close shore (2)In the months after his wife left, Thomas learned to cook. He matched socks and shopped for hair ties. His life, a labyrinth of small necessities, was not what he’d imagined. But, love. The girls need me, he told friends when they asked him to fish or hunt with them. On Friday nights he built bonfires. Tuesdays he left work early to take his younger daughter to Brownies.

Thomas was your father. You were fourteen. You wore the size-five clothes from your mother’s closet and began to restrict your eating. For her new apartment, your mother bought a fake-fur couch and a mini-trampoline that you and your sister jumped on when you visited. You will adjust, your mother said. She played Fleetwood Mac in the car as she drove you home.

The bonfires burned green when Thomas tossed in copper shavings. His older daughter poked the embers with a stick. The younger one fell asleep beside an open bag of marshmallows. He carried her indoors. Later, after both girls were in bed, he poured scotch and called their mother. She was not coming back, she said.

Things you ate the winter you turned fifteen: lettuce, apple slices, Tab. Your weight dropped to ninety. When your father asked you to help with his chicken noodle casserole, you said no. You put on your coat. Outdoors the air was clear and cold and odorless.

In winter during his lunch hour, Thomas canoed the parts of the Androscoggin River that were not frozen. He used a pole instead of a paddle. Sometimes the bow sliced through a skim of ice. After the dishes were done in the evenings, he sat in the living room and read aloud from the newspaper. If the canoe capsized, he was very close to shore, he said.

Your hair started falling out from lack of nutrients. You got scared. You sat in the living room with your father and listened to him read. The next time he asked, you helped with the chicken noodle casserole. The smell from the oven filled the house. You threw out the clothes your mother had left.

Thomas planted geraniums in the pots on the porch. He forgot to water them. He let his daughters keep the kitten they found. In summer when they went to the beach, the kitten came too. She slept on Thomas’s lap as he drove. The trooper who pulled them over for speeding saw the kitten and smiled. They didn’t get a ticket.

At the beach you went swimming in the two-piece your best friend’s mother had made for you. Better now, she said of the pounds you’d gained, but you’d liked being able to slide your bracelet to your shoulder. The bathing suit was lime green. You wore it again when you visited your mother in Halifax, where she was teaching summer school. She gave your sister an Etch-a-Sketch and you a book on Buddhism.

Thomas bought new cookware. He sorted his younger daughter’s outgrown clothes. His wife had always given them to the chimpanzee at the zoo. The chimp gestured to visitors and lived in a concrete enclosure. Her keepers dressed her up. Thomas did not care for the zoo. He packed the clothes and stored them in the attic.

In Halifax, you babysat your sister while your mother taught. One day you waited hours outdoors on the edge of a carpet for the queen of England to disembark her ocean liner. When finally she passed, your sister lifted her hand and whispered Hi. The queen smiled in response. Her lips and dress were the same shade of rose. In the evenings your mother made popcorn and let you watch movies until late. Isn’t this fun? she asked.

What if your mother had taken you with her when she left? What if details told a story?

When school started, the German shepherd from next door waited with the younger daughter at the bus stop. Thomas took a photograph. The kitten, now a cat, came along. When the bus pulled away, Thomas waved. The dog got up and stretched. The cat copied him. In her apartment two towns over, Thomas’s wife was making coffee.

You and your sister walked through the field behind your house to the brook. Birds busied themselves in the underbrush. Leaves fell from the trees. Or the trees were in bud. How long did it take to understand your mother was gone? Did you understand? The brook was swift and clear. You sat on the stone bridge while your sister waded. In the water her feet shone white.

CB Anderson is a cross-genre writer who loves rock-hounding, magenta and the stories of Mavis Gallant. Her work has appeared in Fourth Genre, The Iowa Review, Huffington Post, Boston Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, Flash Fiction Forward, and elsewhere. A collection of stories, River Talk, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2014.

Photo by Marcia Krause Bilyk