It’s rude when people give you things you don’t want. Like a child, for instance. Sure, I told my sister that I would take care of her daughter if anything ever happened to her. But Elaine never smoked, always wore her seatbelt, and wore sensible shoes when crossing the street. What were the chances?
And who expects an alien abduction these days? But that’s what happened. Elaine was lifted into the air, along with seven other patrons of a Starbucks in Centralia, Washington. Right off the outdoor patio. The authorities didn’t even try to make up a cover story. Not after all those cell phone videos hit Twitter. Some people even posted that stuff while it was happening. You’d think one of them would have grabbed Elaine by the leg, tried to pull her down.
I didn’t tell my niece Anna any of that. Not that we talked much at first. It messes you up, becoming a celebrity because your mom involuntarily left Earth for Planet X. And you can blame me for that. But you try raising a kid on a nurse’s aide salary. So, yes, I sold Anna’s story to whoever would pay: tabloids, TV, even some weird website that claimed they had been in touch with the aliens for the past thirty years. All of that goes for college. That’s the deal I made with myself.
Six months after the abduction, Anna brought home a library book about the fifty states. I didn’t think anything of it until her school called to say that she had run off while on a field trip to Mount Rainier National Park. A ranger found her above an area called Paradise, heading toward the mountain, carrying a woman’s shoe. Elaine’s shoe, the one that fell off during the abduction. When Anna got home, she refused to tell me anything.
* * *
She did renew that book. It was called Get to Know Your 50 States. Carried it around in her backpack. One night, I slipped into her room and got it. Mount Rainier was there, of course. Also Mount Greylock, Mount Washington, and my now personal favorite, Mount Sunflower. Each place marked. It took two ice cream dinners to pry it out of her. But when your mom disappears into outer space, why wouldn’t a six-year-old think the best place to look for her is the highest point in each state?
So, we made ourselves a deal. Five states each summer. Starting with the ones she could handle best. Like Sunflower. It’s really just a spot in a field in western Kansas. 4,039 feet. You open a little gate and step in. Or Florida’s Britton Hill, 345 feet. I insisted on a side trip to Disney World for that. Some extra shifts covered the visit to the Mouse House.
We’ll leave the technical climbs until she is sixteen. Gannett Peak, Wyoming (13,804) and Denali, Alaska (20,320) will still be there.
This all started eight years ago. Anna’s seen most of America now. I’ve seen a lot of blue sky, two engine rebuilds on the Subaru, and more than a few double shifts.
Our routine is always the same. We bring Elaine’s teal flat (perfect for safe crosswalk use) and Anna sets it down on the high point. And then we wait. We wait for as long as she wants to. No matter how cold or how tired I am (Mount Whitney, California, 14,494 feet, is not a “walk-up”, no matter what they tell you) we wait until Anna is ready to go. She always smiles right after she picks up the shoe, like she knows something I don’t. I don’t ask. I just carry the shoe down the mountain.
This girl I didn’t want is fourteen now. We’ve been together more than half her life. She never says it, but I don’t think Anna believes in her theory anymore. But she still keeps on planning our annual trip. As for me? I don’t think we are ever going to see Elaine again. Who knows, though. Maybe if we get up just high enough, in just the right spot, she can see us.
In a few years, we will run out of states and Anna will go off to college. But she’s offered me a new deal. It seems there are 193 countries in the world. The lowest high point is seven feet. In the Maldives. That sounds doable. On the other hand, Nepal isn’t cheap. God knows how many double shifts Everest is going to cost me.
Craig Kenworthy’s work appears both on the page and on the stage and he’s received recognition for his poetry, plays and fiction. His play ‘Hurf’ produced by the Willamette Radio Workshop, won a Charles Ogle award for audio drama. He was a contributing writer for the public radio comedy sketch program ‘Right Between the Ears’ and is a former columnist for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. A member of The Dramatists Guild, he lives in Seattle.