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Full Fathom Five

4+4 Fiction


Published November 16, 2005 at 5:00 a.m.


You're shittin' me, was the first thing he said when he stepped onto the boat and found out we had no wine or beer on board. You are such a prissbutt, he said to me.

Lizzie explained that she'd thought scattering Dad's ashes might be sweeter if we didn't make it into a party. Sweeter! I laughed. But George went into a royal sulk. He is 12 minutes younger than me and likes to blame me for things.

He hadn't wanted to throw Dad's ashes in the lake in the first place. He wanted to bury them under a tree in the green space across from his condo, even though I told him Dad didn't really like the condo. It's true Dad liked the green space, but who would check on the little tree, or even the whole green space, and make sure it wasn't being ploughed up for a tennis court? Not George.

Lizzie, who is the youngest and a peacemaker, agreed the lake was a good idea. Dad loved the lake.

You mean, like, cast them over the waters? said George, horrified.

Sure, I said. Disperse them far and wide. They'll end up in the sea.

Everything leads to the sea, just as all life leads to death. That's what poor George doesn't like. He was devoted to Dad. But everyone knows human beings are 99-percent water, recycled from who knows where. A raindrop that fell over Machu Picchu last month could be the same group of molecules you drink in your coffee today and pee out a few hours later. It could be floating around in your brain fluid.

I don't mind thinking of Dad everywhere, traveling around the globe as drops of mist and fog, or sleet and hail. He liked to travel. He even went to Machu Picchu once. He might have preferred flattening someone's crops in Iowa to struggling as a man among men. He didn't much care for people. He didn't like Iowa.

If he ever found his way into my brain fluid, he wouldn't stay. He didn't find me that interesting.

But he loved George. We all knew that. I suppose George wanted Dad's remains someplace where he could go and think, Hi, Dad, I miss you. That sort of thing. Hey, Dad, what do you think I should do about the raccoons in the heating vent? The ringing in the oven? The drip coming out of the printer?

It is tempting to make fun of poor George's weird problems, but Dad didn't. Still, George didn't ask to take some of Dad back with him.

I hired a 31-foot sailboat with this cool, redheaded girl captain. George didn't like that, either. He wanted to sail it himself.

You can't, I told him. You have to have a license. It's a commercial shipping lane, for God's sake.

That may not be strictly true, but I am the oldest. George threw up his hands. George is the kind of brother that, if he ever had an accident and fell off a boat or something -- which is tempting, I'll tell you -- you'd feel guilty you weren't nicer to him.

It was a perfect day for scattering ashes. The sky was deep blue. Dark, fat clouds raced overhead like in some bleak Irish movie. The wind whipped up spray over the deck.

You did remember to bring the ashes? George said, as if I were the moron.

Let's talk about Dad, said Lizzie. Remember when we took him out on the sailboat last year? He was so happy.

The captain had let him steer, and he'd stood at the helm smiling like he loved life. I'd taken a whole roll of film.

George got up and climbed awkwardly over the top of the boat to the prow. The boat had been listing quite a bit but the captain evened it out. I patted Lizzie on the knee and followed George.

I expected him to say something cranky, like, Let's get this over with. I'd have to fight the impulse to nudge him overboard for about the fifth time. Instead he said, It's beautiful, isn't it? The lake, the mountains, all that.

Dear George. Suddenly, instead of drowning him, I wanted to hug him. We could even jump overboard together with the ashes between us. It would never do, but . . .


Suzi Wizowaty is the author of A Tour of Evil and The Round Barn.