When I remember that trip, I see the glow of the Sterno under Dad’s chin; the way the light caught his eye sockets like childhood flashlight stories of monsters on the prowl.
Drew, Mom, and I used to gather firewood while Dad chopped. After Mom died, Drew and I would grab double our usual haul, sticks and kindling spilling from our arms and leaving a wooden trail. But on that trip, Dad could only get halfway through the first log before he had to stop. Drew waved me off when I tried to take the hatchet.
Or maybe what I remember most is after we finished our s’mores—my marshmallows of the barely-touched golden variety and Drew’s and Dad’s blackened beyond recognition. When Dad went to shut off the Sterno, it fell from his shaking hands and tumbled, down a hill and into a ravine, still lit, pilot light streaking flame onto errant branches, the only word Dad knew then being “fuck.” I remembered that only you can prevent forest fires.
Or maybe it’s how I slipped my concern in while the three of us peed on trees: Dad a captive audience, me insisting the clinical trials looked promising. That it wasn’t like it was when Mom passed. And the way he looked at me after he zipped up, like we’d just met and I’d insulted his mother. Eyes trailing over the burned-out hole where the Sterno was, after the rain drowned out the fire. The way he said he couldn’t waste away like her, his voice calm and quiet as if he were coaxing me to sleep.
Or Drew and I playing War with our old childhood deck. One of the Jokers in there with “oker” Sharpied out to stand in for a Jack long since lost. Eating scrambled eggs with our hands out of plastic cups notched for alcohol: mine a shot and his a full cup. Me amassing a pile of Drew’s cards and Drew watching the way the cardinals dip in and out of view, under pine boughs and into the light of the morning. How Drew said he gives up. How I said he couldn’t, that we’d see the game through to the end.
Or even the damn fishing. Dad going bobberless because he wants to “feel it,” me using one and reminding Drew of the time we discovered that Poké Balls were just a ripoff of these things. How we used to turn every caught fish into a Goldeen, or a Gyarados if we were lucky. How Dad would sit for hours, his only sustenance watching the pull of his line across the water. And the way I kept asking Dad if we were through, with “just a minute” as his go-to for the next hour. Me swiping through my feed so I didn’t have to see him hunched over on a rock, chest caving in on itself. How Drew kept casting out with him.
Or his smile when he brought the sturgeon to shore, like his composite parts had been scattered and only this fish could return them, could put them back together again.
Or the way he goaded me to get in the frame for a pic outside the bait shop. How we all needed to get a hand under it. To feel the weight of this thing together.