What He Remembers
He remembers the chocolate that his grandmother handed him, how its soft underbelly melted on his tongue, how smooth it felt in his mouth. Then, the smell of pine and oak and the crisp air that felt cool in the back of his throat; his mom and brother hiking ahead, waving and smiling, his mom blowing kisses back towards him and his grandparents. After that, the three of them hiked slowly. He wanted to touch every tree, feel the bark beneath his fingers, the sticky sap on his palms. He held his grandmother’s hand as they walked. The trees swayed and cracked as the wind picked up and the clouds pressed together, low in the sky. They stopped again, his grandfather looking above while his grandmother gave him another piece of chocolate. This time, he held it in his hand until it melted and slid off into the leaves.
His grandfather picked him up, the steady rocking rhythm of his steps made his eyes feel heavy, his body loose. They headed back the way they came, towards the trailhead and the big map pulled across a piece of wood and the parked car. When the rain started, his grandmother wrapped him in a jacket. He could hear the clipped sound of the raindrops against the rocks on the trail, against the shell of the jacket around his body. He woke up in the dark warmth of the car as it started to hail. The chunks of ice popped against the windows, the sharp sound against the glass and the metal of the car like miniature fireworks. The clouds outside looked low and hungry, and when he pressed his hand to the window it left a perfect print of warmth on the glass.
His grandmother fed him granola bars, the wrappers falling like snow at his feet, the sticky granola clinging to his teeth. They found boxes of raisins, the skins cracked and in need of moisture like chapped lips. They tasted gritty and sour, and when he shook the boxes, they made loud thumping noises that reminded him of the thunder he could feel shaking the car. He walked back and forth across the backseat, pressing his nose against the windows on either side to look for his mother and brother, waiting for them to appear from the mouth of the trail, their cheeks reddened by the wind, their hair dripping with rain.
His grandmother sang to distract him, her voice off key. To make him laugh, she changed the words of his favorite songs. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” became “Twinkle, twinkle little car, how I wonder where you are.” Old McDonald went from having animals on his farm to owning a fruit stand – the plums went splat, and the strawberries whirred, and the pears bounced and banged. His grandfather checked his watch and tilted his chair back to take a nap, the sound of his snoring echoing in his teeth until he thought he could bite into it. The windows fogged up around them and the world outside became a cloudy blur.
A branch fell onto the top of the car, its dull thud waking up his grandfather and making his grandmother jump in her seat. His grandfather checked his watch again and looked at his grandmother with his eyes tight and his lips pressed together in a line. It looked like the thing his mom did whenever she was mad at him or reading something from a pile of mail. His grandmother shrugged and his grandfather adjusted his seat and said that if they didn’t move now, they would be stuck up there – the road down would be too wet and slippery for the tires to handle. His grandmother climbed into the backseat with him and buckled him into his car seat as his grandfather put the car into drive.
They drove down the steep incline of the mountain, the back tires spinning and spraying rocks whenever his grandfather accelerated. His grandmother gripped the side of his car seat. Her hands looked white and she had deep red crescents of skin under her fingernails. Whenever he looked at her, she would smile, but it never reached her eyes. His grandfather swerved to miss a branch that had fallen across the road, green leaves smashed into the rocks. When they reached the bottom, his grandmother let out a long sigh and unbuckled his car seat again, pulling him into her lap. The two of them watched his grandfather get out of the car and disappear into the sheets of rain, hood up and hands in his pockets. He sat in his grandmother’s lap sucking on a lollipop from the bottom of the backpack. It was dark, and he fell asleep again. When he woke up, they were still in the car, stars all around them, his mother and brother still out there.