In the morning it looked like it had rained over night, and the mountains were socked in with clouds. I took a last walk to the river but there wasn’t much to see, and the dog wasn’t out. The dog was white, looked like a wolf the first time we saw it. But it had a decorative chain around its neck, implying it belonged to someone. The first night we got to the cabin it followed me down to the river—not in a cloying, begging way, but like it wanted company, like it was lonely. It had tipped ears and sad eyes, but looked healthy. I thought this dog could be my familiar, my ‘writer self,’ scrounging through garbage pails, pissing on shrubs.
In the night I imagined I was trying to cross a deep, gray river: the kind that’s running fast and you can’t tell how deep it goes. My dream narrator told me I hadn’t taken enough air when I went under and now I was going to drown. But I realized I was just thirsty, my lips were dry, so I took a drink of water and checked the time, 4 o’clock. We’d been at the cabin two nights and now it felt like we fit in. The leaning deck with its peeling paint, the sad woodpile picked over: rust-colored rainwater pooling in the wheelbarrow. Still, we were in the mountains and had managed to get away: just me and the kids for two nights, with no real plans.
We drove to the end of the mountain road, the parking lot turnaround surrounded by snow, snow in 10-foot walls along the winding road, ribbed, dirty looking, a 5 o’clock shadow of dirt and sand. And in the distance as far as you could see were just mountains, a patchwork of sun through broken clouds.
Lily was on her book and nervous about the drop-offs. Charlotte was in the back seat pale-looking and tired with bags under her eyes, on the edge of getting car sick. When we got to the parking lot I coaxed them out to just breathe in the air (5,000 feet!), but they refused, so I turned the car around and drove back down.
On the second day we started going stir-crazy in the cabin. It was small, which was OK, but there was only a handful of things to do. There was the walk down to the river, board games or cards…yard games outside, TV, the Kindle…possibly taking a shower, but you could only do that once a day.
I got Charlotte her family-sized Lucky Charms and she grazed on it like cattle feed. A couple of women next door were working on their cabin and had the power tools going well after dark. We played Stevie Nicks, Van Halen, AC/DC, and worse. And then we tried to agree on a movie but couldn’t, so Charlotte went off by herself to her room while Lily and I watched Indiana Jones, the first one. We made it until 11 and turned in.
When it was time to check out I got that familiar sadness at the end of a trip, not for the time but for what it represents. All those days had a number, like the Scrabble tiles we played, each with their own value.
The white dog barked at Charlotte when she tried to touch it—somehow I knew better and just nodded at him. We were like that too I guess, just passing through.