“Almost As an Actual Daddy” from THE FAT KID by Jamie Iredell

In a wordless gesture, the fat kid’s daddy gifted the fat kid a watch, a watch his daddy said had been given him by a dying man. This watch, chainless, bandless, the fat kid kept inside his jeans or shorts pockets.

It was summer and the fat kid’s shorts rode up his thighs so that it looked like his ass was eating them, and the surface skin of the fat kid’s inner thighs rubbed raw and the fat kid walked the way one might walk had one a stick inserted into one’s rectum.

The fat kid’s daddy chafed too, but only in a metaphorical way, at his boy, his only-born, to whom he had not been much a father. But now, with the boy’s growth gaining, pushing him nearer adulthood, the fat kid’s daddy set upon the boy a proposal for an outing of angling upon the lake. The boy waddled behind his daddy on the dock that ran out to the pier and the boats upon the lake, and on which the pair intended to embark for this day of fishing. An attempt at bonding. A local high schooler passed the fat kid’s daddy then the fat kid, and the fat kid’s daddy heard the older kid say to the fat kid: You walk like you got a stick up your ass. The fat kid’s daddy could’ve stopped, turned, reprimanded the teen, reassured his son, but the fat kid’s daddy knew his kid was fat and could not be bothered to deal with this teenager’s insult, nor did the fat kid’s daddy really want to be associated with the fat kid in this teen’s eyes and so he pretended to not have heard the exchange.

The fat kid’s face reddened and he tried straightening up his walk, but the pain was too much and his shoulders slumped and he waddled on as the teen and his buddies stopped to watch the fat kid from behind and the fat kid suffered under their laughter.

The fat kid and his daddy came to the boats and the ladder that led down from the pier. The fat kid’s daddy took his son’s fishing pole from him. You’ll drop the goddamn thing in the water, he said. The fat kid’s daddy wore a fishing hat that hadn’t any lures affixed to it, for the fat kid’s daddy fished only beers from the bartenders at the bar, and was not much of a fisherman, though he liked to think of himself as one. He lowered the fat kid’s and his own fishing pole and a tacklebox to the boat’s skipper, a grizzled man who waited in the boat below. Then the fat kid’s daddy climbed down into the boat and tiny waves waved out from the disturbance of the fat kid’s daddy’s weight.

Already the fat kid was in a panic at the sight of the ladder and the thought of the descent to the boat. He turned around and lowered his tennis shoe to the first rung. His fingers shook. The other fisherpeople—those lined up behind the fat kid—waited patiently, watching the fat kid while the fat kid watched their own eyes. He rested his second shoe on the first rung and hung on. A woman shifted in her shoes. Bluejays were screeching somewhere onshore in the annoying way that they scream. Why could they not have gone on a blue jay killing instead? the fat kid wondered, the thought of his sharp aim and forest confidence adding to his anxiety. The fat kid sucked in a breath. He lowered his left foot to the next ladder rung. The woman nodded at the fat kid and said, That’s it, that’s the way. The fat kid shifted his fingers. They had loosened. His confidence surged. He dropped his right foot to the second rung and planted it there and he looked back, behind and below him at his father and the skipper both of whom stood in the boat, waiting. The fat kid’s daddy had crossed his arms. Come on, fat kid, he said. The woman laughed. The fat kid faced forward again, faced the woman and the others waiting, but she was not looking at the fat kid. Her sunglasses were turned to the man standing next to her and her teeth were white. She said, Did he just call him fat kid? The man’s teeth were a little more yellow and one of his canines covered the incisor next to it. The fat kid’s defiance pushed his leg down the ladder. That’s a boy, the man next to the woman said. You can do it. The woman’s toes tapped on the pier. Their tapping matched time with the bluejays’ screams: eeeeeeee! eeeeeeee! eeeeeeeee! When the fat kid lowered his right foot, his left tennis shoe slipped. He tried to grasp at the handrails and it seemed at first that he actually might catch them and save himself. At least this is how the fat kid remembered the moment in his adulthood. There was the ladder and handrail, and the handrail actually scraped against his knuckles as gravity pulled him toward Earth, but not toward earth, toward water, under which was earth, soaked mud and submerged rocks.

The cold water shocked the breath out of the fat kid. It closed over him and the light filtered through it and in that moment the fat kid admired its beauty, but soon he stood, for the water this close to shore came up to the fat kid’s chin. Drops dripped from the fat kid’s bangs and into his eyes and ran down his nose and he felt the heat of the blood that had risen to his face. The people on the pier stared down at him and the woman’s smile was growing until her laughter spilled out from her mouth like water boiling over the rim of a pot. Shit, said the fat kid’s daddy from the boat. He dropped his crossed arms in frustration and turned his back to the fat kid. The skipper was already leaning over the gunwale, and stretching out a hand. He said, Here, son, come up into the boat.

The fat kid took the man’s hand and the man tried to lift the fat kid. He said, Pull yourself up.

The fat kid had his other hand on the gunwale. He pushed his body partway out of the water, his tennis shoes kicking and splashing. His soaked T-shirt clung to his chunky belly. The laughter resounded. Come on, kid, the skipper said. I need you to help me by helping yourself. These were words the fat kid imagined fathers used, and the fat kid’s daddy might have used them, had he known how being a daddy felt. The fat kid had both hands on the gunwale now and the boat captain had his hands under the fat kid’s armpits. The two grunted. The fat kid could see the people shifting and laughing on the pier at the side of his vision, but he wouldn’t look directly at them. They groaned together, the skipper, the fat kid, and the spectators. Finally, the fat kid’s daddy turned back around and bent to help the skipper and together they heaved the fat kid up into the boat like a massive fresh fish.

The fat kid sat astride the boat’s center thwart, dripping and cold and whimpering, for his degradation was not yet over, he knew, with that dropping-inside-the-chest-feeling one gets when one has lost something precious, and the fat kid realized that his shorts’ pockets no longer held his watch. The fat kid’s tears fell to the boat’s floor and mingled with the lake’s water that had collected dripping from the fat kid and his clothing.

Jesus Christ, what now? said the fat kid’s daddy, hands on his hips and leaning over the fat kid. The woman with the sunglasses and white teeth and the man with the crooked yellow teeth, and the others that stood gathered on the pier were now descending the ladder the fat kid had fallen from to come into the boat and the thwarts were filling with asses and chuckles that were subsiding but still too audible for the fat kid who listened through his whimpering. But the fat kid said nothing, not because he would not, but because his sobbing prevented him from formulating words, though he tried, yet this prompted more chuckles and laughter from the crowd growing round the fat kid.

The fat kid said, It’s ma, it’s ma, it’s ma…

Good god, said the fat kid’s daddy. He put his hands into his pockets and looked around at the other passengers as if he had car trouble and needed someone with mechanical know-how.

I loss, I loss, I lost, blubbered the fat kid. He forced it out, the tears rolling down his cheeks and his eyes stinging: my watch…

Some of the other boat passengers patted the fat kid’s shoulders. They said, It’s okay, big guy, and, There there, don’t cry.

The fat kid’s daddy stood over the fat kid like a baseball game’s umpire. He seemed, at first, resigned to let his son cry and ruin his and everyone else’s day of fishing.

But there were these other folks. The woman in the sunglasses and the teeth, and her friend, partner, whatever-he-was, with his crooked and yellowed teeth, and the others who had gathered in the boat, all looking up at the fat kid’s daddy, saying with their eyes, What are you going to do about this situation? And the fat kid’s daddy did not want to do anything about the situation at all; he was content to let the fat kid cry it out. It would go away, the kid would stop crying, and he’d forget about the watch. The fat kid’s daddy knew the old watch, one meant to attach to a chain. He remembered the boy who’d starved to death, from whom the fat kid’s daddy had taken the piece, and another like it.

For the fat kid this watch was a talisman full of valuable information. And a gift from his own daddy, this man who’d somehow sired him, was a feeble attempt to begin some sort of relationship so late in life. The fat kid treasured nothing more. This watch gave the fat kid the day’s time, and, if he pressed certain combinations of tiny buttons that rimmed the brass frame that held the watch and its face together, he could record the amount of time it took, say, for him to walk home from the bus stop where the school bus let him out along the lake’s shores, to the house nestled in the pines under the shade of a rock that looked as if it had been painted many colors but it had not been painted at all; they were the natural colors of the geology of the region and those rocks’ exposure to the air. The fat kid also had a thing about the objects he’d obtained, a thing for keeping them, not letting them go or losing them. The fat kid did not know this at the time, for he was but fifteen years old, but this was the fat kid’s sentimentality, an emotion that waned and went away when tiny hairs sprouted on the fat kid’s balls. The fat kid kept scraps of paper: receipts from trips to the convenience store at the end of the road that led to his and his daddy’s house, movie theater tickets, a fragment of a letter written by someone the fat kid did not know to another person the fat kid also did not know, and on this piece of torn paper the fat kid found blown in the wind into a gutter were written the words “daily I think” looped out in an elegant hand. He kept coins found in his jeans’ pockets, the busted earpiece from a pair of eyeglasses the fat kid once found but were destroyed on a school fieldtrip to the bay in the lake, when the fat kid accidentally sat on the glasses after he’d left them gleaming on a rock in the sun, and this earpiece’s fellow eyeglass components tumbled into the water never to be seen or used by human eyes again. So the thought now that the fat kid’s watch lay somewhere on the lake bottom below him, just now, almost within reach, but obscured by the slight waves tossed against the shore and the pier and the boat’s leeward, out of the fat kid’s hands where it belonged, put the fat kid into his current crying state, which halted in wonder when the boat rocked and a splash brought the fat kid’s streaming eyes up.

The fat kid’s daddy’s shirt, shoes, and pants lay in a pile upon the boat’s floor and in the water in nothing but his boxers, the ice-cold mountain lake water goosebumping his skin, stood the fat kid’s daddy, then he disappeared under. Moments later, he surfaced. Hard to see down there, he stuttered, spitting, the water’s cold making his skin stand out red against his lips. Down again he went in search, and a few moments later he again surfaced.

The people waiting to depart on their day’s fishing trip sat patiently watching this, and none of them seemed to the fat kid disturbed over the delay in their departure; in fact, if anything, they sat amused at the display, at the antics of the two play’s players: the fat kid and the fat kid’s daddy. Finally, the skipper came up after lifting one of the boat’s seats that served also as the lid to a storage compartment, and he held out snorkeling goggles to the fat kid’s daddy. A few dives later, up came the fat kid’s daddy, the fat kid’s watch cradled in the cup of his palm, which he outstretched to the gunwale at the side where the fat kid sat hopeful, and the fat kid stretched out his palm and the watch fell into it, still ticking, with only a bead of water that seemed stuck underneath the glass face. And the fat kid’s wonder was full, even if a week later the watch would cease to tell time. And it would seem that time would cease again, years later, when the fat kid found himself looking through the sight of a rifle, sighting what appendages he could see of his victims as they scattered and dove and the smell of cordite filled the fat kid’s nostrils and the screams his ears. But at this exact moment, this moment today, on the boat, the fat kid watched his daddy hoist his body up out of the lake’s frigid water, over the gunwale and into the boat, and all this while the boat’s passengers clapped—actually clapped for the fat kid and his daddy—and it would be the performance of father-and-son-hood of their lives, for after this day, for nearly a month, the fat kid and his daddy would not speak one word to each other at all.


“Almost As an Actual Daddy” is an excerpt from The Fat Kid, available now from CCM.




Jamie Iredell is the author of five books, most recently The Fat Kid (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2018).

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