by Bourrée Huang
Dad and I never went fishing together. Not once, not ever. Not even at those cheap, make-believe fishing stalls at carnivals, where they put the fish in colourful plastic bowls, and all you have to do is sit there and wait for the fish to come to you. You’d have to be pretty stupid to not catch any, stupid like Tommy from school.
I think Dad and I never went fishing because he doesn’t know how to fish, so if we were to go fishing together, he’d be a fish out of water. Dad always likes to pretend like he knows what he’s doing, even when he clearly hasn’t a clue. Like that one time he tried to impress the pretty waitress by ordering our weekly fix of Chinese takeout in Chinese. “My college roommate was Asian,” he assured us. Only, what came out of his mouth was not Chinese. It sounded like he was rolling down a very wet, very thorny hill with two baby seals playing volleyball in his mouth. We ended up eating in that night.
Or when he insisted on teaching me to bike, even though Grandpa told me en confianza that the training wheels on Dad’s bike never came off (Grandpa made sure I understood what en confianza meant.) When Dad first made the announcement, Momma was also in the room. Momma and I looked at each other for a good second, like a neon pink meteoroid had just landed in our backyard. I gave her a please-don’t-let-him-do-this-to-me look. She thought for a bit, like she does when deciding for how many days to ground me, then responded with an it-will-be-fine-honey. Or maybe it was a this-won’t-end-well-for-you-but-do-it-for-your-dad. I’m not sure. Our language needs perfecting. So without the time for even a pathetic little whimper, I was car park-bound, hanged, drawn, and quartered.
Really, it didn’t matter to me that we never went fishing. I didn’t care if Tommy brags on the school bus every Monday just how many fish he caught, because I knew his dad caught all of them, because Tommy will always be a schmuck. But I did want to do something adventurous with Momma and Dad, just like those white American families you see on television –– they always look so happy. I knew sailing to our summer house in the Hamptons was out of the question; we drove a second-hand sedan. The great American road trip would also be hard because Momma always gets carsick. That leaves hiking as the last option, and as soon as I brought up at dinner how Tommy’s dad didn’t have a beer belly, Dad crawled into the basement, digging for his old trekking pole.
The day of departure was a historic one because Momma made her signature fish tacos, and Momma only ever makes fish tacos on historic days. The last time Momma made fish tacos was on Día de los Muertos, and when we begged her for more, she simply put her hands on her waist and said: “Well, Manny, maybe your father should learn how to cook.”
At the foot of the mountain, Momma decided that she would just stay and wait for us. “You boys go ahead –– Momma was not built for climbing mountains.” “Don’t worry son, we’ll conquer la montaña just the two of us,” said Dad, fist-pumping into the sky.
It was a big mountain. There were many trees and not much else, but a winding path and some steps leading into the green blur. During the hike, Dad and I talked about many things, just as we should, because real men talk good –– that’s what Dad always says. “But you can’t just talk the talk,” he adds. “You can’t yackety-yak all day like Tommy’s dad does. Real men have to be able to walk the walk, too.” We played a lot of games, like taking turns to list all the words we knew for each alphabet letter, from a all the way to z and all the way back. I always win this game. Dad says he goes easy on me, but I know it’s because his English isn’t very good. After playing all the games we knew, Dad began talking politics, something about how the system no es transparente, and how the government is lying to us. I don’t know what that means. Sometimes I think Dad just uses big words to sound smart. Then, he went on about man’s conflict with nature, about the existential attitude and the absurd, before holding me violently by the shoulders, looking me dead in the eye, and reminding me to never forget my roots.
Before we knew it, the sun fell away and we were the only ones left in the mountain. Dad pretended to look calm, but he was fidgeting with the compass. I knew he had no idea where we were. I started to panic. Dad told me that when he used to serve in the army, he would parachute onto deserted islands and into great rainforests; he’d been lost so many times he’s lost count. He survived for weeks on a vegan diet. This was nothing to him. Nada. He told me that if we were to run into a brown bear, that I must play dead. “Remember Manny,” he says, “the best offence is a good defence.” But if it’s a black bear, I must fight back with everything I’ve got. “Punch it, kick it, bite it, do everything you can to get the damn thing away from you.” Finally, he told me that in case we get separated, that I shouldn’t go back to search for him. “You hear me? Don’t you come back lookin’ for papa.” He made me promise that I would stay in school and get good grades, because then I could go to a good college, then make enough money to take Momma on fishing trips. He made me promise that I would take good care of Momma, because I’d be the man of the house, and real men take care of their families.
Just as soon as Dad finished his sentence, two park patrol guys appeared out of the bushes. We were escorted back to the foot of the mountain, where Momma was pacing around like a mad witch, mumbling and cursing to herself. She had never been so happy to see us.
Back home, after a warm bath and some television show about a fishing expedition, we found fish tacos in the kitchen. “Eat up,” Momma said, “It’s a historic day.”