“They are not.”
Everything was greening. The tufts of grass on the sides of the car, now that the wheels had stopped moving, reminded her of ripening corn, aspirational, as if all was made possible, attainable, doable, by the sun on a day like this, and what had been a lowly, spiky throw rug, Nature’s weedy mohair, could make inroads upon noble and timeless harvest. Pluck me, it might have said. Or, bolder, I’m up for your scythe, try it.
The hill their car had crested atop and and now sat stationary upon was like a giant’s rounded, many-dimpled, shoulder where all of these people, whose progress as travelers had halted, for the time being, were gathered, turned into climbing, gamboling children, unsure of what to now do, temporary inhabitants of this sloped plateau by the giant’s neck, some whispering in his ear, others shouting, some happy, a number frustrated, Hallie happiest of all.
“We always hit traffic here, don’t we?” Still, this was more than he had seen in past years. “You don’t often come to a complete stop on country roads like this. What do we do now? What’s it been? Half hour?”
She wasn’t interested in time, save in how long it might last and keeping it lasting. People were leaving their cars. An older couple sat down on the tufts of grass like they were having a picnic, with a bag of donuts that Mrs. Sweetooth must have procured not too far back on a busier stretch of highway, as Mr. Nononsense locked in his focus on a large thermos of what Hallie and her father could smell, at ten paces, as charcoal-strong, pipe-declogging, black coffee.
“It smells like melted black licorice in the wind,” he said, window rolled down. He paused to consider further, add another detail to his nosing notes, as Hallie’s own nose scrunched in amusement. “Ah, yes, he concluded. “And wet road tar. Dash of Old Spice.”
She smiled at him. “Bet they’d share.”
“Nah, look at that old dude. Man like that thinks he needs every last drop, views the drinking of every last drop as part of a job well done, assignment completed. Duty.”
“How do you know?”
He volleyed her smile. “Because I’m the exact same way. Now you see what it means with all of those sips I’ve given you over the years. That’s right, from the heart, baby girl.”
He thumped his chest, twice, bringing his hand, softly, to the little penumbra of shadow thrown by her face on the dash of the car, as if, with her, he could feel sinew in refraction, and he wanted to test the old bonds once more. His eyes were points at the ends of a perforated line, like the edges at the top of a snack cracker box one has just started to open, as he scanned the curve and buckle of trees where the forest proper started some fifty yards away, a riband of cedars down wind, like a belt along the circumference of the giant’s irregularly-shaped waist, curd of fat here, lean strip of muscle there.
She wondered if her father’s waist had been that way, like the giant’s, and she wondered often. Dicey Declan or Declan Dicey was the name of the boy she had first been with on a pile of laundry in what her family always called the mud room.
He was an Irish painter in town for the summer, working a lot at Josh Prest’s house. She brought him ice coffees when he started work at six in the morning, pretending she was usually up then. That wasn’t his real full name, but it didn’t matter, and the Declan part was definitely in there somewhere. She got him his coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, DD, and she called him DD, too, in her thoughts.
When she played field hockey her coach said to her that no one had ever left the school a better player than the coach had been when she graduated. The coach was an alum. But Hallie could be the first. She could play for any Division I school she wanted, if she kept her focus, and she focused on him. She set records, doubled her own records, and when people in other states, at fancy tournaments, said, wait, are you the daughter of ____, she said yeah, yeah I am, and if she had been a really hard math problem that they finally understood how to solve, they would have said, oh, I get it now.
When she was small, she helped her father make paths in the woods for people to hike upon. Path-clearer. Maker of trails. Not when she was five, when she first learned what a pussy willow was—but when she was seven, ten, until the last few times, at thirteen, when she wasn’t small, but old enough to look back and comprehend how very different seven is from five, with more life years than time years packed into that intervallic squeak of the universe, a pealing roar of a lion for a child, inaudible to adults, save when adults look back and remember, yes, from five to seven is quite a different beast than forty-six to forty-eight.
“Unless what, dad?” she had asked, newly minted teen.
“Unless an adult is special enough to retain that capacity for wonder. When you’re older, you can tell me what that is like.”
“Don’t you know?”
“I think I do. But I would like to hear it from you.”
Her nose scrunched, then released, smooth skin again.
“I promise I will tell you,” she said, a degree of mock solemnity, larger one of truth.
“I will hold you to that promise,” he replied, kissing the top of her head.