A bone in the throat doesn’t really belong there, amongst all the soft tissue, inserted into soft tissue. You can feel it, like the fin of some great fish, swaying to one side and then back to center every time you swallow.
The bone belongs to a flounder. Had belonged to a flounder, and then to a fisherman, and then to this restaurant, Captain’s Galley, a favorite of your father’s. Your father likes seafood but your mother does not and has never cooked it for him before in the house or outside the house or even bought it for him once at the store. She does not like the smell of fish or anything fishy, but she will go with him to seafood restaurants, like Captain’s Galley, with netted starfish on the walls and murals of mermaids and schools of fish flaking to the carpet. She will go and bring you and your sister and eat through a bowl of hushpuppies while waiting for her salad and then her steak and baked potato to arrive, but she has not ever and will not ever cook fish at home or even buy it at the store for him. She hates fish’s fishy smell.
Today it is five of you instead of four because your sister had a child six years back who follows along like a reflection of you both from twenty years ago. Is it Father’s Day? Some occasion has called you all out to this place of tartar sauce and iceberg lettuce on glass plates. The five of you settle in at the table, your father folding his hands under his chin, looking out across the wooden table dining room, disappointed perhaps to have married a woman who all this time has never once cooked him fish. Your mother begins picking at the hushpuppies, as does your sister. You reach over and grab the ketchup, squeeze a dollop atop the first drop of fried dough, and then another and another. You make yourself stop, roll a napkin between your fingers, and watch your niece color her menu. Word searches, crosswords, and the outlines of pirates, sharks, mermaids. Right now, back at home, two of her toy mermaids lie on the bathtub, their purple hair wet and crackling with soapy water, their plastic bodies dry by now.
You have always felt that what people eat reveals a great amount about who they are.
Your mother gets her steak cooked well-done, a potato, a salad, and your father looks up at the waitress, points at the menu, at some fish that is fried, that comes with fried shrimp, french fries, and coleslaw, and says in his mumbled voice, “That sounds good.” Your sister gets fried shrimp. Your [End Page 107] niece gets chicken strips. You get the broiled flounder with coleslaw and a side salad with ranch. It is not the thing you want, but your mother is nearly three hundred pounds because she has always eaten what she wants. You used to lie on her when you were a child, like a small raft floating on soft water. She hated being married to your father and ate whale-sized portions, let herself absolutely go, and never once in the sad cast of their marriage bothered to cook him fish.
(When you and your sister were near your niece’s age, you sometimes came here with your parents and a truck-driving uncle, your father’s brother, who flirted with the waitresses. He was a great big hull of a man who wore thick glasses and had owl-sized eyes behind them. He would ask waitresses what they were doing when they got off work or if they were married or if they liked truckers and some waitresses would lean into the conversation and egg it on for a tip and others would lean back, write the orders down, and rush away. You’d call it harassment now if you saw it, but that was twenty-odd years ago so all you did was laugh along with everyone else, ignoring the small knot of shame tightening in your stomach. Sometimes this...