When I took Holly to the waterfront, she told me I was destined to be a father.
“You’re going to have a girl,” she said. “And you’re going to raise her alone.”
Holly and I had been hanging out a lot the last few weeks, staying up til 4am walking around her neighborhood. One night we laid down in the middle of the street at the end of the cul de sac. No cars came. And if they had, we would have seen them coming. As I curled up in one of the blankets we had brought with us, Holly climbed up a tree that the cul de sac had been built around. It stood surrounded by pavement on all sides. I had to look down as she climbed because small leaves, twigs, and dust fell from where she rustled. I protected my eyes, and even though nothing had gotten in them, I felt them swell and water.
This trip to the waterfront was my attempt to expand our relationship, to begin to define it. I was nineteen and barely knew myself, let alone how to date this beautiful independent woman who, although she was my age, had secrets in her eyes I could not begin to uncover. She was a lion. She had an unruly mane of hair that she was always trying to move out of her eyes. She was looking out at the water. We barely spoke. I did not know how to respond. I knew I did not want kids, but I never told people I dated what I really wanted. I didn’t want to scare anyone off.
“Yeah, I haven’t given it a lot of thought, to be honest,” I said. “It all depends on the person, you know?”
But she had already decided I would be alone. Whoever the mother would be was already gone, unreachable. Although Holly was a few feet away from me, she could have been a sea away.
We sat on the rock by the waterfront on the same blankets we had used in the cul de sac. She was telling me she hated her nose. She said she thinks it is too big. She didn’t look at me. She looked at the water. I didn’t know what to say. It was a big nose if you isolated it, if you took it out of context and held it in your palm. I imagined holding her nose in my hand. She looked down at her stomach.
“I’m going to get a nose job my last year of college. And I’ll probably have my stomach done.”
She did not mention her eyes. She loved her glasses. The way she stroked the frames gently with her index fingers. The glasses framed her eyes perfectly, and she knew it. The nerdy infatuation I felt for her intensified every time she tilted her head down and looked up at me, when my world became those eyes perfectly framed.
The whole time we were talking, I had been watching two brothers, no older than twelve. Their father was nearby sitting down in a chair he had brought with him, a retractable one he had brought in a bag slung over his shoulder. He had a simple fishing rod that he held loosely in his hand. Every once in a while, he brought up a fish. His two boys were doing something on a bit of pavement down from us, near the cooler the father was placing the fish in. They were quiet, looking down at the pavement, doing something with their hands, like tracing something out deliberately.
After the boys left with their father, Holly and I stood up to leave. And we could see down the way to the pavemented area, and we could see what the boys had been doing so meticulously. Twenty-three stiff fish bodies laid rotting in the sun. The father had not taken any of the fish to eat later. It struck me in the gut as a waste of life, to catch and discard on hot pavement. It was death without a function. And then I saw what the brothers had been doing so meticulously. They had taken out the eyes. Forty-six eyes altogether that they had cut out together, as a team. The eyes were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they kept them. Somewhere there was a bag full of fish eyes.
I attempted to move the dead fish off the pavement into the water. I picked up two big sticks and attempted to move one, like I was using enormous chopsticks. Holly halfheartedly followed my lead. She said nothing. I could not measure her discomfort or shock. She would not look at me.
I got one fish into the water, but it floated vertically, its mouth open, holes for eyes.
When I dropped her off at her car after a silent drive back, she hugged me and looked up at my eyes for the first time that day. It became clear. We were not going to talk about the fish.
“You’ll probably name her something like Penelope. She’ll draw on your walls with crayon, but you won’t care. You’ll pick up a crayon and draw right along with her.”
I laughed a hollow laugh and nodded. “You can always wash a wall,” I said.
In the reflection of her car, I saw Penelope, but just for a brief moment. She was wearing a summer dress and ballet slippers, and the Robin’s Egg Blue crayon was tight in her hand as she drew a vertical line from as far as her arm would reach above her head to the moment she can feel the touch of her hand against her toes.
But then just as quickly as I had seen her, she was gone. And without consciously trying, another image flooded my brain: a small Ziploc bag full of fish eyes, in an underwear drawer somewhere, covered in t-shirts and boxers, a testament to a productive day.
David Rawson is the author of A Jellyfish for Every Name and Proximity (ELJ Editions).