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I Am Santo

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Tom saw the leaf and said so before he could measure the odds of getting it. Floating in the river it was an Ark in God’s flood, somehow staying afloat despite divine wrath, enough of a surprise that Tom directed his boy’s attention to it. “Look at that, Nat!” he told the child sitting on his lap in their small kayak. The leaf was maroon, a first casualty of approaching autumn, and it stood in stark contrast to the water’s cast mirroring the cloud stained indigo above. Tom knew Nat would want the leaf immediately, so there was little surprise when the boy excitedly asked his father to get it. At that point they were alongside it, and Tom had to move fast – faster than he believed he could move – with his paddle to get under the leaf before it drifted. Steadying his weight in the kayak, afraid they’d capsize if he shifted too much, he reached out with the paddle as if it were another arm sprung from his own, and with this flat plastic palm came up delicately below the leaf. The timing perfect, balance steady, the paddle surfaced with the leaf stuck, red against mustard yellow. The boy bounced excitedly in his father’s lap as Tom nonchalantly plucked the treasure from the paddle and handed it to his son. Nat held it carefully. He wanted to keep it, just as he had wanted to keep the rocks they’d collected on their beach stops along the way, the green bucket tied to the top of kayak’s front half full with stones of interest. Tom told Nat he’d put it in a safe place and he delicately placed the leaf in the small pocket of their cooler. Nat watched wide-eyed, quiet. The boy seemed in awe of his dad’s agility, the surety with which Tom moved. Tom grinned, feeling sure of himself, feeling strong. He’d not had a dad that moved quick, not had any man present in his childhood for long. Being that man made him prouder than anything else. At home there was failure: the collapsed marriage, the shakey employment, the mounting debt. But here there was just the two of them, the river, the rocks and a red leaf Tom hoped his son would always think was caught by a great man. (at Red Leaf)

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