A Pair of Aces

I put my book down, no longer able to focus on the story. The reader in me and the writer in me are at it again, battling it out for my time—the reader busy taking note of words, phrases, ideas, craft; the writer wanting to do something about it.

“That’s great,” I tell them, “but I don’t have a story. Nothing yet, anyway.” And then it hits me. Not everything has to be a part of something bigger, a piece of a complete story. Just jot down observations without thinking about whether each will be a lead, the theme, a symbol, an ending, vitally important or something that will be cut.

And so one ace trumps the other and I let my writer loose. I sit there, in my camp chair, paper in lap, pen in hand.

There’s a fluttering on my right that I note from the corner of my eye. A butterfly? No. It’s a leaf. It’s dropped from the huge cottonwood above me and floated down, its final resting spot on the ground near my feet. Not yellow, green. Not fall yet, late summer. A symbol? Could be a loss, a demise. Too soon.

I think of Jim. He should be here any time now. My daughter sleeps in the tent, not yet awakened by the heat of the morning sun.

There’s a knocking high above me. I lean my head back, letting the camp chair cradle it. The tree is thick with leaves—only the one had dropped—and it takes me a while to find the raven.Image He’s knocking his beak against a thick, strong limb. And then there’s a caw-caw, farther away, somewhere on the cliff wall of the canyon. I scan the red ledges and see a slight movement. Though far up, the tilt of his head indicates that he is looking directly at me. He caws again. “Wake up! Pay attention!”

I am awake. I am paying attention. But am I missing something?

There was no set time on when Jim should arrive. But he’s a morning person and, more important, he’s always where he says he’ll be. But all he said was that he’d bring the boats and meet us at our campsite on Saturday morning.

A motorcycle comes down the highway, at the base of the canyon wall, headed east. The song on the stereo lingers in the canyon. Music more for me, it seems, than the driver.

A vehicle from the east slows. The sound of crunching gravel and I know it has turned into the parking lot. But it’s not a diesel. And it heads toward the boat launch, not toward the camp area.

My dog, at my feet, lifts his head. I follow his gaze up and watch as not one, but two, ravens depart from the wall. They fly into the east.

I follow their lead. “This way,” I say to my dog. We head toward the river. I pick up a stick to throw, then pause, seeing the shadow on the water before its graceful self. A blue heron. Headed east, upriver. “Hey,” I communicate to it, “can you find out if there’s any word of a white diesel truck with three kayaks in the back? A canoe on top?” And, before I’ve even finished relaying my request, the blue heron imparts his response, “No ma’am. We don’t fly the roadways, just the rivers.”

Back to my camp chair. The feathery tops of the desert plants have started to dance. The first sign of a breeze that I cannot yet feel on my bare arms. Soon, the wild sunflowers join in, ever so slightly bobbing their heads back and forth, swaying to some slow song that only nature is privy to. ImageThe staunch leaves of the old cottonwood resist. But what about that one? The one that fell long before the first sign of the breeze. Before it was yellow. Before its time.

And where is Jim? We can’t touch base, can’t get a hold of each other. There is no service here where we camp.

A stirring in the tent.

My forehead is suddenly warm. The sun has risen above the tree, erasing a bit of my shade, rewriting the time from morning to midday.  Is it 10:00? 10:30? I don’t want to get up and check, don’t want to know, don’t want to wonder. Or worry.

But I am worrying, just a little. Why isn’t he here yet? We need to drive a shuttle vehicle downriver to our take-out spot, paddle a lot of river miles, and then drive back to camp. We have a day ahead of us.

“We did not set a specific time,” I remind myself.

Things are happening around here now. More traffic. More cars and trucks and adventure buses with trailers full of rafts turning in, crunching gravel, preparing to launch.

And now my entire face, as well as my shoulder, is warm with sunshine.

More stirring. And then a zipper. My daughter emerges from the tent. The dog bounds over to her, having, seemingly, to have forgotten that she was with us on this trip.

We check the time. 10:45. I tell her I’m a bit worried about Jim, that I expected him to be here by now. “Want to play some cribbage?” I ask. “It’ll make him get here faster.”

“You’re not very good at waiting, Mom.”

We set up the board and Amy splits the cards to shuffle. We both notice the two black aces on the bottom, clubs in her left hand, spades in her right.

“Ha! Two aces!” she says.

“A pair of aces? Sounds like good luck.” And before my mind can counter with, yah, but in cribbage aces are low, we hear the crunch of gravel, the rumble of a diesel, and see the silhouette of a canoe on a rack.

“Jim!” we both holler, standing, then running, the cards left aside, the ending hardly worthy of a story.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. theclocktowersunset
    Sep 02, 2013 @ 08:45:51

    I can hear the engine grumbling and the gravel crunching under the tires, what a relief. I was getting anxious for you, the wait and anticipation can be so nerve racking. It totally translated, not knowing, what could be keeping good ‘ol Jim?


  2. cleopatralovesbooks
    Sep 02, 2013 @ 10:54:56

    Great story you built up the tension perfectly with the bouts of reason interrupting the anxiety.


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