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Brought to Shore

Story by Liza Olson (Read author interview) December 14, 2015

Art by Karen Prosen

When I remember that trip, I see the glow of the Sterno under Dad’s chin; the way the light caught his eye sockets like childhood flashlight stories of monsters on the prowl.

Drew, Mom, and I used to gather firewood while Dad chopped. After Mom died, Drew and I would grab double our usual haul, sticks and kindling spilling from our arms and leaving a wooden trail. But on that trip, Dad could only get halfway through the first log before he had to stop. Drew waved me off when I tried to take the hatchet.

Or maybe what I remember most is after we finished our s’mores—my marshmallows of the barely-touched golden variety and Drew’s and Dad’s blackened beyond recognition. When Dad went to shut off the Sterno, it fell from his shaking hands and tumbled, down a hill and into a ravine, still lit, pilot light streaking flame onto errant branches, the only word Dad knew then being “fuck.” I remembered that only you can prevent forest fires.

Or maybe it’s how I slipped my concern in while the three of us peed on trees: Dad a captive audience, me insisting the clinical trials looked promising. That it wasn’t like it was when Mom passed. And the way he looked at me after he zipped up, like we’d just met and I’d insulted his mother. Eyes trailing over the burned-out hole where the Sterno was, after the rain drowned out the fire. The way he said he couldn’t waste away like her, his voice calm and quiet as if he were coaxing me to sleep.

Or Drew and I playing War with our old childhood deck. One of the Jokers in there with “oker” Sharpied out to stand in for a Jack long since lost. Eating scrambled eggs with our hands out of plastic cups notched for alcohol: mine a shot and his a full cup. Me amassing a pile of Drew’s cards and Drew watching the way the cardinals dip in and out of view, under pine boughs and into the light of the morning. How Drew said he gives up. How I said he couldn’t, that we’d see the game through to the end.

Or even the damn fishing. Dad going bobberless because he wants to “feel it,” me using one and reminding Drew of the time we discovered that Poké Balls were just a ripoff of these things. How we used to turn every caught fish into a Goldeen, or a Gyarados if we were lucky. How Dad would sit for hours, his only sustenance watching the pull of his line across the water. And the way I kept asking Dad if we were through, with “just a minute” as his go-to for the next hour. Me swiping through my feed so I didn’t have to see him hunched over on a rock, chest caving in on itself. How Drew kept casting out with him.

Or his smile when he brought the sturgeon to shore, like his composite parts had been scattered and only this fish could return them, could put them back together again.

Or the way he goaded me to get in the frame for a pic outside the bait shop. How we all needed to get a hand under it. To feel the weight of this thing together.

About the Author

Liza Olson is the author of the novels Here’s Waldo, The Brother We Share, and Afterglow. A Best of the Net nominee, Best Small Fictions nominee, finalist for Glimmer Train‘s Very Short Fiction Award, and 2021 Wigleaf longlister in and from Chicagoland, she’s been published in Cleaver, Pithead Chapel, Atlas and Alice, and other fine places. One of her proudest achievements was getting to run (mac)ro(mic) for four incredible years. Find her online at lizaolsonbooks.com or on social @lizaolsonbooks.

About the Artist

Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, “Did you know that this is the way I see you?” It’s why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty
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