By Matthew Gruchow
For Three Word Wednesday
I remembered that once, when I was about twelve, my father gave me a small hand axe and garden trowel and sent me to dig out the rotting stump of a felled apple tree from our backyard. This was a punishment for some perceived slight or act of rebellion my father believed I had committed in those days when my he was growing sick and dangerous. I would struggle with that stump for a week; each day after school hacking and digging at the thick mess of roots until my mother called me in for supper. The stump never budged. After a time my father either became lenient or simply lost pleasure in the punishment and had a landscaper ground the stump down.
Of all the childhood memories, of all the cruelties my father invented, that could have come to me as I pushed my father’s small wooden boat from the shore I wondered why it was the apple tree stump that came. I knew that there would be fishermen on the lake that early morning, but the fog which had settled over the water during the night hid them from me and cloaked everything in quiet. My father and I had fished this lake in the heavy fog before, so I knew when I had rowed to the deepest point, and then pulled the paddles into the boat.
“You know, Nick, I lost you a long time ago,” my father had said to me once as he stared off from the boat into the fog. “You and I, we never were going to make it.”
“We are different men,” I had said. “And you're sick.”
“No, Nick, I’m not sick,” he said. “My brain works well enough. Just because you say the doctors told you your brain doesn’t work like it should doesn’t mean you got it from me. You didn't get your weaknesses from me.”
“It’s genetic, Dad,” I said. “I got it from you.”
“It’s just an excuse you’re using to hide behind; to keep from facing facts that you’re a screw-up,” he said looking directly into my eyes for the first time during the trip. “You were a punk kid, and now you’re blaming me for what happened.”
It had always been pointless arguing with him. Over the years I had watched him become more cruel and paranoid, indulging in self-constructed conspiracies of how his children and wife and most of the world had sabotaged his jobs, his dreams, and eventually his marriage to my mother. That predawn talk on the boat would be the last time we spoke to each other.
When my mother called and said he had killed himself and that he had asked for his ashes to be sifted over the lake she suggested I do it --- for her.
So, I took the urn from a backpack, opened the urn and placed a few rocks from the beach inside on top of the ashes then secured the lid shut with fishing line. I dropped the urn onto the water and the weight of the rocks and the urn made it sink quickly. I watched for a moment after it faded from view, making sure every flake of my father had sank and was gone before I rowed back to shore.