Open Water

By Morgan Christie

You never met him; he died before you were born. Two bullets to the chest, one to the head, and one to the neck, it was a bloody mess. When your mother was called in to identify the body, she fainted. You were due in fifty-nine days, but she went into early labor. Doctors presumed it was due to the obvious stress she had encountered, seeing your father’s holey body. You were a preemie born with lung hypoplasia, this meant you were born with underdeveloped lungs. You had to stay in the hospital for a month, attached to a machine that would keep your lungs pumping the entire time. Your mother was afraid she would lose you too. The doctors said you were a fighter, they said that you were going to make it. A month after you were born, you were taken off the breathing box. You could do it on your own; your lungs could fill themselves. Three days later, you went home.

You were greeted by your grandmother, aunt, and me. You were fawned over like a porcelain doll, handled with the utmost care. Whenever you slept, everyone watched to make sure your lungs were still pumping. Your grandmother said it was a good thing that he was dead, that you would never have to know him. This made your mother cry. Your aunt comforted her, but agreed with your grandmother, “Life will be simpler now that he’s gone.” When you woke up, the conversation ceased, as if you would understand, and then they continued to fawn. You look like him, the dead man with four holes who you will never know, the one that you are better off without.

Months later you took your first steps from the loveseat to the sofa. You appeared to be walking on fire, tottering over scorching coals. Someone came for a visit that week, a lady, she brought you a toy. You sat on her lap and she bounced you up and down, she was your other grandmother. She stayed for dinner that night. Sometimes she would take out her handkerchief and dab her eyes, she must have been crying. She talked about how much you looked like her son, except for your hair, she said you had good hair like your mother.

“What’s good hair?”

“Hair like your mother’s.”

“Why is it good?”

“Well, because it’s better.”

“Better than what?”

“Better than …” She thought. “Our hair.”

“Why?”

“Because it looks nicer, straighter.”

I twirled my fingers through the twisted kinks curled atop my head. “I think our hair is good too.”

You asked me if dreaming was the same thing as wishing, I said yes.

Your grandmother smiled, but she didn’t talk to me anymore. She kissed you on the cheek and went home after dessert. She never came back. Your mother was told she died of a heart attack two weeks later. A loud lady at church found out about your grandmother’s death and said you were a bad omen, that she needed to pray over you. She rubbed oil on your hands and feet then started to splash water from a small brown jar on your face. You started to cry. She pointed and screamed, “You see! Only a child of sin would cry at contact with holy water.” Your mother had heard enough, so we left the church. If something was being thrown in her face, the loud lady would probably cry too, anyone would.

You started school when you were four. During the third week your teacher announced that there was going to be a fair, you had never been to one before. You ate cotton candy, rode a pony, and had your face painted. You spotted a game on the other side of the fair, we went over. People were throwing beanbags back and forth to the sound of a beep, if you dropped it you lost, you wanted to play. Your mother asked the boy how many tickets it would be. He shook his head. “It’s two but, this is a Daddy and Me game, only fathers can play this one with their kids. There are some Mommy and Me activities across the field.” Your mother told you what the boy said and we went back to the other side. Back to the Mommy and Me side, the side you belonged on, the only side you knew.

“Sis, where’s my daddy?”

“Gone.”

“Gone where?”

“Somewhere you can’t come back from.”

“I wish he could have come back today to play the game.”

“Don’t waste your wishes on things that can’t come true.”

You fell asleep and later told me you dreamt of throwing the beanbag to the beep, with him. You asked me if dreaming was the same thing as wishing, I said yes. A little while after that, your mother and aunt started talking. They said the man that shot your father was going to spend life in prison. They called it first-degree murder. You wondered if the man that shot your father four times had kids too, and if they dreamt of throwing a beanbag with him.

In first grade, your teacher asked you to draw a picture of your family. You drew your mother, grandmother, aunt, and me. Your teacher walked around the classroom and stopped by your desk.

“This is a beautiful drawing sweetheart, but you were supposed to draw your whole family.”

“I did.”

“But your dad’s not in this picture. Why didn’t you draw him?”

“I don’t have a dad.”

Your teacher became silent, but mostly still, then continued walking around. The girl sitting beside you overheard what you said.

“What happened to your daddy?”

“He went away a long time ago, before I was born.”

“Where did he go?”

“Somewhere you can’t come back from.”

You both went back to coloring strokes of browns and peaches. Forgetting all about the conversation that later facilitated a good friendship. That afternoon, your teacher was hanging up the drawings you and your classmates finished that day. Once complete, she noticed a vast commonality throughout the pictures. A lingering trend that was too obvious to ignore, yet not uncommon enough to act on; you were all smiling. Even with fathers and mothers missing from your depictions of family, you were all so happy. It was not something your teacher was used to, not something she was comfortable with. That night she called her parents and told them both just how much she loved them.

You went to a carnival with one of your classmates and her family when you were eight. You saw colorful costumes, lots of dancing, and drank water right out of a coconut. When the parade began, you and your friend could not see, there were too many people in front of you. Your friend’s dad picked her up and put her on his shoulders, this made you smile. She held on to her father’s head and he put his hand on top of hers as she was lifted up higher than everyone in the crowd. The sun kissed your friend’s intricate cornrows and shimmered down on her father’s broad hand wrapped around hers. Just then your friend’s uncle picked you up and put you on his shoulders, this too made you smile. You both watched the vibrant colors sashaying down the pathway, and the women with feathers on their heads moving to the music. It was like nothing you ever saw before, and you knew you wanted to dance with them. You did, years later you wore a costume and danced in the parade with the beautiful hues of light. You danced while little children sat on their fathers’ shoulders, or their friends’ uncles’.

You were outside at recess when you were ten, playing hopscotch on the frayed gravel referred to as a playground. When your turn was over, you noticed a commotion on the other side of the schoolyard. You saw your good friend standing alone in the middle of a group of boys and thought you should intervene. When you walked over everything got quiet, it was deafening, your friend took you by the arm and dragged you away from the group. You two sat down on the steps.

“What was happening?”

“Nothing.”

“Just tell me.”

“The boys were calling you a name.”

“What name?”

“I don’t want to say it!”

“Please.”

“Fine … They were calling you the B word, but I told them to stop.”

“What is it?”

“What?”

“The B word, what does it mean?”

“Well, I’m not sure but I think it means you don’t have a dad …”

You asked your mother what a bastard was that night, and she demanded you tell her why you wanted to know. You told her about what happened at recess, she was upset. She said she was going out to the school tomorrow, but never answered your question. You came to me next and asked the same thing. “It’s a nasty thing to call someone.” You were not satisfied with that answer, so you went on the computer to find one. You typed “What is a bastard” into a search engine and read the first thing you saw: a person born of parents not married to each other. You told me what the internet said it was, and did not understand why everyone was so offended by the term.

“Because it’s a mean thing to say.”

“But I am one, aren’t I?”

In the eighth grade there was news of a father/daughter dance. You said it was not fair to have activities that excluded certain people, that everyone should be able to go. It did not change anything, the dance carried on as planned. You asked a classmate how it went the next Monday.

“It was pretty funny. The dads were doing all these old school moves, like the disco and stuff. One dad could breakdance; he was the best one there.”

“Sounds like you had fun.”

“Yeah, it was alright. What did you do on Friday?”

“I went to see the new fish movie with my sister.”

“That Pixar one? Was it good?”

“It was okay.”

“It’s about a fish that gets lost, right?”

“Kind of but not really, he does get lost but it’s more about his dad trying to find him. He was kind of a stupid fish, that’s how he got taken in the first place.”

“How’d he get taken?”

“He swam out into open water on a bet, and when his dad told him to come back, he ignored him.”

“He does sound stupid.”

“He was, but I don’t think that was the point.”

“What was?”

“That he had a dad to tell him not to go out there, but didn’t listen to him and might have lost him for good.”

“Kind of like we don’t appreciate the things we have until they’re gone?”

You nodded.

“I think I’ll go see it, it sounds pretty good.”

“It was, but I’m sure it was nothing compared to the dance.”

When you got to high school, boys started noticing the reasons people fawned over you: your good hair, hazel eyes, and light skin. You got more attention than you were accustomed to, and were not quite sure how you should handle it. One of the boys who noticed you was in his last year of high school, he was over six feet tall, played on the football team, and had eyes that could melt your heart, this is what you told me anyway.

You started wearing makeup, taking extra time to do your hair, and wearing bright and tight dresses. Your mother figured it was because you were growing up, but it was for the boy. You began spending a lot of time with him, before school, after his practices, at lunch, whenever you could. You invited him over for dinner one weekend. You wanted us to meet him. You introduced him as your boyfriend and we all sat down to eat. He was charming, told a lot of jokes, and talked about playing football. Your mother, grandmother, and aunt liked him. These feelings did not resonate with me. What did a soon-to-be eighteen-year-old want with a newly turned fourteen-year-old?

He left and everyone had something to say about the tall, handsome football player. Your aunt said he was a looker and quite the charmer. Your grandmother told you not to come home pregnant, and your mother said she really liked him. You followed me into our room.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“You just met him … What were your first impressions?”

“I think he wants something from you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re a smart girl, figure it out.”

You gave me the evil eye then stormed off.

You threw him a surprise birthday party the next month, just a few friends. He had a good time, but at the end of the night he told you there was one thing that would make it perfect. The boy invited you over to his house, his parents were out for the evening, and brought you up to his room. He told you how much he loved you and that for his birthday he wanted to take the next step in your relationship. You knew what he meant, but were not sure if you were ready. You expressed your uncertainty, but he said if you loved him you would do it. So you did.

You did not tell me about it for months, the condoms you had hidden in your closet did. You made your entire life about the boy, and seemed perfectly content with that. That spring, you came to me as though walking into confession. You told me that just after the Christmas holiday, you two had an accident. The condom broke, and you later found out that you were pregnant.

“He made me do it, he said he wasn’t about to be a father.”

“He couldn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to do.”

“I guess not, but if I could do it again I’d keep it.”

“Why? So there would be another fatherless child in the world? You’re fourteen years old, if he’s ever done anything good for you, it was that.”

You told me you still loved him after that happened. It was not until that summer that you saw the boy as he truly was. The one that would leave for college and never call, the one you found out had another girlfriend, the one you would never see again. You finally saw the boy then. You cried a lot that summer, but somewhere, drowning in all the tears, you found yourself. You asked your mother if you could transfer schools, she wanted to know why. You told her you needed a fresh start, she agreed. You finished high school at the top of your class, no more boyfriends, just books, and you discovered you had a gift for art. You looked flawless on your graduation day, though you usually do.

You finished your first year of college and did quite well. When you came home, you told me there was something you needed to do.

“I need to talk to him.”

“What for?”

“I need to ask him some things.”

“Like what?”

“Like why he did it. What it was all about.”

“It’s not going to help.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

“Well I’m going to put the request in anyway.”

He was shot four times, twice in the chest, once in the head, and once in the neck. He was walking home from school when a black Cadillac pulled up and let bullets fly.

You sent it in the next day, and got a response the next week. To my surprise, he said yes. You were set to go on Wednesday, and ignored my warning. You left in the morning, when your mother asked where you were headed, you lied. You arrived at the prison half an hour early. You sat in the car trying to organize the thoughts that had been building up for a decade.

What was it about? Do you have any kids? Do they come see you? Do you understand that I can’t visit my father? Do you regret it? Would you do it again? Do you believe in karma? How many times have you been beat up in here? Has anyone ever tried to rape you? Do you believe you had all of this coming to you? If you were in my position, what would you think? Would you forgive? Do you hate yourself? How often do you get visitors? Does your family think you’re innocent? Why did you plead self-defense if he did not have a weapon? Why’d you do it? Why’d you kill my father?

You only took your I.D. and followed the instructions to a tee. You sat at the table to the far left of the door and waited for the clock to strike eleven. You watched the array of men enter the room, draped in the same orange as the stupid fish and wondered which one he was. A tall, stocky man sat down in front of you, no introduction, and began looking you up and down. You got nervous, swallowed your saliva, and commenced.

“My name is A—”

“I know.”

“So then you know why I’m here?”

“No, not really.”

“Why did you accept my request?”

“Curiosity.”

“That’s it?”

“Pretty much.”

You paused, “What happened that day?”

“I thought you knew what happened already, he got shot.”

“You mean you shot him …” You paused again. “Why did he get shot?”

“Because he had a big mouth.”

“What did he say?”

“The same crap he always said. That it was his block, and he would do whatever the hell he wanted on it.”

“What did that mean?”

“It meant if he wanted to deal drugs he would, sell shanks and thirty-eights he would, it meant he would run that neighborhood into the ground if he wanted to.”

“That’s why you killed him?”

“I never said that.”

“Then why?”

“Because it was the right thing to do.”

“How can you say that?”

“Because your father was a poison, the type that spreads through families, communities, and cities; the type that the world is better off without.”

“And I suppose you took it upon yourself to be his judge and jury?”

“I did.”

“And you’re proud of that?”

“I am.”

“Did you ever think past that day? About his family?”

“I did.”

“But you still shot him?”

“Yes.”

“No remorse?”

“No.”

Your throat tightened. “Do you have any kids?”

“Not anymore.”

“They don’t talk to you anymore, huh?”

“No, my fourteen-year-old was murdered two years before I got in here.”

You did not respond.

“Don’t you want to know what happened?”

You still did not respond.

“He was shot four times, twice in the chest, once in the head, and once in the neck. He was walking home from school when a black Cadillac pulled up and let bullets fly. It was an initiation, and the shooter wouldn’t give up his boss’s name. He wouldn’t name the person that was driving the car, the person that pointed my son out as the target because he refused to join up with the boss’s gang. That’s why I don’t have kids anymore.”

Time was up. You left the prison without saying a word or looking back at the man you’d never see again. You drove home and went up into your room. You did not talk about the visit, even when asked, you said nothing. You were quiet for a long time. A week later you told me that I was right, that going did not help at all, that it might have made it worse. You finally started talking again, and continued to do so that night at dinner.

“Mom, do you remember what kind of car Dad used to drive?”

“I think so, why?”

“Just curious … What was it?”

“I believe it was a Cadillac.”

“A black one?”

“Yeah, how’d you know that?”

You didn’t respond.

You finished your dinner, went for a walk, then came home hours later and sat beside me.

“You feeling better?”

“Much,” you answered.

“Good.”

“We have a good life, don’t we?”

“I’d like to think so.”

You glanced at me with wet eyes and a quivering lower lip. “Really?”

I squeezed your hand, tightly, and remained as straightforward with you as I always was. “Really.”

You went back to college in the fall. In your third year you met another boy. This one was not so tall and handsome, and he never played a sport. He spent his evenings sketching landscapes and skyscrapers. You called me and told me you had fallen in love, and that you would be bringing him home with you over the holiday. He was not too charming or funny, but he was kind and gentle, a lot like you. You two dated for the next four years. Well after you graduated from college, he asked you to be his wife. You said yes.

I am watching you walk up the aisle now, everyone still fawning. You laminated the picture of your family you drew in first grade, and put it near the entrance. You invited your friend’s uncle, the one that put you on his shoulders. You are carrying an orange bouquet, the same color orange as the fish in the Pixar movie and the jumper of the inmate that would spend life in prison. You are smiling at the man that blissfully said he wanted you to carry his child. You are looking at me now, and just for a moment I catch the glance I hoped I would never see.

You are disappointed, disappointed that you are walking up the aisle alone.


A Toronto, Ontario, native, Morgan has a tendency to get lost in scenic views, good books, and potent aromas; which might account for the slow but steady intention of getting her blog up and running. Her work has appeared in Aethlon, Hippocampus, Blackberry, Germ Magazine, Moko, and elsewhere. She currently lives and writes in North Carolina, but that will be changing as she is attending the University of Oxford to attain her Mst in Creative Writing this fall.