A Boat Trip
I am going to catch a fish.
It’s goin’ to be a big fish ‘cause I’m a big boy. I better catch two fishes. Or maybe three. We are six at home, we need six fishes. I can count to ten.
My Grandpa’s goin’ to take me in his boat. The boat has an engine. The engine is broken. Grandpa is standing in the garden. He’s trying to fix it ‘cause we can’t go without it.
And then it rains so we can’t go out anyways, and Grandpa has to stop repairing.
I watch TV, I like the film about sharks. I love sharks. I don’t think they are scary. The whale shark is real big. My fish is not going to be big like a whale shark.
Grandpa never hugs me. He says hugging is for girls. Real men bond over fishing. Real men don’t cry either. “Now, don’t disappoint me, young man,” says Grandpa.
Mummy says bonding is like love. I know love. I love mummy. I love daddy but I think Grandpa does not want love. He wants bond.
I hug my mummy. It doesn’t count ‘cause she’s a girl. I don’t tell my Grandpa that I sometimes cry ‘cause it hurts and ‘cause I’m scared of monsters.
Grandpa talks ‘bout fishes a lot. He catches them all the time. He tells mum and dad he will take me fishing now I’m not a baby more. They bought me a rod and net for Christmas.
The rod is too big for me ‘cause it’s for bigger boys. My wellies are grey with scratches. I put them on the wrong feet. Mummy tells me off. I always make that mistake, somehow the wrong feet seem right. Mummy never gets it. Maybe, it’s ‘cause she’s a girl.
The sun is shining. Mummy smells of oranges she’s just peeled for me. She’s had a piece from me. I like sharing with mummy. I like brushing her long hair. Her hair and brush make electric city but it can’t make the bulb light, just tiny sparks.
Dad is coming with us. That’s good. We are three men now. We are going to catch the fish. The engine is still not working. Dad is going to row.
The wind is cold and it starts to rain again. I hold the bench in the boat with both of my hands. My Dad says I am safe ‘cause I have a life vest. I don’t like it. It’s scratchy and itchy and bright yellow and I’ve to keep it on. The sea is dangerous, Dad says.
I like the sea. I like the waves. They’re not dangerous if the fishes like living in them. We stop. Dad doesn’t row any more. Grandpa tells me to be quiet and patient. I am. I wriggle on the spot. My fingers are cold. I want to wee.
We wait. No fish. Grandpa says to wait some more. I say how long. Grandpa tells my Dad:
“I told you he’s too young.” He means me. I’m a big boy. I bite my lip and sit on my hands. They get a bit warmer under my bottom. I laugh out loud. ‘Bottom’ is a funny word. I imagine drawing it and colouring it green. A green bottom is even funnier.
“Shshsh…,” says Grandpa. I am not laughing more.
“Perhaps we should try another place,” says Dad. He rows some more. He stops but the rain is not stopping. I am quite wet but I have not wetted myself. I’m a big boy. I can hold a bit longer.
Still no fishes.
It’s lucky it’s raining so hard ‘cause I’m crying now. I don’t think Grandpa has noticed. It hurts. I want the fishes so bad, it hurts inside. If there’s no fish, why fishes don’t want to come? Daddy is looking at me.
“It’s all right, Jimmy, sometimes things don’t work out. Perhaps next time.”
I run into daddy’s arms, the boat rocks side to side, we nearly fall out. I bury my head in his chest and let the tears roll down. It hurts so much I can’t stop them. I wanted fishes. If I don’t get fishes, I can never be happy again.
“Don’t worry. We will try again tomorrow. Keep trying, that’s what’s important.”
He hugs me tight. Daddy smells of Daddy, bacon and eggs with coffee, bitter and salty, his jumper tastes of salt, too. I take out loose strands of wool from my mouth.
“And we enjoyed the adventure. Together. Us, three boys,” he smiles.
But I am not enjoying anything. I am cold, I am wet, I want to wee and we don’t have fishes. I turn my head, Grandpa is looking away. I don’t think he has noticed my tears. I am relieved.
Grandpa still looks out to the sea. The waves are quite big now. The sky is grey and black.
“Let’s go back,” he says finally. Daddy grabs the big paddles I know are not called paddles but ‘ours’ and starts rowing. First a circle, then to the shore. I sing the song but I have to be quiet so the song is only in my head.
I look at the water. I see a shadow. “Fish!” I shout and jump. The water is cold. I can feel the warmth of my wee between my legs. I hope it’s OK to wee in the sea and the fishes don’t mind. A hand lifts me up. I am back on the boat. My Daddy is screaming. He is wet, too. He is screaming at me. He never screams at me.
“But there’s no shark that eats peoples. Basking sharks don’t like peoples,” I sob.
Daddy is yelling. Dangerous. Drown. Can’t swim. Died. Could. Grandpa is pale. He is rowing now.
Daddy doesn’t understand. I wanted fishes. I’ll never be happy again without them. I’m not scared of the sea. I love sharks. I don’t care. Tears escape from me and I can’t stop them.
I’m not afraid of the sea. I don’t care.
Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, if you see a scary shark, don’t forget to scream.
Natalie Nera is a pen name of Natalie Dunn, used now for a long time, following her career in journalism. She is originally from Prague but lives with her British husband and two young sons in Northumberland. She is the author of two published novels and editor and co-author of a poetry anthology in her mother tongue. She writes in Czech, English and occasionally translates. Her written work has appeared in Czech, Russian, German, English and Romanian. More information may be found at https://natalienera.com.