The Language of Fish by Chloe Banks
David’s father was a man of few words and many fish. When David graduated, his mum sent him a four-page letter filled with pride; his dad gave him a salmon fresh from the river. At David’s wedding breakfast, Lucy’s dad had everyone sobbing into their champagne; David’s father caught the mackerel for the pâté. 17 years later, when the divorce came through, David’s sister spent hours on the phone with him dissecting Lucy’s final words; his dad appeared on the doorstep with two trout and a six-pack of Boddingtons.
It wasn’t that David disliked fish. He only wished his father could say in sentences, what he expressed in scales – to be greeted one Christmas with a hug, instead of a cool-box. The language of the fishing rod was too immediate, too perishable. And when David’s job moved him 300 miles out of reach of the end of the line, his father was lost for words.
David tried to keep in touch. At first. But their phone calls brushed on nothing more substantial than weather and cricket, until silence would fall, with everything unspoken filling the miles between them. And so the weeks between calls became months, and David told himself he wasn’t to blame. It wasn’t him who didn’t know how to communicate. It wasn’t him who had the problem.
That Christmas, his dad sent him a book token.
When David took The Call he knew he should go to the hospital straight away. Inoperable, they said. Spread to the liver. Only days left. And yet, he held back. He needed time to think about what to say, to find the eloquence his father had never found. It took him nearly a week to hunt it down.
On the ward, the nurse ushered him to a chair beside his shrunken, wordless father.
“Dad.” David reached out to not-quite-take the fragile hand resting on the blanket. “I have to tell you something.”
The eyes that had once been so keen at spotting the slightest ripple on the surface of water, the shimmer of scales in a flowing river, watched David now with a new weariness. They flickered down to the box he held on his lap, then back to his face.
David fumbled with the lid. “I had to tell you... to tell you...” He held the box up for his father to see. “I had to tell you that I wanted it to be salmon. I wanted to get you a salmon. But I’m no good at fishing.”
His father looked at the single minnow resting in its box of ice. His fingers brushed the cold scales. He smiled and sank back on his pillows. His eyes closed, his lips moved, and David leaned in closer to catch the words that hovered in the air between them.
“I love you too.”