“The Confession” by Sarah Johnson
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. Kath has been keeping a secret that, once revealed, will mean everything about her life – her job, her relationships, and her status as a young woman – will change.
We present our Feature Story: “The Confession” by Sarah Johnson.
The funny thing is she doesn’t eat fish. Kath looks at the fish they catch – the salmon, salmon, and more salmon – not as food. It’s a product, a money-maker, their way of life.
And having been around fish her whole life, she can’t eat it and hasn’t since she was 10, when her mother died. That’s also when Kath’s father put her to work, pulling her away from their small Alaska town and taking her around on the boat every salmon season.
She stands over what must be the 15th millionth salmon she has sliced. She cuts through the fish’s belly. Its head gone, the fish now resembles chunks of orange flesh that someone will throw on top of a salad or a bagel with cream cheese. She can’t think about what the fish used to be or what it will become or she’ll get sick.
She drops the knife. There’s no denying the feeling she just had. This time, she can’t tell herself it was gas or her imagination. It was a kick, the thrust of a limb powerful enough that it could push a soccer ball across a field in one motion. “Damn it,” she says, backing away from the table to wipe her slimy hands on her apron and rest them on her knees as she bends over.
She’s so tired. While she gets help from the other crew members, she’s become, at age 23, second in command of this boat. She maps out where they will go. She manages the finances. And she keeps everything in order.
Most important, she keeps her father company. She’s amazed she’s gotten away with her secret for so long. Kath and her dad work side by side for hours at a time. They have long ago adopted a rhythm to the job, so they barely have to speak. Maybe that’s part of the reason he doesn’t have a clue.
Another reason: she has barely accepted it herself. She’s afraid he’s going to accuse her of doing it on purpose, of being a slut and too dumb to use protection. He wouldn’t actually say those words, but they might cross his mind.
While she hated being called the fish girl at school (and it was true, her jacket did often smell fishy) and she has always craved more stability, she’s afraid to leave him. He can’t afford to replace her, not now as competition has been driving his prices down, giving him little wiggle room to make anything resembling useful earnings. “It’s your quick hands that are keeping us afloat,” he says, laughing every time at his double entendre.
She wonders now, if she didn’t somehow will the birth control to fail. The condom must have had a hole or Andy didn’t put it on right. The facts don’t matter now. There’s something, someone, apparently, so hard to believe, who is growing inside her. Andy wants her to live with him, in his apartment, and she wonders if she’ll be able to fall asleep there, on a regular basis, on dry land, away from the lull of the water.
Mostly, she wonders how she can make a clean break. Her father has to realize she can’t live this way with a newborn, never mind a basketball belly. The work is too physical to do much longer.
She goes under deck to their living quarters. She pulls the apron over her head, crumples it and sets it on a chair.
Her dad is listening to the radio. She remembers when he was once the love of her life, the man who could do no wrong, the man who seemed to know everything about everything. Most of all, he was a hero for being a single dad, saddled with a young, stubborn girl. A fisherman without a male heir.
“Dad,” she says. “I have something I need to tell you.”
He smiles at her and motions her to sit. She sits and looks down at her lap, absentmindedly grazing her fingers along her abdomen, hoping for another kick, a nudge of encouragement. “I-”
The words won’t come out.
Her dad turns off the radio. “I was wondering when you were going to tell me,” he says.
She looks up. “You already know?”
“Of course. You can’t get anything by me, Kath. You know that.”
She stares at him, afraid of what he will say next. He surprises her. “You look different. I can’t say you have that glow they always talk about. You look at peace, as if this is what you’ve always wanted.”
Kath nods. “I didn’t know it’s what I want but I’m really happy, Dad, and I hope you can be happy for me too. I know I’m young, that Andy and I are both young. I don’t want to desert you. I don’t want you to be alone.”
He laughs. “You are giving me the best gift, another descendent of your mother. I’m going to miss you but I could never feel alone out here. This is where I belong.”
She feels tears coming on and blinks. She’s glad her father is understanding. But what’s making her cry at the moment is something more simple. She realizes she will never have to cut another salmon’s belly again.
Sarah Johnson is a freelance writer in Massachusetts. She can be found on Twitter
Tags: metro fiction, sarah johnson, short stories