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A Hike
A Friend by Peter Izdebski I was like clay, so soft and yellow. I listened and followed because I didn't know that I could talk ... [917 words]

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A Hike
A short story.
[875 words]
Jennifer Winter
[February 2004]
A Hike
Jennifer Winter

“Hey kiddo, let’s go for a hike.”

“Yeah! Can Tawny come too?”

“Sure, that dog could use some exercise.”

They both knew the hike wasn’t about exercise. From the girl’s point of view, it was simply “Dad Time.” A polite way to remove Mom from their relationship. Mom wouldn’t have any interest in wandering aimlessly, examining road kill. From the man’s viewpoint, this was “Life Lesson Time.” He had specific ideals to impart, and a hike was the perfect way to bump into situations to present them.

They picked their way through the brambles in the ditch and scrambled up the hill to the Rail Road tracks. The hill was covered in purple iridescent rocks, coal & animal feed dropped from the trains. She couldn’t remember the first time they had done this. Still, that first small lesson was already implanted in her: You may have to scramble through some unpleasantness, to get, well, anywhere. She didn’t know she had learned this. It had just become a part of her.

When they reached the top, they took a breath and enjoyed the view. They could see the top of the house on the side they had come from and her school on the other side. They both looked smaller to her from this vantage point.

“Which way should we go today?”, she asked.

“Well, the wind is coming from the North”, he answered, waiting for her reaction. She headed to the North, having already learned this lesson: While you are fresh & strong, head into the wind. That will put the wind at your back, when you are tired, on the way home.

They walked in a comfortable silence to a bridge with a train trellis.

“That sure goes up high”, she said.

“You want to climb it?” he asked.

“Yeah, but . . . Naw, I’d probably fall & kill myself.”

“Aw, come on, don’t be a pansy. You think I’d let you fall?”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, she thought to herself. He was not known for being the most careful person in the world. She started to climb anyway, because she had now obtained a firm commitment from him. Lessons traded. He to she: Don’t be afraid. She to he: I need your reassurance.

When she was about ten feet up, she felt the vibrations of an ensuing train.

“Train!” she shouted.

“Come on down, I’ll get the dog,” he answered.

She slid down the trellis as fast as she could. He called the dog to him, and attached the leash they had brought along. He handed the leash to her and fumbled around in his pocket. When he found a coin, he placed it on the rail.

They stood on the rocks beside the tracks and enjoyed the enormous rumble. When the train had passed, they looked for the coin.

“Man! Look at that”, she whispered, turning the flattened coin over in her hand. He reminisced about having done this as a child himself. She couldn’t fathom this giant man ever having been a child in short pants with scabby knees. It just didn’t feel possible. They walked along the tracks for awhile longer, trying out extravagant words to describe the rocks. Iridescent, opaque, transparent, crystalline. Some of the words tasted rich in her mouth, some were thinner than air. Lesson: Words are powerful. More words equals, more power.

They spotted something dark up ahead in the middle of the cross bars.

“Raccoon. Do you think a train killed him?”, she asked.

“No. He was hunted down by something. He’s in good shape except for his belly.”

Bending down for a closer look she said, “Oh man, his guts are hanging out. That is just grotesque!”

“Grotesque”, he said, “ Very good word.” She smiled inwardly at the compliment. She had been waiting for a grotesque opportunity for two and a half days. She had used it on Mom while making liver for dinner the night before.

They walked for time until another train came by. They leashed the dog & waited for the train to pass. She had vague worries. She worried mildly about the dog getting hurt. Perhaps the train might tip over and crush them. They might be attacked by a wild band of whatever had eaten the raccoon. She swallowed the fears without much trouble because, ‘Don’t be afraid’ was a recurring lesson. She wondered at the difference between her parents. Mom’s messages were almost always centered around being careful and staying safe. Of course this was common to every mom she had ever met. But she wondered what other people’s dads advised. Later in life she would adopt the ‘Don’t be afraid’ outlook as her own, and surround herself with people from the ‘be careful’ school of thought. A life tribute to two wise people.

“How far do you think we’ve gone?”, this was as close as she would come to saying she was tired.

“I’d guess about two miles. We’d better head back now. The dog could probably use some water”, his gentle concession to her sore feet.

They turned toward home. On the way, they chattered about nothing and saw forgettable sights. Both unaware of what a busy afternoon it had been.



"Nice relationship displayed" -- craig steitz, Milwaukee, WI, 53214.


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© 2004 Jennifer Winter
February 2004

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