Four wild turkeys explode out of a thicket of twisty weed and I watch them soar downhill with the lake as their backdrop, and all the towns below. My older dog Max emerges from over there smiling at me like a massive dork.
You see that Boss?!!!? His eyes ask the question with glint.
Milo The Terrible emerges from some other scrub brush. He didn't see no turkeys. He didn't see shit. He's got deer hair on his back, matted and mixed in with his jet blackness, and I can tell by that and the putrid scent he carries with him like a Blackberry: that he's been dry-humping a dead deer off in the woods again.
The turkeys are gone. Evaporated into the ether.
I bounce the backpack a little bit and feel my daughter's tiny sneakers tap my rib-sides.
"Hey Violet," I say. "What would you rather be when you grow up: a bottle of soda or a hundred pound clam?"
She unleashes a babble of immensity. "Beepbab beel billap eeeeeeeeeeeeee suba suba suba."
"Uh-huh," I say. "So you'd rather be a big clam, huh?....Interesting"
I spot Max disappear into a thicket a quarter mile out. Milo stands ten feet in front of me watching Max. I sense his bummed-out-ness. He wants action, animals to chase and all, but why the hell does it have to be so much work? His legs quiver like he is about to just let loose: take off and join his bro down in the ravine of birds. But he never does. He never can find the inspiration, I guess. He has a huge fat heart. Maybe he really doesn't wanna chase birds. Maybe he doesn't like to scare stuff. Maybe quails and pheasants scare him; who knows.
Violet continues to talk Martian Thai. Its a cartoon language with roller-coaster dips and side creeks and hills that your tongue can somersault down; down through tufts of nonsensical crabgrass. Every sentence sounds like a little question a field mouse might ask the stars in the sky some clear evening. Every word is a lispy treat.
"Mama, when you grow up would you rather be an eighteen-wheeler truck running the highways or a steak burrito?"
"Peeees a beb sepa sepa seees a sepa eeeeeeeeeeeeee bessa bessa!"
"Seriously? You'd rather be a burrito?!" I let a few seconds go by, thinking about that. "Ok. Cool," I say.
We wander through the spring grass, along the gnarled toes of the giant mountain. I keep one eye out for fat rattlers that look like old sticks. Max and Milo meet up somewheres up ahead of us. I see them doubled back on the trail, waiting to spot me. Making sure I haven't snuck off and abandoned their asses to a certain death by some peckish buzzard. Or some pissed-off raccoon.
"Beebathabatha beeee metha metha batha!?"
"When you grow up what would you rather be: a major league baseball or a baby dragon?"
Silence. Wind blows warm dust made of Indian bones and dead apples.
No answer. Hmph.
I take out the little sassy hand mirror I keep in the pocket of the filthy Carhartts I wear every single day of my life; like Inman walking home from the war, past the fields and the farms, in just the pants on his ass. I arrange the thing out in front of me, turning it....ever so slightly....THERE!: there she is. She's smiling big, her tiny white teeth all spread out in her sweet pink gums. Her eyes are glowing. She feels me looking. She isn't answering the question. Just smiling. She knows Daddy's eyes have found her back there. She knows she's in his mirror, right now, right here, on this big old hill.
I smile and move the small mirror around so maybe she can catch a glimpse of me grinning, but I doubt it.
"I'll venture a wild guess, Little Mama. You wanna be a baby dragon, huh?"
She kicks at my ribs. I giddyup toward the trail down the steep hill. The trail home.
"Violet," I say as we begin our descent. "When you grow up would you rather be Patrick Star from SpongeBob or a piece of fresh peach pie?"
And so it goes.