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I'm JM Fisher, Writer & Host Of The Weekly Cynic Podcast.

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A River Prayer

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“Dad, this is regression… I’m lecturing you. It’s something from a melodramatic movie.”

My father smirks, his finger tapping a gnarled, black knot embedded within the surface of the wooden kitchen table. “You know, this table was one of my more intense, harder pieces. Franny, remember Franny, my assistant? She always told me this piece had numerous suitors. Long time clients and collectors wanted it. I hope you appreciate it, Son.”

“I do.”

“This knot, always reminded me of a cancer spot. This pristine piece of nature, wood so perfect and beautiful, marred by this spot. Your Mom said I was too pessimistic. She said I should see it like a beauty mark. Like Marilyn Monroe’s mole.”

“So, you know, you’re kinda diverting the subject.”

He smiles, sipping his coffee. “What’s your assessment of my situation or are we now discussing my condition?”

“Dad, you can’t…bathe, pray, whatever it is you’re doing. You can’t do that in the river. It’s…it’s not the Ganges. Your not Hindu…Unless you’ve converted or something. And hell, you renounced all religions years ago.”

He smiles. “I renounced Catholicism, if you remember.”

“Oh, it’s one of my great childhood memories: A catholic priest in all his garb fleeing our house because my old man berated him with—”

My father interrupts, index finger raised to signify his protestation. “I disagreed. We disagreed philosophically.”

“Quite loudly and, according to Mom, rather harshly. A lotta f-bombs were dropped. Warplanes over Japan style, as Mom put it.”

He shrugs. “Anyway…onto your main discontentment.”

I sigh. “Look, the first time the cops got you. Now, this time the river rescue team—”

“Let’s clarify, yes?

“Jesus, Dad…”

“There was no rescue. The river rescue was returning from an earlier mission.” He sips his coffee. “My bowl simply floated away. I swam after it. No matter how derogatory the term, I am a goddamn river rat, after all. The water, for all its age and depth, doesn’t scare me…unlike a certain son of mine who can’t swim.”

“I know, that whole swimming thing is another resounding failure…But, why the hell do you have a bowl?”

He fidgets with his coffee mug. “It’s…it’s my vessel of consecration.”

“Wha…What? Dad, this is why people think you’re nuts. Sniffin’ all that sawdust over the years has made the guy crazy, is what people are saying.”

“It’s also made me wealthy and famous.”

“Jesus Christ, Dad…This…This has nothing to do with that.”

“Who thinks I’m crazy?”

“Look—”

“You do remember, the chief of police is my best friend. The Mayor I’ve known forever. The paddy wagon with the straight jacket brigade isn’t on the way.”

“Dad, this doesn’t look good. People have asked me, What is up with your father? Is he alright? Is he—”

“Who? Who asked you?”

“Oh, no…”

“That’s what I thought.”

“You’ve done this tactic for years. Art critic doesn’t like your latest collection? Slam him. Your assistant didn’t have the coffee going at six-fifteen in the morning because she had to drive through four feet of snow? Worthless. The tree trimmer couldn’t complete his job because he fell forty, fifty feet? Don’t even call the ambulance, let him die of his own incompetence.”

“Rubbish…I wanna know who’s contacted you about my condition?”

“Tank Houtz.”

“I’m being stigmatized because of Tank—”

“Same shit, Dad. Same shit.”

“He’s a failure. Failures are ravaged by jealousy. They pursue those who are successful. Striving to destroy their credibility.”

“Dad, he’s one of your oldest friends. He takes walks to the river park every morning. And, every morning, you’re there, in the river, performing your ceremonies or whatever. He’s worried.”

“Do you remember how I, a simple woodworker, furniture maker—”

“Jesus, Dad…Will you stop with this passive-aggressive, persecution—”

“Remember how his renowned artist—acceptable for you?— bailed out old George The Tank Houtz… You remember that? He, the restauranteur who wanted to expand his dive bar empire? How did that work out, hmmm?”

“I know I know…”

“So, let’s just say, at this point in my life, fuck Houtzie.”

“Do you tell him that when you stop in at his place for a drink or two?”

He smirked. “Such things no longer have to be relayed.”

“Well, he wants me to relay that he is worried. And, I probably shouldn’t say this, but someone else is worried.”

He stares at me. 

Sips his coffee. 

Stares. 

Yawns. 

Sips his coffee.

“Are you gonna tell me or what? Now, you’re the one being melodramatic.”

“Becca. Becca thinks it’s strange.”

He replies with a dismissive grunt.

“Dad…”

“My assistant doesn’t have the maturity or the insight into human psychology to make such a determination.”

“I think Becca has become more than just your assistant.

“Yes, scrutinize your old man for all his foibles…”

I chuckle, exhaling frustration. “Look, I need you to listen, okay? Climb down from your crucifix. I get it, you have a lot, a lot of latitude to do whatever you want and people will call it artistic genius, but…this is not something you’ve ever done. You’ve never been religious, spiritual, hell, you’ve preached about the pollution levels in the river for years, but now, Dad…now, you’re blessing yourself with river water, and people wanna know what hell is going on.”

“Becca is very young, she doesn’t understand transformation. And, neither do you. The process of excavating yourself is intimidating and to outsiders, seems maddening.”

“Alright…I get it.”

He scoffs. “No, you don’t. Listen, I’ve taken a lot of things from this Earth. Maybe even stole. A great many trees converted into furniture, symbols, artistic statements, whatever you want to call them, but it made me a lot of money. Through all of that, I’ve never planted a goddamn thing. All I’ve done is taken taken taken and taken. Now, I must atone.”

I was unsure of his humility, the veracity of these unusual, blunt sentiments. “You’re repenting? Cleansing yourself of sins…?”

“No, I’m not falling to my knees in shame. That’s repenting. That’s your mother’s Catholicism. I’m not purifying. Even atoning isn’t the definitive term. I’m—I’m…” He stared down into his coffee mug. “I’m understanding a sense of selfishness and destruction.” He looked up, his lips crinkled with a rueful smile. “I need to apologize to Earth. We have a relationship, and I failed it. I have to understand I’m not just some random molecule of scientific evolution, so when I die, when I go, it allows me to finally leave. This has nothing to do with religion, spiritualism or some tree-huggers guide to environmentalism.”

“Oh-Oh-kay.”

“Son, you’re fifty years old. You’ve never pursued art or truth. All you have is a career. You better hurry up and understand—” His eyes glanced at his watch. “Christ, I’m late. A contingent of the smart and knowing from New York City will soon be descending upon my studio…” He stands from the kitchen table, his knuckles knocking against the wooden tabletop. “You know, your uncle Kevin, when he worked for me, drove to Maine to topple this guy. It was on my old agent’s property. He even had a name for it. Søren. Søren The Tree…”

My father frowned as he turned away, opening the kitchen door and stepping outside.


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