I hoisted up a little and tried to look over the side of the cliff but there were just trees and black, and there was too much back and forth, so I sat back. I tried to pretend we were going into the Misty Mountains and there were goblins around us, but I felt dizzy and I stopped. We kept going and I couldn’t sleep, all I could do was sit there.
“You want to know what my dad did with me when I was little?”
“What?” We talked quietly because of my brother in the back.
“Nothing.” He laughed a little. “My dad was a son of a bitch.”
We were quiet for a while.
“Why do we go to Yosemite all the time?”
“We’ve only been a couple times. You don’t like it?”
“No, I do. I like the Ahwanee. But why do we go?”
“I guess because nature makes me feel good. And I want to spend time with you and Alex.”
“Because you love us?”
“Yeah, because I love you, and I’ve missed you.”
At the Ahwanee there was no one around. We parked and followed the footlights along the stone path. My dad carried Alex in one arm and his suitcase in his other hand. I followed with my heavy backpack. The lady at the desk gave my dad a card key and I followed his footsteps down the red carpet with the boxy Indian designs.
In the room, my dad lay Alex on one of the two beds and told me to get into my pajamas. He got some things from his suitcase and went into the bathroom, then the water started running. I took off my shoes and socks and jeans and put on my grey sweatpants and took my toothbrush into the bathroom. I was barefoot and the floor was cold. My dad was in his T-shirt, sitting on the toilet in the corner.
“You should knock.”
“Sorry, I heard water.”
“It’s OK. Brush your teeth.” I did and looked only at myself in the mirror. “There’s some toothpaste in my toiletry bag there.” The square black bag unzipped around the whole side and opened like a mouth. There were two grey Bic razors, a black-and-red can of shaving cream that said Barbasol, and a small white-and-green tube of toothpaste with a Roman column on it. The toothpaste was grainy on my brush and chalky in my mouth. If I looked at the border of the mirror I could see a slanted version of my dad wiping. He stayed on the seat and put the toilet paper between his legs. I always stood up to do it. He wiped for a long time and I mostly looked in my own eyes. Then he was behind me.
“If you brush like that you’re going to ruin your gums.”
“No I’m not.”
“Do it like this or you’re going to ruin your gums.” He took his brush and did strokes in only one direction at a time. Starting from the gums he went down on the top teeth and then up on the bottom teeth. My dad’s teeth were long and nice, except one was a little yellow. He also had heavy eyelids that made him look a little evil.
We went to bed. I lay in the bed with Alex but he didn’t wake up. My eyes got used to the dark and they wandered down the red band of Indian patterns at the top of the wall. The design was like one long zigzagging tunnel. The room was dark and quiet and full of bodies and I fell asleep.
In the morning we ate in the great hall. The walls were made of stone and there was a fire in the huge stone fireplace in the center. The pillars around the room were huge, made out of real trees.
“Pancakes are good for hiking,” my father said. “Try to eat all of them.” I tried. I had pancakes and orange juice and hot chocolate and Alex had French toast and hot chocolate and my father ate scrambled eggs and bacon and black coffee. It was all stuff that we didn’t usually eat; we usually had cereal at home. There were also little circular plastic jelly containers with pictures of fruit on them, dewy orange slices, a huge glistening strawberry, two raspberries, side by side, plump and wet. I didn’t have any toast because of the pancakes, but I lined the jellies up at the top of my plate. Five colorful circles.
“Alex only ate half of his French toast,” I said. Three halves of the French toast were soaked in a swamp of syrup.
“Why do I have to eat all my pancakes?”
“You don’t. But they’re good for energy. That’s what hikers do, they eat a bunch carbohydrates and your body keeps them inside as spare energy when you need it. If we’re going to go to Yosemite Falls, then you’ll need your energy.”
“Can we go down the waterfall?” said Alex.
“No, stupid, you’d die,” I said.
“Don’t say that. Yes, you would die. The waterfall is very powerful and there are rocks at the bottom. But every once in a while someone gets trapped in the current at the top and they go over by accident.”
“And they die?” said Alex.
“I don’t want to die,” said Alex.
“Everyone dies,” I said.
“I’m not going to.”
“You have to,” I said. “You’re going to freakin’ die.”
“Chris, stop.” My dad didn’t get loud but he took squeezed my hand and squeezed. “Alex,” he said to my brother. “You might have to die, but it will be OK.” Alex shook his head. “Dying isn’t bad, it’s just another trip. Like our trip here, to Yosemite. It’s like going to another Yosemite.”
Alex said, “I hate Yosemite and I hate dying.”
My dad was done with his eggs and had only half a piece of bacon left neatly at the side of his plate. He had put his knife and fork in the center to signal that he was finished. I put my knife and fork the same way on top of the last downy pancake.
My dad sipped his coffee then put the mug down and said, “I know you boys don’t like coming to Yosemite. But I think when you’re older you’ll appreciate it. I never had a place like this when I was young. And if you really don’t like it, we never need to come again. OK?”
“I want to never come again,” said Alex.
“I like Yosemite,” I said.
“You can go on the waterfall and die,” said Alex.
“Shut up,” I said. I mashed one of his French toasts with my thumb. Alex whined and it looked like he was going to cry.
“Alex, stop. Chris, stop.” We both sat still. “Listen.
“Neither of you is going to die for a very long time. I promise. And when you do, you can go anywhere you want. It doesn’t have to be Yosemite. It can be any place.”
“Round Table,” said Alex. He meant Round Table Pizza.
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