Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2014    poetry    all issues


Cover Mia Funk

Bill Pippin

Chris Belden
The Finger

Amberle L. Husbands
Only Whistle Stops

Kyle A. Valenta
The Narrows

Robert Martin

Eileen Arthurs
Portrait of an Artist, After All

Gibson Monk
The Tenth Part of Desire

J. S. Simmons
Bodies In Motion and At Rest

Nancy Nguyen
Truck Stop

Melissa Ragsly
The Pigeons of Apartment 9C

KC Kirkley

B. Yvette Yun
Fire in the Sky

Katharine O’Flynn
The Island

Brent DeLanoy

Daniel C. Bryant
Out County Road

John Mort
Red Rock Valley

Zac Hill
Conversations With Dakota Fanning

Haley Norris
The Last Day

Writer's Site

B. Yvette Yun

Fire in the Sky

“Stay.” My father pulls me back to the railing. “Please.”

I hate leaving land. Flying, swimming, it is all the same: out of my hands.

The anchor rises, my vision bobs, and the dock slowly retreats. The wooden boards below my feet feel as if they are sliding out from under me.

I stay, but I feel like I’m moving without moving.

“See,” he says, pointing at our increasing distance from shore. “It’s not that bad.” He peers through his glasses and the gray mist. He takes a breath. His salt-and-pepper hair remains motionless despite the movement of the ship. He exhales, and then pulls me close with a stern pull of his arm.

Fresh seafood, an occasional stop along the Alaskan shore, taking photographs next to glaciers in the summer light: this was how he tried to persuade my mother.

“Like the honeymoon we never had,” he’d told her. The trip was meant to be for them.

“You know you’re getting old when you spend your vacation on a boat.” She backed out, but my father had already bought the tickets. So, I didn’t really have a choice. I couldn’t say no to my father. He changed the room request from a queen-sized bed to two twins.

My father’s arms don’t fit around me like they used to. He struggles to clasp his hand in front and squeezes me tightly.

“Come on,” he insists. “Take it in. It’s so fresh.”

“Sure,” I say, but I think not really. It’s more foggy than fresh, but for him I will always agree.

“The pine trees.” He takes a whiff of the cool air. “So alive.”

I pull away from the railing, but my father stands there staring at the blurry patch of land that is slowly getting smaller. Then he pulls up to the railing and leans over, his bottom half keeping his top half from going overboard.

“Come on, Dad,” I say, more like a parent than a daughter.

I watch him as if I am looking into a lens zooming out.

The ocean here is not like the ocean at home. The water is gray, not blue. It is calmer, though, and the ship glides to sea. Here, hurricanes are unheard of—not like in Hawaii when they come unexpectedly.

Like that morning during middle school when I woke up and school was cancelled. My father and I walked to the store to buy flashlights, batteries, and food. The air outside was so humid that his glasses fogged over and I couldn’t see his eyes. At the store, we had to share a shopping cart with two other families. The checkout line was an hour long. When we got home, we filled up the bathtubs with water. I climbed the ladder while my father held it. I taped X’s with thick masking tape on all the windows in our house. It didn’t help that our house was made of glass. It took four hours and two rolls of tape to finish the job.

So I guess the calm here is a relief. The water is unusually quiet, but too much calm like this makes me wonder when the storm will come. Still, my father likes places like this. Maybe traveling makes him feel alive, like he doesn’t have to worry and everything will happen as it should. But, he brings his medicine in bottles just in case his blood pressure goes up or his diabetes bothers him. He brings packets of sodium-free salt for his food. As for clothes, he already checked the weather forecast. Even though it is summer, the warmest time of the year here, he didn’t bring any shorts.

“Only high of seventy,” he told me.

Alaska is a strange place. The mountains here are dangerously jagged, but my father smiles when he says he misses palm trees.

For meals, my father and I have a seat at the window. Our waiter for the whole week is Andre. But he wants us to call him Andy.

“More American,” he says.

Andy is Polish and has bleach-like skin, light-blonde hair, and pale-blue eyes. He reminds me of my best friend from elementary school. Both their faces are like perfect circles. Andy smiles at me in a forward kind of way.

I glance over at my father whose smile turns into a frown. I think he worries that I am growing up too quickly. He wants time to slow down; I want it to speed up.

Andy serves us salad first. He asks if we would like salt or pepper, crossing both the long wooden shakers in his right hand. My father pulls out a small packet of sodium-free salt from his pants pocket and tells Andy he has his own. I ask for a little of both. Instead of attending to us as he adds them to my greens, he looks through the glass to the ocean, water like calm snakes. His eyes are fixed out there, mesmerized by nothing at all. I wonder how he can live on this ship for months. Doesn’t he miss solid earth? I imagine it’s a lot like waiting for rescue.

“This table is good to see whales,” Andy tells us. “Big tails.”

He stretches his arms wide to demonstrate, gazing outside.

“Really?” My father’s head tilts out to see in the same way as Andy’s. Both their eyes are wide, looking for a whale to breech. These are the same whales that travel thousands of miles to Hawaii in the summer. I’ve seen them a couple times by chance. I prefer not to look for whales, and I’d rather not confirm that we are cruising out to sea. I concentrate on my full wine-shaped glass of water in front of me, which is all the water I care to look at.

“I think I see one,” my father says, pointing. He turns to Andy and me. “Over there.”

“Yes!” Andy sounds excited, pointing in the same direction. “There.”

I still don’t look. I know I’ve already missed it. The whale—or whatever it is—has already sunk back, leaving no trace. Maybe just a splash of water or a temporary spread of ripples.

Bingo is for old people. Despite my opinion, my father and I sit on the Sun Deck at a table laid out with ten cards. Five cards per person is the limit. My father likes to press his luck. He’s a gambler: Las Vegas, lottery tickets, whatever he can get his hands on. Five years ago, when I was still in high school, he and Mom went on a trip to Vegas and left me at home alone. He won twenty thousand dollars pulling a slot machine. He called me that night and said he would buy me a car.

“Why not buy something for yourself?” I’d asked him.

“I don’t need anything,” he said.

So he bought me a red Pontiac Sunbird convertible. He handed me the keys and said my curfew days were over. I was free. My friends called it the Touristmobile because the only people that drove red Pontiac Sunbirds were tourists. My mother bought seat covers to prevent the car from getting dirty. The covers had pale pink flowers on them. She put them on the front and back seats. There were even matching pillowcases and a Kleenex box cover. The inside clashed with the outside, but that’s how my mom decorates nearly everything.

“Don’t drive over the speed limit. Always check your blind spot,” she told me.

In my head I was thinking, “Anything else, Mother?”

For a brief week, I drove in my personal garden of pansies. The covers made me carsick, and they “disappeared” a week later. Neither my mother nor father asked about them. They sold the Sunbird when I moved to the mainland for college. I miss that car.

The host begins the first Bingo game and this continues for an hour with no luck.

“Too bad your mother couldn’t be here,” my father remarks, putting his bingo cards into a neat line.

“She doesn’t like cruises,” I say. “You know that.”

He plays with his cards on the table to occupy himself, moving one ever so slightly and then putting it back into place. I notice his fingers have grown more wrinkles or maybe just more skin, drooping around his joints. His nails, too, have a yellow tint that I never noticed before. He just keeps to his cards.

When the time comes for the last “blackout” game for big money, my father only needs N-37. The host calls N-36 and there’s a “Bingo!” from a lady in the back. My father sits there in disbelief. His almost-winning card is full of red tokens except the one white spot above the middle star. The host confirms the lady’s bingo and my father sweeps the card clean of red.

Straight from Bon Voyage to dinner to Bingo and now to a musical gala in the main theater, my father walks like stiff scissors. His legs are straight drumsticks, pounding on the wooden floor left and right. His steps are quick, rhythmic, and strong like heartbeats. The pattern on the carpet below our feet is too symmetrical and I try to step only on the red hexagons. We wind around the Sun Deck outside by the pool to get to the elevator. The sun never sets in the summer so it’s bright even at night.

“Andy said sometimes you can see the Northern Lights,” my father remembers.

“Like fire in the sky,” Andy had said. “So beautiful.” Whales, the Northern Lights, I wonder what Andy doesn’t find beautiful.

My father stops at the railing, looking overboard, below, and then out into the distance. We stand there, silent for a long time. He peers out to sea while I look at the white water churning far below us. The fast sound of wind grazes my ears. A faint taste of salt reaches my lips.

“Did you see that?” he asks pointing at the horizon.

I look out, shake my head, and look down again. The water is black and uninviting.

“Never mind,” my father says, as we walk inside.

I notice my father’s thumbs when he drinks red wine. He drinks one glass every night. It is supposed to be good for the heart. He sips on his Merlot in the main theater. I notice his hand cradling the glass. His fingers are curved, shaping the cup. His hand moves the glass around so the red liquid whirls around inside. When he goes in for a sip, his fingers shift and his thumb presses tightly against the glass. His thumbs are quick to move. Once finished, he returns his hand into a cradle. Then he goes back to pressing his thumb, sipping.

His thumbs remind me of when I was his little girl and how we’d play our thumb wars.

“One, two, three, four, let’s have a thumb war,” I’d chant in my little girl voice.

Our fingers curled in together and our thumbs lapped over and over on top in convolutions. Even though his thumb was twice as big as mine, my father never let me win those games.

“You have to be faster, quicker,” he’d tell me.

I earned my victories, which were rare, but when I did I knew to savor them.

“Try this,” my father says, handing me his drink. His thumb is the last to touch the glass as he passes it into my hand.

I bring the glass to my lips, let the wine breathe in my mouth, my tongue swishes it one way, then the other. I do this not because I know how to distinguish one red wine from another, but because I want to show my father that I remember when he taught me how to taste wine properly. I swallow. He looks at me for a response. His face shows a rare calm.

“It’s good,” I tell him, and he smiles. The lights go down in the theater and the music starts playing from hidden speakers around us.

My father and I share a small cabin on the Promenade Deck. The maid pulled down the two twin beds for the night, making the room even smaller. The starched white sheets are folded over into a triangle pointing the way into bed. There’s a chocolate mint on the wrinkle-free pillow. I drop the mint into the ashtray on the small desk in the corner of the room, turn off the cabin light and tuck myself into bed. It is midnight but like dusk outside our watermelon-shaped window. There are no shades to block the light so the violet-blue sky glows through like a nightlight.

My father is in the bathroom. I hear him brush his teeth, clear his throat. I hear the shaking of his pill bottles, the water running, dripping down the drain. I listen to him gurgle and remember when he stood beside me at the kitchen sink when I lost my tooth. He watched me gurgle salt water until I stopped bleeding.

“But it stings,” I complained to him.

He said it always stings at first. He said the pain would be temporary.

Now, I hear his loud swallows with water. His swallowing sounds unusually hard, like there’s a large lump in his throat. It hurts just to hear it, so I imagine he hurts and wonder if that pain is temporary too. He comes out of the bathroom and falls into bed. I know that, in a few minutes, his breathing will be deep in the bed beside me. I know it will take me longer to fall asleep. Maybe the rhythm of his breaths so close, as if they were my own, will help.

“Your mother would have enjoyed this,” he says, nestling in.

“She would have.” I never asked how he felt about her not coming. She should have come. I know she was his first choice.

The glow from the window keeps me awake and just as I begin to feel sleep take over, I hear my father beside me shiver. He is cold and tossing in bed. His sheets rustle like palm fronds in a light trade wind. I don’t know what time it is when I hear nothing. He has stopped breathing and so have I. I wait to hear something. Maybe I wait for too long in anticipation. Then I hear him explode into fast monkey breaths. I look over at him in the dim light of the cabin. He is facing me on his side. I can see him clearly. His eyes, like quarter-moons, are slightly open and rolled back to show egg white. His lips are stretched long and flat, his nostrils flared. At first, his mouth pants out more air than it is taking in. Then, his quick breaths continue through his nose. It looks like he’s in the middle of a bad dream.

I flip around in my bed to turn away from him. Staring head on with the white wall, I listen carefully. His breaths have taken up an even faster pace.

“Dad?” I turn back around to face him through the cold room.

He doesn’t respond. His mouth is opened wide like the face a frightened child. He is panting sharply.

“Are you awake?” I get out of bed and bend down close to his mouth.

His breath is hot.

“Dad, wake up.”

He is still panting fast and heavy.

“What’s wrong?”

He doesn’t answer.

I pull the covers off him. He is tucked into a tight ball, his knees are bent up and both his arms are crossed over as if they are hugging the air between. I try to nudge him gently and make him lie down straight, but his body is in too stiff a curl. Then I shake him. I shake him first lightly and then so hard until it would seem impossible to sleep through the quake. I shake him and, still, he is tight and breathing hard like a bull. I run to turn on the cabin light and then return. His face, his arms and legs are pale yellow. His lips are a deep kind of purple. I rub his arms and legs; they’re covered in goose bumps. He begins to shiver and I shake his cold body hard.

“Wake up. Wake up. Wake up,” I plead.

Suddenly, his breathing stops and it is all too quiet. His eyes try to open. He blinks slowly once, then licks his lips. He comes to, looking at me with bloodshot eyes.

“What’s wrong? What happened? I’m cold.”

I call the doctor and my father is taken in a wheelchair in his white pajamas to the only emergency room on board. The nurse and doctor say I can’t go yet. There are tests. He needs to rest under supervision. They will call me. They cart him off. A gray wool blanket is thrown around my father’s shoulders, blending in with his gray-black hair. I see the cabin door come closing in and then the white paint of the door.

The next few hours are a blur.

Sitting by the phone and falling off into light dreams. My head bobbing to stay awake and looking at the reddening sky through the watermelon-shaped window. The phone ringing and then having to ask for directions to get to the emergency room. Walking in my sweatshirt through the cold hallway. Making wrong turns. Hearing the doctor say “Heart attack” as if it happens to people all the time. Holding my father’s white hand in the recovery room as we wait to hear what the next move would be. “I want you to stay on the ship,” he tells me. “Mom will take care of me in the hospital and you can come when the trip is over.” Shaking my head no, but knowing that I have to follow his instructions. Standing on the Sun Deck and seeing nothing but water all around, not a trace of ridged Alaskan mountains. The fast churning of helicopter blades and looking up. My hair lifting up on the ends. The stretcher emerging from the floating helicopter above. My father being tied tight to the stretcher, taking my hand as he begins to fly away saying, “Don’t worry about me.” Hearing people around me whisper. What happened? I don’t know. Anchorage. All the while, I’m thinking, Don’t go. Don’t leave me. Listening to the clicks of cameras and pictures being taken of my lone father suspended in mid-air. The wind moving him back and forth like a child on a swing. The helicopter door closing. Knowing my father is safe inside. Watching him fly off and the sky swallow him. I see nothing but clouds and no longer hear the chopping.

I imagine my mother is frantic by now, on her way to Anchorage. I too am sick with worry. I don’t want to stay on board, but the doctors said everything would be all right. There is nothing I can do anyway but wait. I am alone—stuck here on a massive boat, moving without moving.

I receive short notes from my father in the hospital:

Your mother is on her way.

My room has a big window that faces the water.

The doctor says I’ve improved.

Another glitch. Something called an angioplasty.

Your mother is here now.

Hours turn to days, days into a week. On my final full day, I look out over the water, wondering if I’m looking in my father’s direction in Anchorage. That night, I lean over the boat’s railing like my father had that first day. My bottom half keeps my top half from toppling in. Then, I look up, and I see a flickering of light on the horizon, deep red with greens and yellows, like someone took a paintbrush to the sky and swept across its canvas like a roller coaster.

A final note arrives on the morning of my disembarkation.

The first part is from my mother: Hurry to Anchorage.

The second part is from my father: I saw that fire in the sky. It was beautiful.

B. Yvette Yun’s work has appeared in Lost Magazine, Poetic Couture, 3 Elements Review, and Connotation Press, among others. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and is in her final year of a PhD program in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in England. She enjoys surfing and traveling. Visit her website at

Dotted Line