We were just the two of us, like the old days.
It was like the days back when there was only one kid and I would take her in the backpack to walk the dogs down in the canyons or I would put her in the shopping cart at the fishing store and hand her a bobber to lay with while I picked out flies, dropped them in one of those little plastic cups they put your blue cheese in when you get hot-wings to go.
The skies were nasty yesterday, but we had our time together and we didn’t care.
We went to the backyard of the house we will be returning to soon, after so many months away from it/ after the fire kicked us out on our butts. There was some work do be done on the yard and we did some of it together: me raking up old dead grass into piles, her jumping into the piles and laughing.
But, before long it was lunch time.
I got out the bag her mom had packed us and we sat at the picnic table by the vegetable garden with no vegetables in it yet.
There were a lot of Zip-Locks to pull out. Mom wasn’t messing around.
We took turns taking them out, one by one, and announcing to each other what mini-treasure we’d uncovered.
“Goldfish crackers,” I told her as I laid them on the cedar table top.
“A pickle, Daddy!,” she told me.
“Saltines!,” I said.
“Yogurt!,” she fired back.
“And a spoon!,” she added, taking two turns in a row.
“Cheese.” I put the bag of white cheddar in front of her.
“Mmmmmmm, cheese.” She took a slice out and had a bite. I let that slide, even though we hadn’t really waved the green flag just yet.
“Cookies,” I blurted,” Two kinds! Chocolate and banana!”
“Dat’s not chocwat!” she demanded. “Dat’s vanellwa!”
“Hmph. Okay, that’s vanilla.” You can’t win those debates with a three year old. Even if the damn cookie is shaped exactly like a banana You just agree and move on.
“Look! Hummus!,” I crowed. “And a bottle of milk.” I was hungry and speeding the thing along now.
That familiar wide smile split her cheeks. It lit fifty fires in my guts.
“A pickle,” she told me. It was the same pickle we’d already counted, but the bag was empty now and she wanted to have the last word, I guess. Fine with me.
It wasn’t nice picnic weather at all. The cold winds had picked up and by the time we had the food out of the baggies/on top of the baggies, the rain was coming down. Still, we didn’t care at all.
I took a bite of pickle and held it in my dirty fingers like a fat cigar, pausing it by her cracker crumb lips. She snapped off a piece with her tiny teeth.
“Look Daddy,” she garbled through her full mouth. “I dipping cwackers in da hummis!”
“Oh good move, Boots,” I approved. I still call her ‘Boots’ a lot…after that monkey friend of Dora’s.
The food was as good as any I have ever had. Better than the big silver castle tray of raw steaks they bring you in that joint down in Ft. Worth, where they let you pick out your own slab while your drinking your booze and staring at the heads on the wall. It was better than the tacos on the street in Salt Lake. Better than any Brooklyn slice I ever had. Better than the lamb in Wales or the fish and chips at the ferry dock in Northern England or the snails in Paris or any of it, to be honest.
I peeled the silvery top off her yogurt and dropped her spoon down in the strawberry swamp. She loved it.
She dipped three goldfish at once in the Wal-mart hummus and fed them to me like I was some kind of a king. Which I was.
The rain came pouring down but we were under the tree and we stayed pretty dry. I handed her her milk in a Toy Story sippy cup. I watched as Buzz Lightyear floated up into the sky as she eased her head backwards and slowly tilted the drink to her hatch. I took some cheese and put it on a cracker and put it in my gob. It tasted like God’s private stash.
We got to the end, to the cookies. The wind blew hard as I stuffed each plastic baggie into the one that had held the pickle, double-tasking/trickling pickle juice down on to my cookie/certain that it wouldn’t matter/that it could not matter/that I was holding in my hand a bag of baggies and the greatest cookie that ever got made in the history of the entire world.
She was slugging milk, her shining eyeballs peering over her yellow plastic sippy top, watching me closely, when I laid that chocolate sponge of pickle juice on my tongue and let it ride.
It tasted like cheapo chocolate. And it was soggy. Bright flashbulbs of pickle threw themselves against the alley walls of my mouth. The whole thing just kind of collapsed down on my jaw in a hail of salty arrows and sweet sweet candy bullets.
I smiled at Violet, a real smile. My best mouthful of food smile.
And I swallowed the single greatest wad of food the world will probably ever know.
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