Brad’s friend Jim reminds me of a scarecrow that’s missing the stuffing around his waist he’s so thin, it makes his pants ride low, that’s the first thing you notice. The kids have gorged themselves on cheese puffs like the penguins of Madagasgar and the road looks like it’s part liquid it’s so hot, but as we climb the hill it disappears; it’s just the cars in front of us driving on water.
Lily’s $50 purple hair dye is coming out already just a week later from all the swimming: I’ve been experimenting with feeding them more line as a parent, to see what they will do with more responsibility. In the car, we practice a new theme of kindness and see how far that will go, what doors that will open. Everyone basically gets whatever they want: bubblegum, chips, large bottles of Gatorade.
I’m feeding them more line so when we get to Europe they can feel more responsible and perhaps I can use that to get more out of them, like help with the dishes and the laundry on a more substantial level.
So on the outskirts of Spokane I let them go into the gas mart on their own while I pump gas, but it’s a fringy part of town it feels, and a couple kids in a beat-up car pull up and idle there — the girl’s behind the wheel while the guy goes in and diddles around the energy drinks, but he’s taking longer than he should and doesn’t look like he’s high, instead he looks nervous, and the girl pulls around the pumps and sits there idling right by the entrance, so I go inside and get the kids out: they’re still screwing around with the bathroom key, trying to get it to work.
Charlotte’s been complaining of growing pains in her chest for a couple months now, so after taking her to the doctor twice we agree to just go to a cardiologist since we’re about to go off our American health care plan and onto Europe’s, and so I drive her into Seattle to a 20-story medical tower — and she has no idea what’s going on nor should she, she’s 7 — and neither do I, I suppose. There are all kinds of wisdom in this world I don’t want or need.
After the EKG and the ultrasound the doctor tells us she’s all fine and we talk about the mural on the wall that’s got a scarecrow and a cow with an orange tag in his ear, a rooster, some bails of hay like the ones we saw in Eastern Washington, and what does Charlotte think about the scene?
On the second day at the cabin I try to recreate the magic of the first waking up with the kids, but of course I can’t, so I lay there listening to the birds and realize I’m surrounded by wooden owls in the walls all watching me with funny looks — antique saws, a scythe, candlesticks and flat irons.
Since her braces, Charlotte’s started making strange mouth gestures I tease her about but adore: she purses her lips and cocks her chin out and kind of mouths the air like a goldfish or a bag woman who’s discovered her teeth for the first time.
The neighbors have a German Shepard pup but she can’t sit still, they need to have a role, a job, something to do — and I joke so does my mom’s friend Eberhard, maybe it’s a German thing, and I realize I’m doing the same now at my mother-in-law’s herding the kids, sometimes gently, sometimes less, barking commands in staccato, pacing with bursts of purpose and long stretches without.
I allow the kids to push back on my commands because I’m trying to teach them the art of negotiation, which I know nothing about. We ride in separate rows in our suburban with Lily in the middle and Charlotte in the back, passing chips and sweets from row to row relay style, the two of them sharing the hand-me-down Windows phone and the portable charger; each row has its own receptacle to keep our devices on full charge so we can encase ourselves in entertainment with no interruption, a portable, private movie theater, cut off from the savagery of our scenery and the distant wildfires, the scoured, blackened hills: and Charlotte’s lost in a video of herself she recorded on the drive out, narrating that it’s raining in the desert: and it’s like she’s just discovered nostalgia and why bother waiting, the moment’s already gone.
When we get back to Beth’s and settle in, the sun drops and we open the windows up — it’s like living on a boat, adjusting the sails, trying to coax a breeze, and it reminds you how connected we are to the land when it gets hot like this. And the mosquitoes back here in the city are different than the ones in the country, they’re so polite they ask permission before they bite.