Finally we arrive. It’s just trees plus a parking lot. No, there’s a path. It’s about ten miles down this path to the lake and takes about eight hours to get there. About. I might be wrong, I lose track of stuff when I have to sit in the middle of the backseat since we left early this morning and it must be almost sunset now except the trees are too tall to see through. We’re going to look at a statue.
“Oh no!” Mom says suddenly and stops. Her face looks like someone gave her a painful pinch. I don’t see any snakes or any pricker bushes, but Dad looks upset, too.
“I have to go,” Mom says.
“Well, we’re halfway down, we can’t—”
“I can’t go here,” Mom says.
“What do you want to—?”
“I knew we should have stopped—but I can’t hold it like I usually can, the—” My mother looks at me, I look back at my mother. “—Puts pressure on the bladder, or the kidneys, it makes it impossible to judge—”
“I’m going exploring,” Lewis says. He’s in Boy scouts now, not cub scouts, and he goes looking all over for badges. They’re nice. I never found one myself.
“But, there’s no trail,” Dad points out.
“I’ll just go downhill, as long as I go downhill I have to come to the lake.”
“You stay on the trail,” Lewis’s command to Gary. A command to Gary though is like an extra special invitation.
Lewis sets off into the forest. Gary runs a few steps down and then he sets off into the forest.
See the way it works? Both my brothers disappear and Dad calls out and Lewis calls back and now all we can hear is twigs snapping.
But, for some secret reason, my father sounds like he wants them to go away. He keeps looking to see how far they’ve gone more like he wants to make sure they’ve gone far enough.
This is strange.
“Honey,” my mother says to Dad.
“But there isn’t any grass— ”
Dad looking around and looking frantic because Mom is looking at him and looking frantic. “It’s all forest—too close together—and nowhere I can see—”
“I kno-o-ow!” cries Mom.
“You’ll have to use the path.”
“I can’t do that—”
“Or you’ll just have to wait.”
“Ohhh!” I never heard my mother moan so much.
My father turns to me—“You go back up the trail, around that bend, until I tell you to stop. Then you look up the hill and don’t turn around—”
“But Daddy,” I whine. I don’t understand anything he’s just told me because I don’t understand any reason why.
“Just do it, and watch for people.”
“If you see someone coming you scream for me.”
“Scream for you—?”
“Can you do that?”
“Good. It’s very important. Go on, now—and remember, don’t look back but if you see someone coming you call for me. Okay?”
“Can I look back if someone’s coming and I call for you?”
“Go on, hurry—this is very important.”
I go up the path around the bend and look as hard as I can up the path and don’t see anyone and all I hear is my mother laughing down below.
I’m wondering how loud I can scream when suddenly I hear one of my brothers screaming. Snakes! I knew there were snakes! I run back to my father.
“Dad?” It was Lewis’s voice shouting, but it must be Gary doing the screaming.
“Okay—I can’t come for a minute—” Dad’s holding his jacket in front of my mother and my mother is crouching down like maybe she’s dropped her earring again.
“Dad, Gary’s being a monkey’s uncle!”
“Oh—ooooh! No! No! No!”
Then silence, like Lewis punched Gary in the mouth. A very mysterious sudden stop. Monkey’s uncle? What’s a—?
“I’ll be there in a minute,” Dad calls out. And my mother stands up sort of red in the face. “Where are you?” Dad calls again, cupping his hands saying each word slowly.
I’m so confused I start down the path again by myself. If all we’re supposed to do is go down this path to the lake how come—all the rest of this stuff?
Here’s my brothers—oh wow, Gary looks bad.
“It was quicksand!” Gary sobs.
“It was only two feet of mud,” Lewis explains it the right way.
“Something was grabbing my foot!” Gary sobs more.
“Probably a root, he got his foot twisted up in a root and then the numbskull wouldn’t point his foot. I told him to point his foot. When I pulled him out—that’s why he lost his shoe.”
“You’re all mud,” Mom says.
Then we reach the bottom and Dad dunks Gary in the lake—like a game but not upside down. While Lewis stands beside the statue with his camera out of its case and shiny. Lewis doesn’t say anything more about it but he smiles stiff—like when you smile to have your picture taken and then you wait and wait because the person taking the picture doesn’t take the picture, that kind of nasty-looking smile. His smile that means he’s right and Gary’s wrong but he doesn’t have to say anything to prove it as usual.
It’s a statue of three men with things. One, Dad says, is a crosscut saw. One of them has a pole and he’s poking a fake log with it. One of them has on a hat with earflaps like I used to wear in first grade. And they’re all kind of old and moldy-green-like. But this is what we came here for. To have our picture taken in front of.
“Okay, time to go back up.”
Mom is already figuring out where to stop to buy Gary a new shoe. “Maybe you’d like a pair of Indian moccasins?” Cheering him up because his ankle’s swollen and Dad is carrying him and setting him down and carrying him again up the hill. Ha! I’m the one who wanted moccasins but, “They’re so expensive—when you grow out of them so fast—”
And we’re going up the hill now and it’s still ten miles long about. Coming the other way are people, the first people other than us. A little girl, too, dragging behind the way I’m sort of dragging behind.
“Boy, we’re lucky,” I say. Of course, I mean we’re lucky that these people didn’t come before while Mom was squatting or Gary was screaming.
The little girl looks at me and stops. I shake my head. “I don’t mean you,” I explain, but she still thinks I’m telling her something.
“I’m not supposed to say—” I shrug. I don’t know what I’m not supposed to say. “I’m not supposed to say something,” I say.
“Hello, son,” the man in front of the little girl turns around. “Can you tell the little boy hello, Charlotte?”
Yank! Lewis has grabbed my arm, he’s pulling me up. Dad’s watching too, “He just means stay on the path,” Dad explains.
“This side,” I point. Yank! Yank! Lewis has almost knocked me down and pulled my arm off. “Other side’s wet.”
Very—hard—yank!! And my mother up ahead laughing like she’s got the hiccups.
Image: Wikimedia Commons