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Martin Cozza

In Which My Father Instructs Me in Maleness Just Before His Early Death

We are on a family vacation, staying at a mountain lodge beside a lake. Before bed, my father goes out for a stroll in the dark, and I tag along. We follow a winding path to the lake, which opens before us, surrounded by mountains that give a coliseum effect. In the moonlight we see a pier with boats tied up for the night, and out on the lake a few more boats, constellations of lights with reflections bleeding down. My father pulls a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and lights one.

He inhales, sighs, and points toward the pier. He seems tired. "Those boats with the poles sticking up are all sailboats," he says. I haven’t asked, but I want to know. "The pole is called the mast. It's what they tie the sail onto. And that one way out there is a houseboat. It's like a house, on a boat. And those low ones are all speedboats." He goes on, and by the time he is done I am most impressed by the pontoon boat, because of the amazing word, pontoon. Still, today, I work it into conversations just to hear myself say pontoon.

We turn back to the lodge and I bump into his hand, and the tip of his cigarette, still glowing in the night air, burns me on the arm. "Ow," I complain.

"Watch yourself," he says. He doesn't bend down to look, he doesn't lick his fingertip and rub it on the burn, he doesn't take my arm in his hands and kiss it. He doesn't say he is sorry. He says, "Watch yourself," one time, then keeps going, takes a last drag on the cigarette and flicks the butt. I am standing still, holding my arm up, presenting it to him. The sting isn't going away.

Martin Cozza's fiction has appeared in Colorado Review, Missouri Review, Columbia, Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere and has been honored as a selection for Best American Fantasy and as a 'Distinguished Story' in Best American Short Stories 2011. He lives in Minneapolis with his family.