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If I lean in


May 26, 2020

By Natasha Prokop

Our once white steed—now speckled with glimpses of its underlying silver flesh—charges through the waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. The ferry doesn’t so much glide, as laboriously gallop over the waves. Up and down. Seeming to go nowhere, and yet the distant tree-clad shores slowly approach. Grey bearded waves, they roil and roll under the bow of the boat. Gone in an instant. Was a ferry really meant to battle these waters?

I lean my elbows on the railings. Where my bare skin touches metal, it stings. Wind whips at my face—biting cold—even for April. I lean further over the balustrade, close my eyes and inhale: whiff of pine needles, crisp salty air bearing the fragrant hopes of flowers. It feels like these flowers, these shores have forgotten what humans look like, what it feels like to be landed on, clear-cut, scoured, burned. Or perhaps you can never forget that.

Alaksa shoreline afar.JPG

I feel a warm presence at my shoulder and turn; my father is beside me on a boat, on the water, like so many times before. A tableau from my childhood.

He’s been talking but I haven’t been listening. The wind is whipping his voice away from me. But if I lean in close, to where I can smell the musty dampness of his wool sweater and see the three-day-old stubble on his chin, I can turn my face up to him and hear. His voice is gravelly and soothing, its familiarity lends it the quality of a lullaby, despite the rapid pace of his words.

Furrowed brows and gesticulations. We interrupt each other frequently as we talk of fish and fisheries management. But we’re not really talking about fish. As always, we’re talking about our relationship. Father and daughter. Mentor and mentee. What do our squabbles over catch limits say of our relationship?

I glance at his weathered hands, marked from the teeth of fish, the bite of steel hooks. I’m tuning out again. His words seem far away. The horizon obscures. Droplets itch at the corners of my eyes. I blink them back but they seem to have swallowed me.

Cream walls fill my vision. Dimly filtered light. Oppressive closeness of four walls. A basement suite in Vancouver. I blink rapidly. I’ve been staring at the same monochrome pallet, scratching at the bars in my mind for weeks now. Has the term ‘isolation’ ever had more meaning than during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Truthfully, I knew it all along, I’m not there. My dad isn’t here. He’s asthmatic, immune-compromised, in Australia. My chest tightens, a feeling like acid filling the cavity of me. Hairs stand on end. I let the uncomfortable feeling wash over me and embrace the rhythmic pulsing in my ears; “one, two, three, four…”

I focus myself on a point on the cream wall in front of me, indistinguishable from all the other points of cream and let my vision blur. Slowly, the cream turns to deep greens, greys and browns and the wind starts to whip at my face. If I lean in and listen closely, I can almost hear my father’s voice...

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