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from The Blackfish Inheritance

by Thomas Wolfson,
copyright 2001

“Here!  Here!” my father shouted from the deck, as Kate and I and the baby drove up the driveway on our way to the beach in late July.  We were finding it increasingly impossible to get past the studio without him flagging us down with another list.
“I’ve got to have these things,” he said.  “Milk, Carbona Spot Remover, more Jim Beam, the Cape Cod Times, and something sweet.  I need a piece of candy.  Maybe some nonpareils, or orange slices, or black licorice?”  He waved the list at me, and I got out of the car, climbed the steps, walked over the pool, and took it.  “This humidity is awful, isn’t it?” he asked.
“We’ll take you to the bay for a swim when we get back.”
“That would be great.  I feel so stranded on this deck, like a blackfish, stuck with this ghastly view.  Isn’t that awful?  Whoever would have thought it would come to this?”
“Is your leg hurting you today?” Kate called up from the car window while nursing Claire.
“Naturally.  So what else is new?” and he grimaced with an apparently sharp, stabbing pain in his stump, lasting only a moment.  “Ah, that was my nonexistent little toe.”  He gave a short, sardonic laugh, and added, “Fascinating, is it not?”
“You know, Pop, you really ought to have someone – a boy, a housekeeper, a chauffeur – someone to drive you around, shop, cook, clean, fix stuff.  You know, just to make your life easier? I mean, you should be able to afford it now, don’t you think?”
“Are you mad?  I have absolutely no…what do the money creeps call it?  Cash flow!  Anyway, I have that Bruegel, Donnie Snow, to fix things,” he said, referring to a heavyset, local boy, really a young man, of enormous physical strength and foul mouth who had in the past drained the pipes for winter, primed the pumps in summer, chased out the raccoons, and appeared to be a reincarnation of one of the Dutch painter’s peasants.  “And his wife brings me cookies.  So get out of here!  Go to wherever you’re going, and pick me up some club soda on your way home.”
“O.K., Pop.  What’s that smell?”
“My lunch.  I’m cooking a leftover cutlet and kasha varnishkes.  I never forget.  Now go!”
“Barf. See ya later,” I said, bounding off the deck and into the car.
After eating our cucumber sandwiches on Cahoon’s Hollow beach, napping, then playing in the sand and surf, we rinsed in the fresh water of Long Pond, stopped at the liquor and general stores, and returned home three hours later.
“You know, you don’t have to drink to be with him,” Kate quietly admonished me before walking with Claire down to the old house.
“Right. I’ll see ya in a while.”
I prepared a shaker full of Cape Cod Special, and together, my father and I drove out across the marsh and followed the sandy road around the north side of Lieutenant’s Island to the deserted beach at Loagy Bay .  Sometimes even against my will, I felt irresistibly drawn to him.
With a self-made paisley sash wrapped around his waist, towel draped over his shoulders, and cane in each hand, he walked slowly up the sand path through the beach grass, pausing every five steps to allow the discomfort inside the plastic swim leg to subside while a cloud of cigar smoke drifted away from his head in the slight breeze.  Carrying beach chairs, plastic cups, and the shaker, I followed.
At the crest of the small dune, the broad mouth of Blackfish Creek near high tide lay flat before us and a long ribbon of empty white beach stretched out a half mile toward Wellfleet Bay and thinned, out of sight, around the western shore of the island.  Across the water the steep dunes of Indian Neck plunged to the shore.  Within a stone’s throw a halyard on a small sailboat swinging on its anchor melodically clinked against an aluminum mast.  We walked down to the wet sand.  Here in 1949, 44 and 43 my father had ceremoniously splashed each of his baby boys in these joyous waters, welcoming them into life.
One month earlier while standing with Kate, Claire and my father on this same beach, attempting to carry on the family baptismal tradition, I had been forced to say to my father in a rare demonstration of unheeded assertiveness, “It’s my god damned baptism, and I’m the father, and I’ll do it the way I want.  Now please be quiet!”
“Yes, but why ruin it with religion?” he interrupted.
“They that go down to the sea in ships,” I more loudly re-read from the 107th Psalm while Claire wriggled in the arms of her mother, “that do business in great waters. . .”
“Oh, God! I didn’t do it this way!”
“These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. . .”
“Ruined.  You’ve got it all wrong!”
“Quiet!  ‘They mount up to the heaven…'”
“This should be about the joy of life in the here and now.  There’s nothing else!”
“They go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble…”
“They think they’ve got trouble.  They should go without a leg and have to stand here as long as I am!”
“They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man…”
“I  could use a drink!”
“….and are at their wits end.  Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble…”
“What good has religion ever done for the world? It’s only another crutch placating and anesthetizing the soul!”
“Now shut the fuck up!  Sweet Jesus! ‘…and he bringeth them out of their distresses.  He makeththe storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.  Then are they glad because they be  quiet…”
“Thank god for quiet.”
“‘So he bringeth them unto their desired haven.’  May you have a good life, Claire, and enjoy these waters as much as I have,” I concluded, splashing a little water on her forehead, making her cry.
“There.  That’s all you needed to say.  Now let’s go home and have a drink.”
“Listen, Pop.  I’m the father.  Am I not entitled to baptize the way I want?”
“And I’m the grandfather who made this whole mess.”
“Right.  Let’s go.”
“I knew we shouldn’t have had him come,” Kate said later.
“You were right.  Another memorable event with him at center stage, consuming all the oxygen,” I said, regretting that the moment had not been entirely Claire’s and feeling somewhat awash in shame.
Now my father waded out into the water, let float his canes, and swam.  I, too, swam along side him.  Then, gathering up the canes, I led him out of the water as he held fast to my arm for balance. We sat in our chairs and I poured drinks from the shaker.  The ribbon of sand slowly widened with the receding tide, and we listened to the gulls cry in the late afternoon sun.