Father’s old friends called him Barrel.
I’ve heard that it was because of his chest. Broad and deep and round.
Perhaps it was about more than just his chest. You see, Father contained. He took all his feelings and held them within his rough staves.
Of course, a barrel can only hold so much. Eventually, with enough time and pressure, it will begin to rot and fall apart.
“The salt, dear,” repeated Mother.
Father held the pepper in his hand.
“Dad?” my younger sister, Monica, murmured.
“Dad. That’s the pepper,” I said.
The confusion that stained Father’s face was replaced by the ‘absence’ that the doctors had warned us about. He dropped the pepper and stared down at his fork, which bobbed in his bowl of tinned tomato soup. His spoon had not been used; it had not even been considered.
“Dad?” I asked.
His eyes were blank.
All the light in the world shone from his salty eyes as he battled the rough arms of the sea. A nine-year-old me clung to his back. He turned to the shore, waving to Mother who nursed a baby Monica.
“Never turn your back on the sea,” Father had told me earlier that day.
He was right. An angry wave swallowed us from behind, knocking me out of his arms and onto the sand bank below. I did not struggle. I simply surrendered myself, waiting.
And then, his great hand plucked me from the saltwater depths and dragged me to the shoreline. He breathed life into me until I coughed.
“Never turn your back on the sea,” I grimaced.
Father laughed, and then held me, contained me, within his barrel chest.
Mother burst through the door late at night, supporting my drenched and bedraggled Father. My sister and I sat at the dinner table playing cards.
“Monica, get some towels and dry your Father off,” Mother ordered.
Monica did as my mother requested. In the kitchen, Mother opened a bottle of red wine and poured herself a big glass.
“When I came home this afternoon, he wasn’t here,” she began.
“Where was he?” I asked.
“At the beach. An old couple found him face-down on the shore. Almost drowned.”
“But Daddy can swim?” Monica interrupted.
Mother took two mouthfuls of wine in reply.
Monica held Father’s face in her small hands and saw nothing. Father looked into his daughter’s face and saw nothing.
Father came back to me in a dream and opened his mouth. Out poured all the unsaid words.
They congealed into a swarming mass that swallowed me. I surrendered, waiting. And then, his great hand plucked me out of that liquid poison.
“I have so much to say,” he whispered. “But I’ve forgotten the words to use.”
So he just pulled me towards the safety of his barrel chest, broad and deep and round.
Connor Lindstrom is a third-year Commerce (Liberal Studies) student who is fascinated by words being bent to shape meaning. He is giving this ‘writing thing’ a red-hot crack, and dreams of being able to live in the woods with a couple of books and a couple of cats.