By Morgan Crooks
It is the only thing I bring of Dad’s, the only thing I can bring. Everything else is too dangerous for college or brings me too much grief. But this small white circle of cloth is different.
It is about the size of a half dollar, bearing a simple blue boat in front of a waterfall. I was proud of it once, sure it meant something to him. Then I showed it to my grandfather.
He took it from my hand, inspected it for a long moment, his face crinkled with some dry, kindling fury.
That night was Thanksgiving, the first time in many years we had gone to my paternal grandparents’ for the evening rather than my maternal side. The crowd was smaller, the food cooked by one person rather than several. I dug into cranberries as Dad stood to help ladle gravy onto each pale slice of meat. He gestured for Grandfather’s plate, tipping the spoon forward to let all that runny brown stuff spill out when he looked up at Dad and said, “No one’s forgot.”
Grandmother shot her husband a look. “Oh, you let him be.”
“I’ve let him be. I’ve let him be his entire goddamn life. I’m not going to hold my peace one more night.”
Color came to Dad’s face. “Say what you’re going to say.”
“You’re a coward. A piece of fabric isn’t going to change that. I don’t break bread with cowards.”
He got up with his dry turkey and ate his dinner in the living room, watching his beloved Orangemen.
Dad didn’t say another word the entire dinner and fumed during the car ride home. Before I went to bed, he sat me next to his desk.
“I want it back.”
He eyes did not shift from mine. I fished it out of my pocket and gave it over.
“You disappointed me.”
My eyes burned in shame. “I didn’t know what it meant.”
“I bought this when I reached the other side of the border. I was there three weeks before I came back. I changed my mind and enlisted. I couldn’t live with what he would think. But he already had his mind made up. You see that, don’t you?”
Later when mom asked him to leave, I found it in a box he left behind. Now I take it out and imagine him on that lonely ferry across the Niagara. I wonder which action was braver, crossing for this patch or wearing it on the way back.
Morgan Crooks grew up in the Finger Lakes of NY, a beautiful part of the country carved into being by indifferent glaciers. He lives now with his wife outside of Boston, teaching ancient history. Find him online @raponikoff on Twitter and on his personal website: ancientlogic.blogspot.com. About “The Ferry Back” he writes, “This is one of my shortest and most painful stories. While this is meant as fiction, the situation draws its conflict from personal experience: a war never truly ends, not within one lifetime or many.”