A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep (Early May 2019)
They walked briskly from the gallery. Carrie opened the rear hatch of her black Explorer, and Jacob put his pack in. Then, still perplexed about his grimy appearance, she asked, “Don’t you want to change out of that dirty shirt, maybe rinse off?”
He tapped his crusty hat on the pavement a few times. “Na. I can do that when we get to Milagro.”
“Suit yourself,” she said and shut the hatch. “With the road to El Portal still blocked by the rockfall, it’ll be almost two hours.”
“I know. My truck is still parked by the mess. I hope.”
They got in the vehicle. Jacob turned toward her and held her hand. “Thanks so much for coming. I’ve really missed you.”
Carrie kissed him and pulled onto the valley loop road, passing a cyclist. She looked over at Jacob. “How do you feel about your presentation?”
“Pretty good. Ron liked it, and I’ve been accepted.”
Carrie high-fived him. “Congrats.”
“Yeh. I’m stoked. A dream long sought.”
“Happy belated birthday. The big 6-0. I can’t believe I’m sleeping with such an old man.”
“Hey, I’m not nearly as old as people my age.”
They rode in silence as the Explorer climbed out of the Valley toward a vast meadow at Wawona. Carrie looked over at him and moved her lips, about to speak, but hesitated. A few minutes later, she asked, “Back at the gallery… What was that stuff about darkness?”
“Just some shit in the past. No point in thinking about it now. I just want to relax with you. Enjoy our time.”
“Jake, if you do want to talk about it, I can go there with you.”
“Thanks,” he said, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. “Are you cool if I take a nap?”
“That’s fine. Hey, I love you.”
Jacob slept most of the two-hour detour. But at one point, he was talking in his sleep. “Stayner fooled me. I should have seen through him. I should have seen through him!”
When he woke up, they were approaching Mariposa. “Babe, can you pull into the store up on the right? I’m gonna grab some snacks.”
He returned with one bag loaded with cashews, crackers, and cheeses. The other made the sound of glass bottles rattling. “Feel like some wine?” he asked.
“Sure! But wait… In the six months I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you drink.”
“ I just don’t think about it that much. Plus, I try to avoid sugars if possible. But let’s let loose a little. Celebrate.”
“Sounds great,” Carrie said. “We both could use some of that.”
When they got back on the road, Carrie again tried to get him talking. “You sounded pretty shaken this morning about the rockfall.”
“It was pretty surreal.”
She waited for more, but he was quiet. “How was your time up on Sentinel Dome yesterday?”
“Productive. I got interrupted by a couple of crazy women, but then I ended up with some good shots of the sunset and El Cap.”
As they passed through El Portal, Jacob said, “My truck’s just a little further.” A few seconds later, they came upon a bunch of emergency vehicles and the pile of granite. Carrie pulled off the road behind Jacob’s dusty truck.
Pointing to the pile, he said, “There it is—the beast that tried to kill me.” He stepped out of the Explorer, then leaned back in and looked at her. “But it was not my time… See you at the campground. Site # 35.”
Back at Milagro, Jacob headed into the shower and invited Carrie in.
“I’ll come in once you deal with the mud and sweat.”
After he closed the shower door, she threw off her clothes and stood by the foggy glass. Seconds later, he opened the door again and showed her how clean he was. She entered the steam.
When they got out, they dried off quickly and shed their towels. Carrie followed Jacob to the mirror, where he wiped off the condensation and shaved his neck. She came up close behind him, and they looked at each other in the mirror. Reaching around him, she stroked his chin with her right hand, motioning her other hand downward as if it were a razor. “If you had this little beard when I met you, I would have passed you by. What drew me was your face.”
“That’s funny,” he said. “I was so embarrassed that day by my naked face. I always have been.”
She pulled his hair back and held it up off his neck. “You had this tail tucked away that day too. You’re a handsome man. Be careful, or I’ll chop this thing off while you sleep.”
“Oh Delila, would you take Sampson’s strength?” He turned her toward him and caressed her face. “I appreciate your playfulness.”
They got dressed, and Jacob put on another hat—his old lime green and yellow Oakland A’s ballcap. He took a bottle of Cabernet, two glasses, and a block of smoked cheddar to the table outside, then lit a fire and called for pizza. Carrie opened an outside compartment in Milagro and brought out two blue canvas camp chairs. She set the chairs side by side and they sat. Jacob gave them each a generous pour of the vino.
“Cheers,” he said and toasted her. “I love this place. And to be here with you. I’m close to happy… So, how was your assignment up north?”
“Very good. My shots of the Redwoods and the fog turned out so well.” She pulled out her phone and showed him some of the images. “My client wants me back for more.”
“That’s great. Your work is stunning. As are you.”
“Thank you,” Carrie said, leaning toward him in her chair and reaching for his hand. “Have you given any more thought to us moving in together?”
“That could be really great, but can we discuss it in the Fall? By then I’ll know if the gallery is going to extend my gig.”
She let go of his hand and sat back in her chair. “I don’t know why we can’t live together even without knowing all that. I won’t get in your way. I’ll be doing my work, too. But we’d have a home base.”
“OK, I’m open to it. We’d have a lot of fun.” Jacob said as he got up and stoked the fire. “But, can we discuss it tomorrow?” He walked behind Carrie and touched her shoulders. “I just so much want to be in the moment, no plans, no deep stuff.” He moved in front of her and knelt. “Is that OK? I promise I’ll hear all your ideas tomorrow.”
“OK. You got a deal,” she said and hugged him. “But don’t put me off.”
The pizza came as it was getting dark, and Jacob fetched another bottle of wine. He took out his phone and checked the news while they ate. “I want to see if there’s an update on the wildfire up by Big Oak Flat.”
When they finished the meal, he brought the bottle over to Carrie. “More wine?”
“You know,” he said as he took a big sip, “The other people in the gallery program, their work is shit. And those assholes critiqued me! All they care about are negative ruminations about the rape of nature. And if it’s not about that, it’s damn near impossible to understand what they’re sayin’. To hell with them!”
Carrie was quiet and crossed her arms.
He continued to raise his voice and rant about the other artists.
“Jake, Babe, I thought you wanted to relax.”
“I am! I relax by being real.”
“Were you hurt by the comments?”
“Hell no! I’m just pissed that such amateurs are allowed in the program!”
They were each quiet and avoided eye contact. Jacob poured more wine and drank it fast. After another pause, he said, “I’m sorry… to vent so much.”
Carrie reached for his hand. “Jake, it’s OK. You’ve had a lot of stress for one day.”
“Maybe so, but I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”
“Do you want a massage?”
“I would,” he said and finished his wine.
When they went into the Airstream, Jacob opened another bottle of wine, poured them each a glass, and took off his shirt.
“Go ahead,” Carrie said. “Lay on the bed.” She moved his hair out of the way and worked his back. She told him he had nice muscles “for a sixty-year-old.” She took off his hat and stroked the balding part of his head.
He began to reach under her shirt. “Are you ready for your massage?”
“I am,” she said and took off her shirt and bra. “You’re overdressed, dude!” she said, then took off her shorts. “I’ll be right back,” she said and went into the bathroom.
Jacob fell asleep for a few seconds but was startled when Carrie came out of the bathroom, her face flush and tight. “I see you keep your porn out in the open now!” she yelled as she held out the faded polaroid snapshot. “Who the hell is she? Is this some young whore you hook up with?”
Carrie tried to tear the photo, then threw it at him. She reached for her clothes and hurriedly dressed.
“Carrie, wait a minute. Calm down. I’m not sleeping with her.”
She sat at the kitchen table to put on her shoes, “Earlier, I also saw your realtor paper sitting here. You obviously have a lot of secrets!”
She stood up and walked close to him. “Look at me.” She began to point at him. “You’re a cold man sometimes. You shut me out of your life, and yet…” She rammed her pointing finger into his chest. “And you expect me to be on call to provide you a piece of ass so you can go back to your lonely cave.”
“Damn,” Jacob shot back. “The wine really gave you some big balls!”
“Don’t shift the focus back to me. Self-righteous prick.”
“Are you done?”
“No! Yes. I’m not staying here tonight.” Carrie stormed out. He followed her past the smoldering fire, pleading. Not looking back, she hopped in her Explorer. The tires screeched as she turned west on the El Portal Rd.
Jacob stood in the darkness watching the taillights disappear. The river roared. He pissed on the fire and went inside.
He sat in the kitchen and poured a shot of whiskey from the bottle he’d hidden from Carrie. On the floor was the bent photo Carrie threw at him.He picked it up. On the back was handwriting, “Denver. 5th Anniversary.”
He sat the at kitchen table and laid his head down next to the locked wooden chest. He soon passed out, then was awakened about an hour later by a call—Scarlett. She informed him that their father was indeed dying. “I verified it with Ruth and with Tommy.”
“How does Tommy know?”
“He’s working for Dad. Fixing the barn, cutting grass, stuff like that. Brother, you sound like shit. I thought you were off the sauce.”
Jacob grimaced and got up to get a bottle of water from the ice chest. He took a long swig.
“Bro? Are you there?” his sister asked.
“Scarlett, I got a strong sense last time we talked that you hate Dad.”
“You hate him, too! At least I’m honest. You’re an ass-kisser. Always have been.”
He was initially speechless. “I don’t hate him. We just don’t share anything in common. He’s into his business and church stuff.”
“If you gave a shit, you wouldn’t have let ten years go by.”
“It’s Smoke Valley I’m avoiding, not Dad. Greg Germain mostly. I failed in public; at least that’s what people think.”
“Stop with the self-pity, bro.”
“OK,” he said and walked outside in the dark to pace. “I’ve gotten off track. Here’s the bottom line: yes, I want an inheritance. I will hit the road tomorrow. But don’t tell anyone I’m coming. In case I change my mind. I’ll call Dad soon. I’ll call him tomorrow, yeah, and let him know I’m on the way.”
“I can float you some money if you need it.”
“I may need that. I went into debt on a place here.”
The following morning, Jacob called Ron and explained the situation. “I’ve got a family emergency. I’ll be gone a couple of weeks.” He called Carrie, but it went to voicemail, so he texted her, apologizing and finally letting her know about his father. No response. On the way out of El Portal, he stopped to see Angie at the realtor’s office and put down a deposit for the storefront. “I’ll be back.”
Jacob’s plan was to camp just outside of Las Vegas that evening after a quick stop at the slots. He took the high-country road out of Yosemite, stopping at Olmstead Point, where he could have a last look at the Valley from above. Half Dome was visible from “behind.” He parked across several spaces so he could slip out easily with Milagro attached now. He took a walk along the scattered boulders. Suddenly, he jumped up on a flat-topped slab of granite. Looking at Half-Dome, he pointed and screamed, “Tissiak, you can’t destroy me!”
Jacob arrived in Vegas around 4:00 PM. He’d always had a rigid habit of spending $50 and leaving. But this night, he wagered and drank beyond his abilities. As a result, he got in a bar fight and had to be taken to the local hospital. Due to his bleeding head, the doctor gave him several stitches just above his left ear, so they shaved a patch of his hair about two inches by two inches.
Anxious to hide the bald spot, Jacob stopped at several tourist trinket shops. He eventually found a white crocheted skull cap. Those who called the cap a “beanie” didn’t know they are often donned by African men when they pray. Neither did Jacob. He just thought the skull cap looked cool on him. Though yanked by his opponent in the fight, Jacob’s precious ponytail was spared. The thorn in his side now was a lack of a cell phone, another consequence of the altercation. And his gambling brought his bank account to a level that would barely cover necessities.