The enduring memories he held were those of his father’s van. The sound of loosely battoned tools in the back as they rattled and fell to the dusty cut of carpet that lay between the shelves. Its horn would peep twice and bring a rush toward the window. The boy would pry the blinds apart and see the van sat across the road tainted red and orange in the streetlight. His mother would say go on then and he’d rush out the door and trot down the street, always waving into the driver’s side mirror in case it somehow left without him.
His father was absent but never missing. They’d be sat playing videogames when his mother would call his father’s name with the sternness of a headmistress. His father would make a silent eek and the boy would laugh under the ruffle of his father’s hand. He was young but he knew they were talking about money. I can’t do this alone, she’d say. You left us here and you can’t forget that. He’s our son. He rarely heard a response.
They’d drive for a long time and pick up fast food and eat it in the carpark. The radio would chatter some half-heard phone-in that made his father laugh and swear interchangably. They’d leave the food on the dashboard as they dipped in and talked about how things were. It would’ve been long enough for there to be lots to catch up on. He’d hand his father a tobacco tin as he spoke and the cold air from the window was welcome after their impromptu farting contests.
His father’s work involved a lot of driving and he’d be home early if a phonecall sent him on a late job. I’m sorry, he’d say. There’s always next time. A few weeks passed and the boy heard a familiar horn from the street, but it wasn’t the van. He looked out and saw what looked like his father’s old car. It was parked farther away than usual. I think it’s him, he said, but his mother frowned. He couldn’t make out the plate so he went down the stairs. Before he could wave it was already gone. He cried and his mother cursed softly under her breath as she held him in her arms. I don’t think it was him, she said. Don’t worry. I know, said the boy.
There was never a missed occasion. On those mornings the boy and his mother would laugh and open presents and look forward to his father’s arrival. He’d walk up the steps with a bagful of gifts and elbow open the door. That year his father had a nylon bag hoisted on his shoulder. The boy thought it was a gun. It’s a fishing rod, his father said. When the weather gets better I thought I’d take you up and we can make a day of it. Don’t forget these though. The boy unwrapped a box and took out a pair of wellies. It gets wet, his father said. The boy put them on and said he’d better get used to them now so he doesn’t get sore feet. Just don’t grow any more, his father said. I’ll try, said the boy.
The boy never cared for fishing and was never any good at it. His father would prepare everything and cast out the line and tell the boy to let him know if he felt a tug. If he did, his father would stand behind him, hands clasped over his, and show him again how to reel it in. Not too fast, he’d say. We don’t want it to jam. And remember to let your finger off the bottom, like this, otherwise you might hurt yourself. The boy would reel three quarters of the way and his father would ask if he wanted him to do the rest. Good work, his father said. It feels like a decent one. Sometimes they’d let it go but his father would take a big one off the hook and swing it against a rock. He’d look at the fish in his father’s hands as its scales prismed like refracting pools of oil in the sun. Not bad, eh? his father asked. They ate and listened to the water. He barely noticed the itch at his neck from the harsh wool of the jumper his father said made him look the part. It’s nice here, the boy said. I love this.
It took the best part of three hours to get there and another three to get home. The boy told his mother how his father asked for the tobacco tin and he accidentally gave him a tin of worms. They were like this, the boy said, sticking his tongue out and wiggling his fingers. His father said he had some in his pocket as he scooped a hand over the boy’s hair. The boy squirmed and had a sour look on his face as he elbowed his father in the hip. They laughed. I’d better shoot off, his father said. Next time? Next time, the boy said.
He looked at the fishing rod in the closet. It leaned diagonally in its nylon bag. He dusted the bag with his hand and made sure nothing leaned against it. Did you find them? she asked. He looked at his wellies. Yeah, he said. He picked them up and looked at the scuffs around the toe. Glimmering water. What’s he need them for anyway? She said it was for a school trip. Alright, he said. They’re too small anyway. He turned one over and noticed a stone wedged between the treads. He plucked it out and unzipped the bag and listened as it pinged off the rod and rattled off a tin.