the sun and praying for a dot on the horizon to separate the sea from the sky. Everything is different now. The wind wails, and the horizon is a swirl of clouds and lightning. Thunder follows, marking the storm two miles away. Rain patterns the wood with dark brown spots. It’s only a matter of minutes before the storm surge engulfs the dock. I sit to look through the boards beneath me. A yellow inflatable bobs in the rising tide with an unconscious young man lying twisted inside. My date.

Flattening my hands on the wood between us, I lean closer. The tide brings the raft up to the belly of the dock, enclosing him beneath wooden frame. Thunder shakes the air. He stirs, looking less like the commercial dockhand he boasted about being hours before. He used to watch me when he passed windows of Three Scoops Ice Cream. All the faces that meandered by our little shop on the edge of the docks were a blur, but his features clearly stuck out in my mind. He used to smile at me, like my father did.

He looks so much like my father.

The young man touches the yellow inflatable. I imagine he’s confused. I want to touch his face. I want to tell him it will be okay, but it would be a lie. He rolls over. I wonder what he last remembers. Was it the feeling of drifting into darkness or the feeling of my skin against his?

Lightning casts my shadow down into his prison.

His eyes find me. He moves to sit up and hits his forehead on the underside of the dock.

I laugh and wiggle my fingers at him. Hello.

He recoils.

A wave breaks over the edge of the dock, sending water around me and down into the inflatable. I watch him shield his eyes from the water. The storm is a mile off shore. I lick the salt from my own lips. I want to rip up the dock — I want to be close to him, down in the inflatable with him.

His hands push against the dock. He puts his feet up, trying to push the raft away. It works for a moment, but only to allow more water to pour into his chamber. He’s half submerged now. “Help me.” Lacing his fingers through the boards, he pulls himself up.

The inflatable is almost full.

“Marina, please.”

I can see the hope in his eyes, reflecting in the lightning. Those blue eyes. I remember my father’s smile lines around the same blue eyes. I can still hear the whir of the fishing line leaving the track as I lost him to the ocean.

The raft is full.

He pounds the dock with his fists. Bubbles escape his nose as he kicks the pontoons. I want him to look at me. I slap the wet dock with both hands. His eyes lock with mine, but they’re different now. I thought he was like my father, but I was wrong. These eyes are young, afraid. Thunder erupts over us. I remember this young man, how his fingers found the hem of my dress, how his hands groped for my skin, how he disrespected me. He tricked me with those eyes. An invisible hand constricts my ribcage. Those are not my father’s eyes.

I want to feel life coursing under the young man’s skin — the panicked beat of his heart. His fingers come up through the cracks in the dock. I hold his pointer and middle fingers. They curl into my hand. Water takes the dock, surging a few inches above where I’m sitting. His fingers tighten. I’m not here for him. I want to tell him he’s alone. I’m only here to make sure he dies at the ocean’s hands, like my father. Our fingers hold us together, making me his lifeline.

“You’re my lifeline,” my father once said.

My six-year-old self stared at him. “Why?”

“I come back for you.” He rocked us in a porch chair and pointed to the horizon. “Where the ocean kisses the sky. That’s where I belonged.”

I hugged him.

“I also belong right here.” He kissed my forehead. “With you.”

“Why do you leave?”

He stared out at the ocean and scratched his beard. Even then, I saw the answer in his eyes. He wanted to. He wanted to fish, to feel the sea below. She was his other lifeline, and the two of us tugged him apart. We were two different directions pulling at one man. It was only a matter of time before one side engulfed him.

I stood on the dock, waiting. He was a week later than he said. Had I given him too much slack? Should I have pulled more? I fell asleep, leaning against the furthest piling, and woke to my father leaning against the opposite piling. Something was wrong. He said my mother wanted him to take more fishing trips. He said he’d come back for me, like always. He said he’d take me on a tour of his boat so I could imagine where he’d be during his months away.

The next morning, we got to the boat and motored out of the harbor. He showed me what our house looked like from the ocean. He pointed to the dock, saying he could see me when I was standing at the end. He showed me one of the nets his crew used. It flexed and contracted as he wound his arms into the knotted mess. One wave later, they were in the water. The fishing line emptied on the track.

Wind screams in my ear. The fingers relax in my hand. In unison, thunder and lightning tear through the sky. The storm is upon the dock. Waves crash, threatening to uproot me. I look at the blurry young man under me. I am not his lifeline. I am nobody’s lifeline. I release his fingers and let him sink to the bottom of the raft. I scramble up and run down the dock. The storm chases me. I want to get out of the rain. I want to sit in my father’s rocking chair and listen to the wind. I want to watch the storm’s attempt to part the horizon. Nothing can split the ocean from the sky, not even a fishing boat.