The dock shifts and sighs under my feet, like a giant beast taking a long breath. I lean against the railing, dangling a french fry over and trying to catch the attention of the seals below. Their plump, gray bodies twist around the dock pilings, but the only interest I’m getting is from the seagulls. Jerks.
I swear, the fattest seals in Victoria hang out at Fisherman’s Wharf, glutting themselves on the good graces of tourists and locals alike. Behind me, a one-hour line up of cruise ship passengers places their orders at the fish n’ chip shop and in front of me are the candy-colored houseboats that call this dock home. They’re like something out of a westcoast faerie tale and keep the visitors coming back year after year. Further down the dock, a little girl pulls on her mother’s hand, begging her to buy some chum to throw to the seals. Lucky, chubby devils.
“You gonna eat those, Wren?” Dad pokes me directly on the elbow, which has always felt weird, no matter how many times he does it. He’s got this super human gift that makes him hit the nerve that runs across the joint every single time.
So I squirm away, but with a smile on my face. Or at least half of one. “I dunno, they’re kind of soggy.”
“You dumped half a bottle of vinegar on them.”
“I like vinegar, okay?” I say and shove ten fries in my mouth at once. My eyes screw up, but I’m too proud not to swallow. Plus, I want to see him laugh. My throat is burning when I finally gag them down. “See?”
And sure enough, he does, dimples pulling his red, scruffy beard into a mess of prickly ripples. He hasn’t shaved since Mom disappeared. “Wren, we’re out in public.”
“Let them take photographs. They're here to sight-see, aren't they?” I wave another fry around like a baton and a hopeful seagull hops closer. I eat it for two reasons – to annoy the birds and keep Dad laughing.
Eurgh… This one is mush, it’s so wet, but I don’t dare say more. Today is a big deal for Dad. We’ve gone out. We’re bonding. And nothing brought our family together quite like fish n’ chips. Mom and I used to spend hours arguing about who made the best in town, my older sister Casey covering her ears and begging us to shut up. I don’t know if Dad did it on purpose, but we’re at Mom’s favorite chip shop, not mine. The place on the harbor causeway has the better fries and yes, they can handle my preferred levels of vinegar drenching.
But Fisherman’s Wharf has the seals. And Mom never cared what her food tasted like so long as she could see the damn seals.
The little girl I noticed a few minutes ago has finally cajoled her mother into submission and they’ve bought a pile of scraps from the on-dock fresh fish market. The kid is so excited, she jostles the plate and a piece of salmon skin flops into the water. In a second, the seals smell the meat and glide to her spot on the dock. Whiskery noses break the water and she squeals as one goes for a large hunk of fish in her hand. She drops it out of excitement, thank heaven. No toddlers with seal bites today. They’re wild animals, no matter how much they look like underwater puppy dogs.
That’s why Mom never let us buy the plates of scraps. “Lazy old codgers,” she’d say. “They should be out hunting.”
I never actually fed the seals with my mother, even with all the hundreds of times we’ve come here, but I can’t handle watching this little girl do it. It isn’t fair she’s got this memory with her Mom and I don’t. My eyes sting, but not because of the vinegar.
What’s wrong with me? I’m jealous of a four-year-old. The soggy fries, the seals, Dad laughing. It’s just too much. A bubble rests at the bottom of my throat and I know if I stay here any longer, I’m going to break down. And I haven’t done that for over a month. Not since Mom disappeared.
Dad’s busy dunking his cod inside the tartar sauce, so I seize the opportunity to fish my cellphone from my pocket. I work fast, texting Peter.
ME: I need an escape ASAP.
“I thought they put more dill in the tartar sauce,” says Dad, brow furrowed.
“No, that’s the one in the harbor.” I stash my phone in my pocket and try to look innocent, but it’s wasted effort. Dad’s still focused on his fish.
“Really? Huh. Why is it you like coming here, then?” he asks.
I struggle to think of a response, but he doesn’t seem concerned with the answer. His eyes are swallowed up in the ocean, both a murky shade of gray. Dad was always the thoughtful one in the family, or at least I assume he is. That’s what people do when they’re quiet and don’t have a movie on, right? Think? It’s the assumption I’m working on. Luckily, my phone buzzes, saving me from the ramblings of my own mind.
PETER: Why? Where are you?
ME: With Dad. Doesn’t matter. PLEEEEEEAAAAASE
PETER: You’re a terrible daughter.
I’m about to text something grumpy back at him, but before I can get the message off, Dad’s hand flies to his pocket. His ring tone is set to Gladys Knight’s Midnight Train to Georgia, a song I’ve never understood his fascination with but kind of makes me adore him.
“Hello? Oh, Peter!” He smiles, because like all rational people, he loves Peter. “No, Wren didn’t mention a meeting. Maybe she forgot?”
Dad looks at me and on cue my hands fly to my mouth. Bless you Peter, you’re a miracle worker. “I did! Dad, I’m so sorry-”
Dad nods in understanding and yes, I feel horrible like I should, but not horrible enough. “We’re about done with lunch. I can get her there in fifteen minutes. Okay, see you.”
“I really am sorry,” I say.
“Not a big deal.”
He hangs up and dumps the rest of his half-eaten fish in the compost bin. It’s not like him to leave food unfinished or to hurry away from something before he’s done. But judging by the bounce in his step, he’s relieved we’re leaving too. We’re off the dock and in the parking lot faster than I’d dared hope, which seems awful the moment we reach the car.
As Dad fires the ignition, I suck the vinegar off the end of one of my fries. I kept mine. Even if they aren’t that great, they’re french fries, for goodness sake! You don’t treat french fries lightly. As we pull out of the lot, the rooftops of the Fisherman’s Wharf houseboats bob in the distance, all shades of cherry and lime. Usually I love them. But today, they seem to be waving goodbye.
There's nothing like a friend you can count on to pull you out of an awkward situation. But who is this mysterious Peter? He clearly means a lot to Wren, but why? Is he...
a) Wren's Ex-Boyfriend
b) Wren's Younger Brother
Vote on who you think Peter should be. The poll is located in the top, right hand corner of the page. Then tune in next time to see Peter in action!
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