A story I wanted to share…

As much as I wish I could take credit for this wonderful story, I shall give credit where credit is due. It was written by my friend Hillary. “Brilliant story Hillary! Cheers and kudos!”

Enjoy, Friends!

The Trouble with Sand

I was in the process of breaking into Dairy Queen to steal a banana split when a bat flew into the back of my head. I’m pretty sure it was a fruit bat. It was only about nine o’clock at night and had just gotten dark although the moon was still bright and shining on banks of the Green River and the town settled beside it. That must be all it takes for the bats to come out and start flapping into the back of people’s heads. In fact, I knew it was, now that I think about it. I studied them in science last year in Mrs. Robert’s class. I had just been holding a rock over my head and was poised to smash it against the back door window of the local Dairy Queen when the bat struck. I screamed, throwing the rock anyway out of panic, but instead of breaking the window on the door, it broke into the side of a green wooden box that stood about three feet by three feet on its own specially poured concrete pad.
“I’m telling you this now in hopes that you will- what do you call it- acquit- my uncle for having possession of this weapon,” I pointed to a gun in a plastic bag on the table. “I put it in his bag while he wasn’t looking because I was frustrated,” I told the echoing court room. My Uncle Mitchell was in trouble because he was found with a gun in his camera bag at the community centre two days after our family rafting vacation. It was a gun that had apparently just been used in some kind of murder which they thought Uncle Mitchell did. They thought they had evidence to support that he was violent because our dog Kennedy had a wound on his head. I found the gun at Dairy Queen and put it in his bag. It was my fault and Uncle Mitchell might go to jail. They asked me to sit in that wooden chair and tell the whole story from beginning to end.
* * * * * * *
Mitchell Campollo had been in the campground shower for the past forty-five minutes when he heard his niece scream followed by a loud cracking-of-metal noise. He had been in the shower so long that the moths that had previously been flapping violently against the small rectangle windows above the shower had all drowned in steam and were beached on the sweating window sill. Mitchell was almost out of quarters, but had yet to scrub his fingernails and toenails. He had saved that for last because he couldn’t wait to experience the sensation of finally feeling the mud from the Green River wash out of the last possible crevice of his body. He had been waiting for this moment for five days and he wasn’t going to let another emergency from his niece stop him.
The shower head clicked three times and went off. Mitchell dropped his shoulders and sighed, soap still not rinsed from his ears. He reached for his last quarter which was on the window sill with the beached moths, but it slipped from his fingers as he was pushing it into the slot and clinked down the drain. Now Mitchell yelled, “Peeving bloody hell” and kicked the coin machine.

Bill Campollo was leaning over the plastic counter at the raft rental store and shouting at a red faced man with sunglasses around his neck when he heard his daughter scream from somewhere next door. He stopped midway through the word “refund” to decide whether or not he was going to check on yet another of his daughter’s calamities, but instead began pointing at a brochure that colorfully said:
…The Green River Epic Adventure Raft Rentals guarantees your complete satisfaction with all of our white water equipment…
Bill was becoming red faced himself by now, “Sir, I have been with my family on that river in your boat for the past week and I know a leak when I see one! Don’t tell me your boats don’t leak. I had a near death experience and I want my-” he spun around to see a tall stretchy looking man with Teva’s and a visor walk through the dinging door. The man ignored Bill who was glaring through squinted eyes and said passed him, “Devon, it’s closing time man, what are you still doing?”
“This guy wants his money back” he shoved a thick sunburned hand toward Bill, “says his boat leaked.”

Lori Campollo’s flashlight was slowly dying as she sorted her family’s yard sale of muddy camping gear that had been piled on the sand in a frenzy just an hour ago. She was trying to put things in piles, which she would later organize in the back of the truck when Bill got back. It was too hard to see in the dark, never mind this, she thought. She’d been making piles for the past five days: piles of spaghetti, piles of dirty clothes, piles of sleeping bags to stuff, and hadn’t complained. She turned from her now pitch dark post by the river and started toward the bathroom to check on Mitchell who hadn’t returned since he left an hour ago. Her black lab, Kennedy, bounded up behind her, passed her at full speed, and in a moment of doltish puppy enthusiasm bashed himself into a water pump spigot that was hidden in the bathroom’s shadow. Lori is running to catch up with him, and is on her knees in the grass with her hands on his head when she hears her daughter scream.
* * * * * * *
“OK, I’ll tell you what I know. I already said that I broke the green box with a rock and screamed because a fruit bat flew into my head,” I was speaking to a scattered paper shuffling, note taking audience.
After I screamed, I realized that probably wasn’t the best idea for someone trying to break into Dairy Queen. Someone in this godforsaken town might hear. But I just had to have a banana split and there happened to be a DQ right where we got out of the boats, so I thought it might be God’s will. He had gotten me this far and was probably rewarding my patience with a prize. I’m not really afraid of bats, so that’s good, but I still was startled when it flew into the back of my head, which made me drop the rock. The green wooden box must not have been built very well if a 13 year-old-girl with a rock who’s hungry for a banana split could break it open without even meaning to. There was a gun inside and I quickly snatched it out. You’d think someone who’s trying to hide a gun would put it in a sturdier box. Later we had to drive to the vet because Kennedy hurt his head and while they were gone I slipped the gun into Uncle Mitchell’s camera bag. He and I were waiting outside and I made the switch while he was staring at a sign in a Subway window for fifteen minutes.

Exactly one week ago my family began packing for our rafting trip with more gear than I have ever seen in my life. I think my dad stores extra stuff for REI in our garage and they must just call him when they run out of something because when he opened the closet I thought I saw a sign that said “Layaway.” I could be wrong. My dad is really particular about everything being checked before it gets packed in his truck. He tests the camp stoves to see if they have enough fuel. He checks the water filtering system that my mom bought him for his birthday last month. He even fluffs and airs out the sleeping bags a few nights before they get packed. My mom is crucial in the packing stage because she ends up being the one who knows where everything is. Mom will actually end up doing most of the packing even though my dad is in charge. He’ll absent-mindedly hand her things as he’s standing in the garage, surrounded by a pile of gear strewn like an avalanche across the concrete.
I think my dad is remembering when he’s going through everything and “checking it.” He goes on some sort of outdoor adventure trip at least once a month. This summer alone he’s already been to Denali with his friends from work. I think it’s because they are all helicopter rescue nurses that they think they can climb a mountain like that in just two days-they all think they’re Batman. In July he went mountain biking in the Tetons and made a trip to Yosemite to visit his old climbing buddy from high school. They called us from a lodge in the park to say that they were going to spend a little time on El Cap, but not to worry because he bought a new harness.
I think he must be remembering something about one of those trips when he hands my mom empty water jugs and doesn’t answer for awhile when she asks him where he wants his fishing rod. My mom looks pleased with herself when we are all buckled into the truck and headed toward the highway. She pats his knee as he drives and turns around to smile at me and ask if I’m comfortable. She looks like she has just thrown a successful super bowl party where her team won.
But I’m not comfortable because Uncle Mitchell is taking up most of the backseat with his notebooks, pillows, and camera equipment. I’m not sure why Uncle Mitchell is coming because last time we went camping together, Dad got so upset with him for brushing his teeth all the time that he threw his toothbrush in the lake. After Uncle Mitchell left our house the night Dad invited him to come on this trip, I yelled and kicked the side of the couch and hurt my toe. I told Dad that I just wanted to go somewhere one time without my uncle. I told him he gets to go away all the time without his family, so why can’t I have a break from Uncle Mitchell? Dad said he invites him to come with us because he’s poor and his only friends are from the community centre, so he doesn’t ever get to do anything fun. I think he should have stayed in California with my grandparents, but three months ago he moved to Colorado about a mile away from our house. He comes over for dinner every Monday and Friday night after racquetball when Mom can pick him up on her way home from work.
Now he’s scribbling down numbers in his notebook in some kind of a grid that he’s made with a ruler. I think he’s counting the wildlife we pass. By the time we finally get to Utah, he’s filled about half his notebook with numbers and abbreviations nobody can read. When we ask him what all that is, he tells us to wait until the end of the trip and he’ll explain everything. He’s beaming like he has just found the short line to get into Disneyland.
On the first day of rafting I decide that I don’t look good in my new Nike swimsuit. Mom helped me pick it out especially for this trip because she said my old one looked like it had been used as cheesecloth. I’ve never seen cheesecloth, but somehow I believe her. Dad was paddling and Mom and I were lounging on the front of the boat in the sun. Kennedy was between us with his front paws perched over the front looking for fish. Uncle Mitchell was in the back behind dad trying to take a picture of the canyon, but struggling with a role of film that wouldn’t go in the way he had it. I was thinking about my thighs and how wide they looked squished against the inflated rubber when a boat of college girls passed us. They had music playing in their boat that sounded like the station we listened to in art class; it played songs about parties and I wondered if real parties were ever like that. These girls looked like they would know- their laughter echoed off the walls of the canyon in a way that unsettled me, just like their muscular bodies poised like Indian princesses. Mom noticed Dad watching them and shot at him with her eyes, then smiled at me like nothing happened.
That night when we had all put on our warm baggy sweatpants and wool socks I told Mom that I wasn’t too hungry for spaghetti, but really I was. I just wanted her to worry about me. Earlier I wanted her to worry about me getting along with Uncle Mitchell, now I wanted her to worry about me having anorexia. When Mom’s worried about someone she goes out of her way for them. She becomes a tree that stretches its branches over you and dangles apples and pears and cherries when you’re hungry. Then she chops herself down and gives you her wood for a raft so you can get away from her or come back and sit on the stump that’s left- if you need a rest.
The next day I started things off with a swim before breakfast and changed my mind about how fat my thighs were. I swam against the current to the bend in the river that was about fifteen feet upstream and back and decided that I was really strong and therefore could eat anything I wanted. This was a good day to have made that decision because Uncle Mitchell brought out his jelly belly tin and the chart that went with it. There are ninety-nine flavors and he knows them all without looking.
That morning after my swim I found Uncle Mitchell sitting on my raincoat in the sand writing in one of his notebooks and so I took myself into the woods to calm down before I said anything disrespectful. He hadn’t asked me if he could use it. It started sprinkling later, but my raincoat was sandy and so I glared at Mom because she knew how much I hated being wet and sandy at the same time. She whispered for me to shake it out.
Then I got sand in Uncle Mitchell’s camera on purpose. I was sitting on my side of the raft where I had set up my binoculars and towel with a little spot for my water bottle. He had moved from the back of the raft with Mom to the front and was sprinkling me with his wet shorts as he came over. The water was calm and slow so Dad said he could tow behind us for awhile if he tied a rope to his life jacket. He maneuvered his way back and slipped as he tried to sit down and dropping his camera bag on my water bottle which tipped over and squirted on my towel. I sighed and looked at the canyon walls towering like an Indiana Jones scene beside us. His camera had slipped out of the bag, but he hadn’t noticed yet because he had just spotted a hawk with a mouse or something in its feet and was scribbling in his journal. I bumped his camera with my knee and it slid into a sandy mud puddle in the bottom of the raft.
He hadn’t seen it and now was getting really excited about something that he said he had forgotten. He told me to close my eyes and hold out my hands. I wanted to keep my eyes on him like that hawk to be sure he wouldn’t see where I had left his camera, but I closed them quickly. I heard rattling and he delicately placed something cold and metal in my stiff hands. When I opened my eyes he was beaming again like when we asked him about his notebook.
“I brought you something, Lily, something I remembered you liked to do. We can play the Jelly Belly guessing flavors game. I brought my chart too,” he said almost bouncing in his seat.
“Thanks,” I said not wanting to play and dropping my eyes to where his camera laid in the mud.
Later when he had given up on me and the game and was in his notebooks again, I picked up the camera. I caught his eyes looking my way and heard something snap inside me. I suddenly felt weak and limp and then I realized I was lying in the bottom of the raft and looking up. Uncle Mitchell had his camera around his neck, but was smiling down on me. I heard Mom and Dad arguing about how to punish me and I started crying loudly. Uncle Mitchell just opened the tin and held out a pink jelly bean with white spots.
That night I had a dream that we were all in a school bus that sank to the bottom of the river, but Uncle Mitchell told us to buckle in and roll up all the windows and he drove us along the bottom slow enough so I could take notes on the gauges next to his driver’s seat that measured air pressure and fuel levels. I was allowed to unbuckle my seat belt so I could see them and we went all the way to the Everglades like this. Upon arrival it was decided that Uncle Mitchell would have to go to jail for driving so recklessly and I would be in charge of deciding whether or not he would get a pillow.
On the third day of rafting the current picked up so much that Dad told Mom to actually wear her life jacket rather than use it as a pillow in the sun. He yelled at Uncle Mitchell to put away his magnetic travel chess board and start paddling. My job was to be sure that Kennedy didn’t fall overboard, but he was like trying to hold down an excited slinky that just wanted to slip down the stairs. I got mad when we broadsided a rock and the cooler tipped over spilling lunchmeat, grapes, and a jar of pickle relish onto my feet. Nobody had time to fix it because Dad, who was sitting on a higher seat than all of us so he could steer and row, was launched out of the boat by a sudden jolt of rubber and rocks.
He bobbed along behind us for a few yards, but then the raft picked up speed as we went around a bend without him. He became smaller and smaller and I soon lost track of his red life jacket being erased by white water. Mom’s yelling turned to wailing as Kennedy slipped through my arms and jumped in after Dad. I wanted to jump in too. I wanted to jump into the river and have it solidify into cherry Jell-O so everyone would stop drowning and start eating instead. I thought it might help if I prayed and asked God for a miracle. Jesus could walk on water, why couldn’t he turn it into Jell-O.
I was crying these words and prayers so loud I didn’t realize that Mom had managed the raft to the shore. She had leapt into the shallows and was tethering us to a tree on the bank. Now she was running along the bank, leaping over felled trees and calling out for my Dad in a voice that sounded like it had caused those trees to fall. Then I decided I wanted to save someone too. I began scrambling over the shipwreck of our raft toward the bank thinking muffled frantic thoughts like I did the time I was being chased by that snake at Dad’s mountain bike race last year. I wanted to run along the shore and find Kennedy or my dad- wet, but not broken and my mom hugging them like the prodigal father. At the same time I wanted to run into the forest and be a fugitive and not come back until the helicopter was hovering over the river to take us all home. I turned around to tell Uncle Mitchell I was sorry for ruining his camera. He was sitting very still in Dad’s steering chair with his eyes closed.
Dad once told me that when Uncle Mitchell was nine he saved his life by selling produce on the side of the road. Uncle Mitchell was sitting in a plastic lawn chair with a pile of garden vegetables spread around his ankles, politely answering a customer’s questions when Dad fell out of a tree onto a rock in the front yard. Grandma wasn’t home so Dad would have bled to death had Uncle Mitchell’s customer not driven him to the hospital right then.
When I finally caught up with Mom we decided to return to the raft and paddle down to the next take-out-point to get help. Uncle Mitchell was waiting for us proudly beside a man who had Dad and Kennedy in his raft. He had been fishing behind us, decided to try the river further downstream and on his way saw Dad clutching a branch. By the time Dad was in the man’s boat, he was unconscious. The man saw Uncle Mitchell sitting in our raft on the side of the river and stopped to ask for help. Kennedy had shown up ten minutes later, they said. Dad was slowly waking up and spitting.
Dad said he felt fine when he woke up in the morning so we continued on with the rafting vacation. It’s easy for me to forget traumatic adventures and go on with life as usual because they happen to us all the time. I’m used to them. I wish they affected me in a dramatic way like some kid from a book that learns a lesson about being grateful or generous when they’re kidnapped by tribesmen and then rescued by their dad and brothers. But on the fourth day of rafting I was so tired of turkey sandwiches and Capri Suns, tired of Uncle Mitchell’s wrinkly notebooks, tired of Dad telling me to buckle my life jacket, and tired of Kennedy brushing up against me with his wet fur that I cried when Mom asked me for a drink of my water bottle. And then it started raining. It rained all that day and into the darkness.
It was our last night camping; tomorrow we would be at the take-out-point and would stay in a motel. I saw myself running from the car to the room and bursting through the door to find that room service already brought us ice cream sundaes. I’d sprawl out on the bed, snatch the remote control and begin scarfing down the ice cream before anyone could tell me to stop. Tonight we needed a fire if we were going to drink any water tomorrow because the purifier broke. Dad was drinking at least a gallon a day in his efforts to guide us down the river. Mom said it was crucial that he had enough water to drink after today’s events especially since the raft had sprung a leak which made it even more strenuous to maneuver. Mom had tried patching the rubber with duct tape and then sitting on the spot so Dad wouldn’t notice the problem. She told me not to say anything- Dad has enough on his mind getting us back in one piece. Dad found the soggy tape when Mom got up to make us lunch and insisted on pulling over to fix it.
Tonight everything was wet from the leak and the rain and all our attempts at starting a fire wafted into a mocking smoke. Dad’s eyes looked saggy for the first time all week. I was beginning to feel anxious for Dad and his failed efforts to rescue us from fireless ness. He and I sat down with our backs to the smoke pit and I asked him about the time he saved his climbing buddy Tim from a rattlesnake at Joshua Tree National Park because I knew he had. I liked this story about my dad because he saved Tim by hitting the snake with his brand new climbing shoe. The sole of the shoe broke somehow when it smacked the snake’s skull and he had to finish the route with one bare foot. I think Dad was feeling more heroic now remembering that story because he was nodding silently to himself as we stared into the dark river. I was beginning to think of another story to ask him about when we heard ripping and crumpling noises from behind. We turned to see Uncle Mitchell kneeling in the dirt and kindling a small flame that flickered through his pages.

The boat was heavy with saturated camping gear as we shoved it onto the sandy beach while the sun set over Green River, Utah. The plan was for Dad to go the rental store and demand some kind of a discount for the leaky raft. Uncle Mitchell would take a shower, he said, and nobody asked any questions. Mom would stay with the stuff, let Kennedy run around the campground, and try to get things ready to load into the truck. She said I could go look for some ice cream because I had been bringing up the topic all day and she was at the end of her rope with my longings for hot fudge.
I felt like a lioness that had just been let out from her indoor glass cage and was going to pounce on all the children who tapped and smeared the window with their ice cream cones. Most of the stores had closed and I was beginning to feel nervous and hot as I walked along the main street hearing nothing but the buzz of the street lamps and an occasional car grinding past. When the red roof of Dairy Queen appeared in the distance I felt the surprising power of all my energy being released as I ran towards it at full speed feeling sort of embarrassed for being so obsessed, but also abandoned to my gratefulness and relief at finally getting something I wanted. I stopped short at the front door and dropped my shoulders when the sign said closed. I thought about where everyone was at the moment: Mom down the street at the campground with Kennedy, Dad at the store (if it was open), and Uncle Mitchell in the shower. I could see the light on in the bathroom in the distance and knew he’d be awhile still. I thought about his notebooks and how he would never get to show us all the things he had kept track of so proudly and carefully. Would he be able to sense my crime from his stall in the shower? Would he drop his shampoo when he realized what I was doing? Mom might know. She might stop what she’s doing on the shore and march over here with Kennedy running along behind. Dad’s probably onto me already. He’s asking the manager at the rafting store for a discount and then where the nearest ice cream store is. He’s probably on his way now. I picked up a rock and held it over my head. A screeching noise from behind revealed itself in a black bat fury as it smacked the back of my head like someone’s shoe. My rock cracked open the green box instead.
And you know the rest.
* * * * * *
The court heard my story. Nobody went to jail. I was sent to counseling and had to sit in a leather chair and tell the lady and her coffee cup why being the center of attention was fun for me. I told her it wasn’t fun and threw the Kleenex box. It’s two years later and I now wish they had thrown me in for awhile because apparently I’m still guilty. I just woke up from a dream where an elephant brought me a pile of notebooks that were speared onto its tusks. It kneeled down in front of me and I took the books and sat on them because my chair was wet. I kneeled down too, beside the elephant, and died there. Afterwards they found a roll of film that I had swallowed. They pulled it out through my throat and when they developed it, there were pictures of my family eating ice cream. I wasn’t in any of them.

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