Out from work with nothing else to do, I start on the path home. I walk up to the platform that is wet with funk from the city. Boarding the train that came shrieking in, I sit down on the side seat facing a window. The train doors close and the electric conductor tells the passengers our next location. I’m alone on the train car. I look at the buildings reaching out toward the sky. The train squeaks and bumps along the rails, stopping every few minutes. I see my reflection in the window along with the fading skyline. I leave the present. I’m not here. I’m in Sedona.
I’m with my group of friends, Dirty Randy, Diago, Sage, and Caitlin. We’re in Dirty Randy’s GMC Jimmy. The spare tire holder on the back of his car says “BONES” in all capital letters that are connected. The funny part is if you look at it, the bone part looks fine but the S looks like a lowercase “r”. So we called it “The Boner”.
So Dirty Randy, Sage, Diago, Caitlin and I are in the Boner with my Dad going to the creek. Dad has never been to the creek before, and we decided to take him before he left.
I drove us there, piloting the Boner through the traffic of Main Street Sedona. Past the rust red mesas, past the overfunded high school, I drove past all signs of civilization. I came to a dirt road speckled with mesquite that smelled sweet and tangy. Three miles later on the dirt trail, I came to a hill with no guard rails and a 50 foot drop. We drove down the hill. Passing a wall of aspens on an old man’s land. A green field with trees and grass. The flowers were in bloom. They surrounded a brightly painted observatory with an aluminum dome. My Dad and friends were awake from the bumpy cliff drive. Dirty Randy stared at the observatory almost as if he was contemplating deep questions. He sighed and said:
“That dude really likes stars.”
“I think he jerks off to them,” Sage suggested.
“I think he stares at his neighbor’s bathroom,” Diago blurted out.
“Does everything with you guys have to be about sex?” asked Caitlin.
“You are in a car nicknamed the Boner and you ask that question?” I replied.
She rolled her beautiful green-grey eyes and went back to reading her book. My Dad looked at the building and said, “The guy is probably married and he’s looking for aliens to abduct him.”
All of us sat there for a moment and thought on my Dad’s theory. We nodded in agreement that my Dad was correct. Not Caitlin, she sighed and kept reading. We arrived at the creek. It’s hidden away from the rest of the world, in-between reddish pink mesas and past the house of a man with a field of trees, an observatory and a possibly bitchy wife.
Sage, Dirty Randy, Diago, and I grabbed all the stuff, and headed down the trail. Dad and Caitlin were behind us, she was helping my Dad with his oxygen tank. I carried their stuff. Along the path carved by our footprints from previous visits, we talked about life issues. We debated if we would have sex with a Klingon or a Borg. We weighed the issues of elf/ hobbit relations. We determined that an elf would only bang a hobbit if they had a foot fetish.
We arrived at our spot. Pink rocks surrounding us with a creek in-between. The breeze blew coolly, making the weather perfect. A pink slab of rock laid across the landing from where we are standing. It’s a nice place to splay out and tan.
We got situated. Towels laid out, sunscreen on the side, a cooler of beers for us. We got into our swimwear.
Dirty Randy is a huge man, and under the shirt was a mass of belly that was unhealthy but epic. Caitlin was taking off her clothes to reveal the bikini underneath. We all sneaked a peak. Diago didn’t take his shirt off. Native American machismo. Sage took off his shirt, and showed off his full back piece of a Japanese Poseidon God riding a horse made of water, all in Japanese styling. We all stared in awe. The same way we stared at Caitlin revealing her bikini.
“My body is a work of art,” Sage said.
“Then why do you have a zombie Old Dirty Bastard tattoo on your calf,” I asked.
“Art has imperfections too,” Sage said shrugging.
“That would be a sweet lampshade,” said my Dad.
“Roy if you want to turn my back into a lampshade after I die, I welcome you to it. That would be awesome,” said Sage.
“I’m gonna beat you there, Sage. You’ll have to give the lampshade rights to Jason,” my Dad said, letting out a good clean laugh before going into a coughing fit.
“Jason, please turn my back into a lampshade when I die. It will be how I live on, through my art.” Sage said in a joking plea.
My Dad still coughing.
“I will. I’ll give it to my kids, and my kids’ kids. Your work of Caucasian pseudo-Japanese art will live on forever.” Sage held out his hand. We shook on it.
Dirty Randy and Diago got right to it, being the fatter ones of the group. They hopped in the cold creek water to cool off. Randy and Diago then tried to convince Caitlin to dip her toe in the water. They grabbed her foot and pulled her in the freezing creek. She screamed. We all laughed. My Dad had another coughing fit.
Noon came, and the sun was high. Dirty Randy, Diago, Sage and I were relaxing across the stream that had a beach landing. We laid supine, occasionally looking up at the other end to see Caitlin in her bikini reading her book, and to see if my Dad was napping. Or dead. Sage looked at the sky, clouds mottling the blue. He sighed and said,“You know what dude, I gotta leave this fucking place. It’s a shit hole.”
“Yeah man, you gotta tell your family to stop leeching off your money too,” Dirty Randy said, pointing out an obvious truth we didn’t want to mention.
“Dude you gotta leave. If you don’t, your family will just shit on you till you’re dead inside,” Diago stated with his eyes closed, taking in the sun.
“I think you can let your family know you need time to yourself, Sage. I think you could tell your mom that you’ve already raised your brother and sister. She could do something too.” I said with my eyes on my Dad.
“I know dude. I know,” Sage sighed, looking at the water roll by.
“I can’t wait till I get out of my Dad’s house and get a respectable job,” confessed Dirty Randy.
“You know you could have done those things by now if you didn’t drop out of NAU,” said Diago.
“Yeah man,” Sage agreed, all three of us nodding our heads.
“You know what Diago, you make the most money here, and you’re still at your mom’s. What the fuck?” Dirty Randy mumbled in annoyance.
“Dude I don’t feel the need to be out of my mom’s house, I feel fine there.”
“You spend all your money on movie weapon props and Vikings jerseys,” I pointed out.
We all laughed. Except Diago, he nodded.
“Jason you know you could’ve done the same thing, you had that job at the hospita–”
“I got fired for surfing on stretchers,” I interrupted Diago.
“You still could’ve had the money to leave if you stayed with the fire department du–”
“I almost fell six stories because my crew was too busy making fun of me, instead of looking out for me–I quit when I realized I wasn’t safe.”
“Still, dude, you could’ve left after that radio station paid you for writing those bits for them,” Dirty Randy argued.
“I spent that money.”
“All of it? That was a fuck-ton of money, dude! What did you spend it on,” Sage asked.
My Dad woke up from his nap gasping for air. It was a coughing fit. The worst one yet. I didn’t answer Sage. I swam across the creek to help Dad with his breathing medication.
Diago opened his eyes, raised his head and looked at us across the creek, he shook his head and sighed,
They all looked across the way, seeing my Dad panic as his lips turned blue, struggling to get his mask on. I talked him through his breathing treatment. After my Dad’s coughing fit subsided Caitlin asked me if I was okay. She put her hand on my arm and looked at me. We locked eyes for what seemed like awhile. She quickly pulled back, blush rising. I gave her a quick nod as I turned toward my Dad.
My Dad didn’t want to go home yet. He told me to help him over to the creek. Caitlin and I got him over. He put his feet in the cold, clear creek water and stared at the sky and the trees.
“I’ll just stay here for a while,” He said “I’ll just stay here.”
After taking care of Dad’s coughing fit, I swam back to the guys across the way. We were now sitting up and staring at Dad. Dirty Randy and Diago put their hands on my shoulder and sighed. Sage handed me a beer. I took the can from him and nodded. Holding back tears, I cracked the beer open and said,
The sun started to wane. We decided to pack up and head back to the Boner. Dad was too tired to walk on his own so Dirty Randy and Diago helped him all the way back. Caitlin, Sage and I carried everything back to the car. We were all exhausted, and by the time Dirty Randy, Diago, and Dad came back. Sage and Caitlin had fallen asleep in the Boner. Dirty Randy and Diago got Dad in the front seat. Then they passed out in the back of the truck. I got in the driver’s seat and headed toward home.
We left at the perfect time to see the sunset as we drove through the forested canyon up the switchbacks to Flagstaff. CCR’s “Midnight Special” was playing on the radio. My Dad was looking at the orange and red sky in-between the 40 foot pine trees. He stared and took as deep of a breath as he could and said:
“Your friends are weird.”
Dad and I looked in the back of the car. Sage was bundled up in his towel, and his thumb was in his mouth. Diago and Dirty Randy were in the way back laying down, unintentionally spooning. Dirty Randy was the big spoon. I looked forward to the road and said,
“It’s good to know that you have such close friends. It makes me happy knowing that they’ll be here for you,” my Dad said, looking at the tall green pine trees.
“They are really my strange second family” I said, focusing on the road.
“You know, that Cait girl likes you. I can see it in the way she looks at you.”
My Dad said this with a hint of enthusiasm.
“Yeah? I like Caitlin too. What do you think of her, Dad?” I asked hoping he’d give me his unorthodox bit fatherly judgment of character. He looked back at her and saw her passed out on the other side of Sage. Her head was tilted back, mouth open, snoring. My Dad smirked and said:
“I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating crackers.”
“Neither would I. Think I have a chance with her?” I asked, laughing.
Dad got serious, he spoke:
“Don’t worry about those kinds of things, son. Everything will work out as it should. I can see it. You two will move away from this tiny place and finish college, working shitty jobs to pay rent. You won’t be rich, but you won’t care about the money. Like me and your Mom. You’re going to have so much to do. Oh man, you’ll finally get to be serious about your comedy! Caitlin will do whatever she wants to do too! You’ll be there for her. Don’t forget that son. You’ll always be there for her. And she will always be there for you, which is good. You’re going to need her to be there because sometimes you’ll be sad. You will be sad, because I’ll be gone. That will be fine too, son. It’s ok to be sad. You have to remember; if I’m not around–”
Dad stopped to take the trees in a little longer. He looked at the oxygen hose leading up to his nasal cannula.
“I won’t be in pain anymore,” he said putting his hand on my shoulder. “I won’t hurt no more”
I wanted to tell him I heard what he said. I wanted him to know that I didn’t want him to be in pain anymore. I wanted to tell him: I know. I will be fine because you raised me as well as anyone could.
Instead of saying those things, I kept my eyes on the road and said:
“I know, Dad. I know.”
He moved his hand back to his lap and stared at the sunset. The sunshine faded and the bright Flagstaff stars shone in. He fell asleep staring at the speckled night sky. I drove through the canyon and headed down the road that cut through the tall ancient trees.
Dad died seven months later. I don’t want to think about that now.
I’m near my stop. I get off the train and walk home down the dirty streets. I get to my apartment and open the fridge to grab a beer. I close the door and see a post-it note. It says:
“The wedding photographer called, got prices. XOXO!”
I look behind me and Caitlin is sleeping on the couch. I go over and cover her up with a throw blanket and sit next to her. I run my fingers through her hair.