REFLECTIONS ON A FATHER NEVER KNOWN

The sun is obscured by half-lidded eyes.  We are standing together on a small beach.  Twenty toes are curled in the wave packed sand.  We are in Cascais, or perhaps Estoril. The waves spread their foam capped fingers through the rocks and cradle us.  He wants to drive down the coast, to see the boats at Sesimbra.  “The bay is calm there,” he says.

He is shorter than I expected.  Fathers are supposed to be tall, that’s their lot in life.  His face is burnished by the sun, the same sun against which he shields my forehead.  He knows I will tend toward leather.  He stands, hands resting lightly on his hip bones, in his sleeveless T-shirt.  A Gauloise dangles from his lip, its ash growing, until as he speaks, it breaks loose.  It skitters down his chest, a tiny sand crab in a manic dash for the rocks.  He imagines himself Errol Flynn.  He rests his hand on my shoulder, and stares out, beyond the waves, just past the horizon.  It is what he imagines a father would do.  He started to tell me of life in Lisbon, in the Diplomatic Service, as a Jewish businessman, a deckhand on a fishing trawler.  He was all of these things, he said, and none of them.

I walk slowly along the Avenida de Liberdade, toward the Praca do Marques de Pombal, staring deeply into the sun-creased faces of elderly men.  I stop for a coffee, sitting along the walk.  The old woman, at the finely formed wrought iron table, stares at me, I at her.  A smile crosses her lips as I lean toward her and ask “Tēm voce visto meu pai?”  She clucks, tilts back the small cup and snatching overburdened shopping bags, shuffles to the street, silent.  I walk through the park in the fading light.  turning to a middle-aged woman, her vast hips spread across the bench, “Mim estao procurando meu pai, voce via-o?”  She reaches inside her purse, slowly withdrawing a metal compact, its face reflecting the fire of the setting sun.  She opens it lovingly, thrusting it at my face.  “Eere,” she says in school drilled English, “eere.”  I stare into the mirror.

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