FROM THE CANYON TO THE DRIVEWAY
by Eric Bosse
The woman's hands fluttered to her neck and plucked the straps of her top, which she tossed onto a rock with her shorts. Water curved around her skin as she stepped into the waterfall, and Ethan felt in his gut how savage he could be if he had the nerve to step from behind the scrub oak. She hummed as she showered, and he counted the sounds he could hear: one, the whistle of water as it churned the rocks and settled into the stream bed; two, crows screaming as they chased a hawk from a bluff; three, a jet plane and, four, the thrum of a prop plane; five, wind in the aspen leaves; six, his fingertips shuffling baseball cards in his pocket; seven, the chatter of insects; and eight, heavy footsteps approaching from above and behind.His father came stomping down the mountain. Ethan knew him by the stuttered rhythm of his walk. After a last glance at the woman, who was watching him now and covering her breasts and privates with her hands, Ethan scrambled up the rocks and cut to the trail as the old man slogged around a switchback and into view.
"There you are, pal," he said. "Didn't think I'd see you till I got back to the car."
"Nope," Ethan said. "I'm here."
His father wiped sweat from his neck with a bandana, blew his nose, and stuffed the rag into his pocket. "You got an answer for me?"
Ethan whizzed a flat stone at a pine tree. The stone glanced off a branch and sent a hail of needles rattling into the weeds.
"If nothing else, you got the old man's arm, his father said. "Hey, take your time, Ethan. It's a big decision. Answer when you're ready."
They walked, and Ethan took the lead.
"Okay, so, to pass the time," his father said, "behind the plate: Johnny Bench or Yogi Berra?"
"Pudge," Ethan said.
His father gave him a playful shove in the back. "Don't yank my chain, punk."
"Seriously," Ethan said over his shoulder. "Bench is what, like, eighty years old? And Berra's probably dead, right?"
"Yeah, yeah. Ha ha."
"Pudge hit.340 with twenty homers last year."
".340? No way in hell."
"Swear to god."
"Was your Mister Pudge ever voted MVP? I think not."
They went on like this for half an hour, with Ethan drafting from a pool of players whose faces would have meant nothing to him on the street or in a police line-up, and with his father cracking wise about Coors Field, steroids, and corked bats. At the trailhead, he cracked open a beer can and spun the car backwards, away from the green Saab that must have belonged to the woman at the waterfall.
"I know I said to take your time," Ethan's father said, "but I expect an answer before we get to the house."
Ethan settled into the cracked vinyl of the passenger seat and watched the strip of blue sky between the jagged edges of the treetops.
"What's the difference between a crow and a raven?" he asked.
His father tossed a butt out the window and adjusted the rear-view mirror. "Hell," he said. "Maybe ravens are bigger, and they've got kind of a mane of feathers around their necks."
They rolled out of the canyon into a jumble of streets and houses. Ethan's father switched on the radio and punched in the cigarette lighter. A few seconds later, it popped out and rolled over pebbles and note cards to rest against Ethan's shoe.
"Watch your foot," his father said.
"Bench," Ethan said. "I'd go with Bench."
This drew a chuckle and a pat on the shoulder.
At a stoplight, two girls with halter tops and mini-skirts that barely covered their asses crossed in front of the car. Ethan's father made a clicking sound with his mouth, revved the gas, and shut his eyes.
"What I wouldn't give to be sixteen again," he said. "What were you like?" Ethan asked.
"What do they say? Young, dumb, full of cum. And not nearly enough like you, kiddo."
Ethan reached across the stick shift, nestled his hand into the hollow of his father's neck, and counted sounds: one, two, three, four, and dozens more, all the way home.
In the driveway, his father pulled the E-brake and let the engine run.
Ethan shut his eyes. "Mom," he said. "But I promise to visit. A lot. Every weekend, maybe."
The old man's breath shuddered as it went down. He released the brake and jammed the stick into reverse, but held the clutch long enough for Ethan to climb out and shut the passenger door. Long enough for Ethan to walk around to the driver's side and peck his father on the cheek. Long enough for Ethan's mother to cook dinner and take his father a drumstick on a paper plate, for the sky to grow dark, and for the engine to sputter and stop.
Eric Bosse teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma and lives with his wife and two children in Norman. "From the Canyon to the Driveway" will be included the collection Magnificent Mistakes, forthcoming in 2010 from Ravenna Press. The book features stories published in The Sun, Mississippi Review, Zoetrope All-Story: Extra, Exquisite Corpse, and other journals. He blogs at Everything is Beautiful and Nothing Hurts.