Well, there was that time Sadie ‘bout died, and Grandpa with her. Did I already tell y’all this one? You got any more of them little peppers left? I didn’t eat ‘em all. Hand me the chips, then.
Anyway, did you ever even know Sadie? Well, she had beautiful wavy black hair and brown eyes—but not dark brown. More of a nut brown. I don’t know what kinda nut, you moron. Stop interrupting. Be useful and put another log on.
Nut brown eyes. If she was suspicious you were up to somethin’, she lowered her eyelids halfway, like this, and then she’d quit smiling. Otherwise, her eyes said everything she couldn’t and she smiled almost all the time. Even when she was old, she had really white teeth. She didn’t smile when she was eating though. She’d just eat and look around her. It was cute, but made her look pretty stupid. Not the eating, that didn’t look stupid. But smiling all the dang time. Grandpa practically worshiped her, though. She was the second after Granny went to be with the Lord. The one right after Granny ran off on him, I think two months after he first brought her home. Anyway. Very sad. There’s some cold ones in the cooler on the roof rack, Blake.
So, anyway, I guess I was 12 or 13. I remember I didn’t have a boyfriend yet, so… What? You smartass. “Any age between 0 and 35.” I’m gonna smack you. Ha! You crack me up. So, 13 I think. After that year, I think I resented those trips a little, I’m ashamed to say. I was so self-centered. All I could think of later was whether my friends were doing something fun and if they were getting used to not having me around. It makes me want to cry now when I think about what it probably meant to Grandpa, and me just thinkin’ ‘bout myself. Okay. I’m sorry. I miss him so much.
Sadie and Grandpa were both gettin’ on up in years, I remember, but Grandpa was still pretty spry and Sadie had good joints, just needed rests a little more often. We had all hiked the West Ridge Falls trail that afternoon. I was learnin’ to cook still then. Don’t say it, Travis, or you’ll get hot hot-dog fork in your eye. Don’t test me. I’m serious. You obviously ain’t goin’ hungry, Shoog, so I must be doin’ something right.
But, so, we had finished supper and I had all these s’mores ingredients laid out on foil for us to assemble. That’s the best way, so the marshmallow doesn’t get cold before it melts the chocolate. We were talkin’ and I was roasting the marshmallows to perfection for us. You know, when they get that tree bark look to ‘em? With the white goo on the inside and the toast-colored ridges on the outside? I would get ‘em like that, then I’d flatten them out in between the graham crackers so they looked like puffy 3” discs. Then, I’d pull one graham cracker off and put the chocolate on the marshmallow to melt. If you do it all at once, you end up cracking the graham cracker and chocolate in two while you’re trying to press the marshmallow down.
So, I had all the ingredients ready to receive my flattened marshmallows, and we were just eatin’ and talking, not payin’ attention to anything or anyone else. Just fireglow on our faces and the pines above us, graham cracker crunches on our breaths and love in our hearts. All three of us, basking in each others’ love, when I first consciously noticed. Yes, I’ll take another. Thanks, Sweetie.
We were just chatting away and I was about to assemble another s’more and I saw that all the ingredients I had gotten ready were gone. I knew I hadn’t seen Grandpa get up from his camp chair, but I hadn’t really been paying attention to Sadie for a few minutes. She’s usually so unobtrusive, just there in the background or by Grandpa’s side, smiling her permagrin smile. I started to panic when I couldn’t find her. Grandpa was droning on about outdated triple option something or other, and how he had wrote his representative about outlawing the use of chop-blocks in this state or something. Yeah! You remember that speech, too? It was one of his favorites with a couple of bourbons in him.
I asked him where Sadie was and he stopped cold, looking like death. He sat so still, staring at me. “All the s’mores stuff is gone,” I told him. He let his head and eyes roll around, with his hand on his temple like he had a headache. “She has an eating disorder, Missy” he whispered. “We’ve been through this before, but now she’s a lot older.” He wasn’t just exasperated, his face was losing color and his eyes pinballed around the campsite, searching for his sweetheart. I hadn’t been worried at first, but watching his reaction made my hands shake and my mouth go dry. “Sadie!” he hollered, then listened. We looked at each other suddenly, then, again, “Sadie! Sadie!?” I didn’t understand his urgency, still, but he shouted her name as if he were one of them preachers that still believes hell awaits the unrepentant. Burt, shut up, or I’ll send you to hell, right now. Sit back down. It wasn’t funny at the time. His face skin flipped from white to red and back again as he struggled out his chair. I was just irritated because I wanted more s’mores at first, but then I began to feel beads breaking out in my hairline just like he had all over his face.
We both heard it again, about twenty yards away. “She must have gone out to puke—or—otherwise relieve herself,” he said, hoping the noise was her, but heading to the Jeep for his rifle anyway. Then we heard a birthing cow, a crowing rooster and a 300 pound bullfrog all at the same time, and lasting about ten solid seconds. No, Darryl, you dipshee-yit, I didn’t clock it.
Twigs began snapping and a sound like leaves being kicked around sped toward us out of the darkness and Grandpa cocked and shouted “Sadie!?” a few octaves higher, running out of breath fast. Oh, yes ma’am, I’d like another one. Just mustard ketchup and co’slaw, please. No, ma’am. Thank you. Your Mom’s so awesome, Travis.
Sadie crashed into the campsite out of the brush, sort of run-stumbling sideways, but her nut-brown eyes looking straight ahead and wide open so I saw more white than usual. Her tongue dripped at the corner of her mouth. When she got close to the fire a low rumble-hum noise somehow came out of her mouth without it moving. Grandpa said, “Rabies,” and raised the rifle shaking to his shoulder. He was fighting sobs. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I froze for a second, then, I leapt front of the barrel shouting “No! No! Don’t shoot!” As I did this, Sadie turned her head as far back as she could and started leaping backwards with spastic apparently involuntary hops, then the 300 pound bullfrog sound came out from somewhere out of her again. I’m not even sure which end it escaped. “There’s no foam, Grandpa,” I panted, “You always said foam came around the mouth. And she ain’t acting aggressive. Just super weird.” He started to lower his rifle. “Isn’t there always foam with rabies?”
“We gotta get her to the doctor,” he said. Sadie had collapsed on her side, and was twitching. Her head faced forward, but her nut-brown eyes were turned towards the ground still wide open. We both got her into the back of the Jeep and headed out of the campground and onto 52 towards Dawsonville, but half a mile down the road, the road was washed out by the swollen creek (it had been raining like crazy that May). I looked at Grandpa as his eyes themselves swoll up with the rain of the heart. Thank you, Cindy. I have written a few poems, actually. You’re so sweet to say so.
Grandpa thought it would be too far and take too long to try and get around the wash-out by going back towards Jasper. Sadie looked just awful. Wild-eyed, moving her head back and forth like an assembly line robot or something. “We gotta get the canoe off the roof.” We hopped out. “Undo the straps, Missy” he whispered to me while struggling to get Sadie into his old worn out arms. I forgot he was my Grandpa, and saw the 20 year old stormer of foreign beaches again, rescuing dear fallen comrades. He was transformed. In spirit, if not exactly in body. (Thank you, Cindy!)
It was just a two-man hard plastic canoe, but I still dropped it accidentally onto the pavement. He barely flinched at the sound, just eye-slapping me a little with a brief cut of his eyes, closely followed by an eyes-apology. “Sorry, I know you’re a little small yet to be getting that by yourself” the apologizing eyes said. Sadie had stopped moving at all, and simply stared. Not at nothing, exactly, but at nothing we could see. Grandpa held her life in his hands as if it were skin thin crystal, as we climbed into the boat. She lay serenely in the bottom. Eyes staring. Now moving back and forth, and up and down, but her body rested relaxed and still, not tense or stiff. Occasionally a low weak growl or a little whimper escaped her mouth, which now was back to its usual smile.
We took turns at the oars once in the creek. Neither of us were very strong. “This’ll intersect with 136 in a couple of miles,” he said. The adrenaline rush slowed for me, and the oars on the boat rowed as if the water was molasses. It seemed like hours before we got to 136 and out of the creek. Grandpa had me flag down a car. Not sure why. Oh, Daryl, I was even prettier then, you can be sure of that. Anyway, we got in and Grandpa gave the stranger the name of the doctor and where he thought he remembered the office being.
Grandpa moaned a little and I just sat tensed up, listening to Sadie’s erratic breathing, and praying fervently. I had never prayed for Sadie before and I felt guilty. Why don’t we pray for our loved ones all the time, and not just when they are sick or dying? What’s wrong with us? I had prayed for Grandpa before, but never Sadie. Oo-ooh, that smells so good! Yes, ma’am, I’ll wrap it up here.
Anyway, I felt the warm rush of hope flood through me as I (thank you, Cindy! You are too sweet to me) as I saw the sign, “Will Baldwin, DVM” with a kitty cat and a doggy smiling back at me. We pulled in and Grandpa rushed Sadie inside while I gave the stranger who drove us the $1.53 in my pocket and thanked him profusely. When I ran in Grandpa was with Doc Baldwin in the examining room, and horrible gurgling noises were—what? Oh, yes ma’am. So, long story short—shut up, Travis—Sadie had wandered into the woods to throw up after eatin’ all them marshmallows, and after throwin’ up she saw some more. So she thought. After pumpin’ it good, Doc Baldwin found some half-eaten’ Psilocybe cubensis in her little doggy belly. (Magic Shrooms, Daryl.) She’ll never be the same. She done ‘sperienced another plane of consciousness. She broke on through to the other side, as they say. Yes, ma’am, I’d love some puh-tatuh salad.
The RA-1 pack stands between us, drab and inert. Time is short. Distance is shorter and shortening by the second. The decrease in both is at once slow and blindingly fast. I will die before I budge, though, and they all know it. Eight harness rings tremble and reflect an unrecognizable collage of clouds, metal, sky, and gear all swirling around stoic faces in tense conflict. The Ripstop pack sets off the bright red ripcord, symbolizing both danger and salvation. We can all see it on the floor in our periphery, but no one’s eyes move away from mine.
Burning oil mingled with fear and sweat perfumes the cabin. These are my friends, though I feel I barely know them still. Their eyes search my own, and their eyes my own search right back. Nervous, afraid and resolute. I have a family and so do they. I can feel my wife’s hair in my face and smell her Avalon Mint shampoo mingled with slight perspiration and the Meyer’s fabric softener on our sheets. My children… My God, my children. I can’t walk through a room without being attacked by joyful little warriors and princesses. Eight blue eyes, truer than blue, to them I am God, and I suck at it. Such sweet battle, tussled hair and hugs-too-hard being the only casualties. So different than this damn war. My widowed mother who is sick and dying, and her long letters of encouragement and advice on finances and child-rearing I still need. The last $100 Visa card she sent in my rucksack, $43.87 still on it. I checked before the mission this morning. I wanted to get a plain cheeseburger when I got back.
Not a man in here doesn’t have the same thoughts, though. A little variation, but different not in substance. Jim’s wife has blond hair, and they don’t have children. But he has an 11 year old 3-legged dog that once saved his life in a bear attack. It still tries to jump on its beloved master when he walks in the door, falling on its face over and over again. His father is losing his mind to Alzheimer’s. Kendrick has no wife, because his died when a log truck ran her off a cliff, and now he and his step-Mom raise his three children. One has Down’s. Paul is his parent’s only son, and has his whole life in front of him, and is too young and hopeful in spite of himself. His bright brown eyes possess the hope of humanity and the corners of his mouth go impossibly close to the corners of his eyes when he sees a friend he hasn’t seen in a while. A scar curves off the left corner, though, where a protester’s bottle met its mark during a military parade. He never broke ranks.
Every one of us would do the same, but I drew first. I will not take it. The rumble of the straining fuselage deafens, even as the engine whines and the rush of wind pounds our eardrums. Words are pointless, even if we could hear them. I will shoot, and they know it. I will not take it. Jim and Paul lose their bacon, eggs, grits and coffee, the g-force in our stomachs is so strong. I will not take it.
Someone counted wrong when they put the chutes in. It happens. Kendrick bows his head a little in a gesture of gratitude and respect. Then jumps.
“Sam,” Paul begins. My Colt thunders my reply past his left ear. A hole in the fuselage makes no difference now. I back away from it further, buckling myself into the farthest jumpseat. There’s no way I could get it on in time, now. I hold up a peace sign with my left hand. Jim knocks Paul over the head, straps the pack onto him and rolls him to the edge. As he recovers from the stun, Jim rolls him out, praying he’ll fully wake up in time to pull the cord.
He turns to me, and I lower my gun and salute. He salutes back and I don’t see him again. I held the salute the rest of the way.
“You need to ask again, Jack,” The thrasher double phrases In the tree outside, still she keeps on harping. “I don’t deserve it. I work slow, my nose ain’t brown I’m not as smart, sales are down.” Cindy, come around. Laces tied, gig line set, coffee poured, laptop slung. “Please ask again. I can’t live like this.” Out the door. My Dad would be ashamed to live in a house Closer to seven figures than six, thirty foot foyer, And his wealth exceeded mine and the tastes of his Wife receded those of mine. Bless her heart. Dear old Mom, frugal soul, but still Mema Thought her lavish. My Mercedes is a C-Class. The gate closes beyond my trunk, the guard greets Fred behind me. Cindy notes his Mercedes is an S-Class. I turn and join the ants of cars, carrying ten thousand times— Is that it? Maybe a hundred thousand times—my body weight In fret. I don’t have an exoskeleton. I’m flesh, My heart has ears and words pierce deep. Defenseless woman? Frail? Most men die of heart disease, thousand years and running. Steel and glass solace me more than should My field of thorns. “Ask again, Jack.” We lack No needed thing, but she needs wanted things more. And ask I must for fear of what awaits Behind the bustling wreath on my front door. It cost six hundred I saw the florist’s bill. “Mr. Bigg, got a minute?” “No, and the answer is no.” She stays in bed longer today, which is fine. I prefer to talk to Bobby, anyway. We horse around. You too will not be enough for a pretty girl someday, I almost say. He’ll know sooner than I want to think. Beer and sports are nice comforts, though. Beer and sports. Even now, I wish I could somehow. Somehow prevail. Somehow impress. Be enough. Have enough. See the unfaked smile. Fred’s ahead today, with that S-Class on his ass To rub it in. Guard, gate, go already, you sonofabitch. He turns back once through, but I move on. His rung is higher, mine remains at the level Where you cannot be late. Someone behind me Never has been late and never would be. I turn and join the ants of cars. Right on time. Stop and go stay in line hands to yourself do your time, Click and clack along the track you can’t go back. Can’t go back. In time but high above a circling hawk Laughs his shrieking laugh. I imagine. With uprolled window. I can see. He circles me. We look like prey, God, I pray another way may I find today? A course on which to alternate? I exit early, reenter on the other side. Jack is back. My heart beats fast as through my door I spring, To great my boy my wife my rib my love my joy. I’ve seen a vision, from above. Hello? Little dove? A vision of life rethought, rekindled love, close to earth, Hon? Growing things and being free, soaring high, you and I, Untethered from the grind and hopeless marching to ends so bleak. Silence. Bobby’s gone, and so is Cindy. “Dear Jack.” It begins. Fred traded up, and Cindy too. Bobby and Jack were just standers-by Jack went back, and out altogether, with mule and collards Organic chickens in two houses. Bobby has more toys now. Till death Jack did not part from chicks or garden tilled, at peace, If not quite happy. Lonely. Free after a fashion, to ignore the fashion. He ate his own food. Died. Left to Bobby a hundred acres, free and clear. Bobby cleared and built an upscale PUD upon it.