Her father took her fishing on his day off. Sitting on an upside-down bucket, he concealed the hook in a fleshy crawler and cast toward the far bank, under the shade of a low hanging branch where the water was cool and the bottom rocky.

Like that, he said. He set the rod in the crook of a branch he'd stuck in the ground. Now be quiet. You'll scare 'em off if you talk too much.

She watched the bobber, practiced being so still she felt invisible. He cast his line, cracked another beer, lit a cigarette.

Keeps bugs away, he said.

She nodded. But she knew later, while she suffocated under summer's swelter in her lightless room, no one would buy his excuses. Ill-tempered whispers writhing from the kitchen table, a rising cacophony of who'd-done-whom dirty, who'd wasted whose prime.

Eventually, she watched as things went under: the bobber first, then more and more of the line until her pole's tip bent toward the water like a divining rod. She yanked the pole, then froze, saw the fish—airborne and shimmering, red spots surrounded by blue halos like eyes that never blinked—before it disappeared again beneath the surface.

Her father took over. Pulling the rod from her hands, he leaned back and started winding. Once the fish was close to shore, remorse sent her running, scrabbling after the flopping body, nails scratching as she slid down the dirty bank. When she caught up to the fish, her father caught her shirt, pulled her back. Desperately, she kicked the fish toward water. Inch by inch, her father reeled it back, a helpless puppet on invisible string. She cried into dirty fingers as he removed the hook, threw the fish in the Styrofoam cooler.

What did you think was gonna happen? She was like her mother, he thought, the way she sought to protect things that never asked for aid, how she cried too easily over the universe's indifference. A soft, swollen face like her mother's--back when they were first married--red and raw on the night he'd smashed the window and thrown a bucket of trout heads across the driver's seat of her car. The woman was a talker, flirting with his friends and spilling his business, asking her daddy to help him find work. Afterwards, she smelled spoiled and he told animal lies when cornered, said he didn't know who could do such a thing.

Do yourself a favor, he told his daughter as they trudged back to his truck through mosquitoes swarming the underbrush, the outing soured by her tears. Don't get married.


He sits in that Laundromat all day, her mother complains as she folds jeans and matches socks, but he wouldn’t be caught dead sorting laundry, helping around here. Her hands move as quickly as her mouth: shaking, straightening, folding.

Cards, her mother says as if the daughter doesn’t know about the clean sheet quarters that thicken her father’s pockets. Who can count everything we’ve lost?

The daughter knows how her mother works, how she leaves his favorite going-out shirt on the bottom of the basket, forgotten beneath heavy denim to wrinkle like the skin of an old man. Tonight, if he’s late, her mother will mindfully forget meatloaf, until its skin becomes an animal hide and the kitchen sours like gunpowder.

Her mother won’t listen now, so the daughter never explains the way one learns to prefer burned things. Glass eyes and guts wrapped in newsprint, in and out of sleep, she dreams her own scales. In the stream of half-conscious moments, she’s dead-set on destruction, rising water claiming more and more terrain. Other times she builds to a slow burn, skin scorched on hot metal, until she’s thickened and tough, her insides dull and gray.

He’ll never leave, her mother says. You know that, don’t you? None of them would have him. A week. A month, maybe, but I’m the only one. I never threw him back.

There was a time, her mother says. But you think it’s going to stay sweet, you give in, and you do the right thing. Then it’s not just you anymore.

Sometimes, when half-awake, the daughter envisions mouth-brooders, females from a distant continent with jaws squared protecting fry, mothers who scoop up babies at night or when they’re in danger. The daughter wishes she could crawl into a mouth, if only to stop the talking. Live birth, the daughter thinks, requires less patience than egg laying. But here, the tradeoff is pain.

So…her mother says. She throws the last pair of jeans on the pile. So, here we are.
The daughter has memorized her mother’s face without make-up. Wrinkles and dots, a map leading nowhere. Here by the washing machine the daughter wants to unfold her, to show her the big picture: the devil makes work for those with idle plans.

You know, her mother says as she smoothes her daughter’s hair, you don’t have to settle. Don’t get caught.


In the end, what good is second-hand wisdom? Eventually, the one no one counts on comes--an underdog with nicotine fingerprints and a boxer's bravado, looking for someone who can take a punch. A slow learner, she only begins to determine what it means to be impossible to disappoint.