"Catch anything good?"
I look over my shoulder only briefly at the man who's dropped to a crouch beside me; he's smiling hesitantly, shoulders hunched. It's a smile full of inarticulate masculinity, a fear-grimace he wears when he realizes he can't dance around whatever embarrassingly emotional topic is about to come up. The smile is worse, in a lot of ways, than any of his snarls or grimaces. I look back at the sea.
The pause is awkward and long and noisy, the sighs of the waves competing with the pounding of the blood in my ears. At last he laughs, hoarse, uncomfortable. "Don't mind if I talk to you, right? Not many times better than when you're fishing."
I try not to grit my teeth; I'm already talking, just not to you. But it's pointless to pick a fight that I can't win, so I just nod, eyes on the coral-colored shoreline across the inlet.
I hear him shift his weight to stretch his legs out next to mine, letting the warm water lap against his feet. I can see them in the periphery of my vision, those big, bruised-purple feet, the toenails yellowed and overgrown.
"I'm going north, you know, with the Warsong. Did your mother tell you yet?" He doesn't wait for a reply, going on in a tone of affected bravery, "Going to see if I can't bring back some honor for you two, or failing that, a couple of zombie skulls." He laughs again, gratingly.
I still don't answer, concentrating on the gold and orange reflecting off the waves and the deep green of the distant island trees, filling my mind with the image to keep out visions of far-off, snow-dusted fortresses with crimson banners above and rivulets of leaking blood below.
And then, sounding like he's almost as reluctant to say it as I am to hear it, "I want to tell you something."
He waits, though I'm not sure for what. I'm his captive here; I can't stop him. At last, slow and just short of agonized: "I know I've given you a hard time about… things," and he tugs on the hem of my skirt; I try not to cringe too much from the uninvited contact. "But you know, at the end of the day, all that stuff isn't so important. It's more important that--" and he chokes here. Perhaps on the notion of feelings, or respect, or I-don't-know-what.
It takes him some time to recover, but when he does, his voice is clear and determined. "I just want you to know, Djan, that no matter what happens and no matter what you do, you'll always be my son."
My chest tightens, my head starting to swim. I turn my head away. "I know," I hear myself say, throat strained: Please, no more.
He lingers too long, his presence making me nauseous, but eventually he stands. "Catch a big one for us, Djan," he says, or at least he says something like that; I just nod, eager for the heavy footsteps that take him away.
He doesn't realize how well I already know. He doesn't, and neither do all the others who feel compelled to chime with their criticism of the dramata in front of them, the tableaux of madness they can't even begin to understand and yet about which they still must express their opinions. None of them, no one in the whole lot of those self-styled experts, nobody realizes – I know.
I know that no matter what happens, no matter what I do, that's what I'll always be, in his heart, in his eyes.