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Michelle Panik's fiction has recently appeared in SLAB, Pequin, and Perigee. She has a BA in Writing and Art
History/Criticism from UC San Diego, and an MFA from the University of Maryland. Currently, she is working on
a certificate to teach ESL. She lives in San Diego with her husband and their dog, Louie.  
http://straycarrierpigeon.blogspot.com/
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Slight Chance of Showers


Leaving the freezer door open, as my husband and son frequently did, could possibly produce frost. But not a snowball.

And yet there one was, a mound of packed snow sitting snugly on a bag of chicken cutlets. I was about to drop it in the sink
when my mother said, "Don't do that." She was sitting at the kitchen table, turning through a skateboarding magazine. "It's
mine."

"What
is it?" I asked.

She closed the magazine. "That," she said, "is the cold chill of winter, the freeze-your-hands thrill of a neighborhood-wide
snowball fight."

She was like that. My mother explained things in hyperbolic detail. When my sister and I were young, she'd fill the bathtub with
plain water while telling us, "Bubbles will give you a yeast infection." Then she'd explain in itchy, lengthy detail, just what exactly
a yeast infection was.

She put the snowball on a dishtowel that she held like a sling. Max, my mother's pot-bellied pig, roused himself from under the
kitchen table and sniffed at her ankles.

"How did the snowball get here?" I asked. We lived in Orange County, California.

She explained a woman in her senior activity group ("Granny day care," she liked to call it) had gone to Big Bear over the
weekend. "She brought back a cooler of them. For us east-coast transplants."

My mother moved in with me, my husband Steve, and our son Blake three months ago, after my father passed away. My
parents had lived in the same house in Pennsylvania for forty years and she refused to let my sister and I sell it. "It's my home,"
she said. "It's where I brought the two of you into this merry-go-round of life. Where I once boiled the water out of a pot of
eggs and the shells burned and stuck to the pot's bottom. Where I encouraged greed in my children, because it was Christmas
morning and I had wrapped a mountain of gifts."

So we rented the house to a second cousin.

"How I miss waking up to fresh snow," she said now, having taken the snowball from its towel cradle and holding it in pink
hands.

She liked reminding me what this side of the country was robbing her of; the coastline I'd moved to at eighteen. But she
couldn't live in Pennsylvania anymore; on two occasions she'd gone to the store and forgotten how to get home. My sister's
apartment in LA had just one bedroom. Steve suggested we convert his home office for my mother, and I'll spend the rest of
our marriage repaying his gesture.

"How quickly you forget the shoveling, the icy roads," I told her.

"I'm old, Marcie. Some neighbor boy would help me." She was inhaling the snowball's cold cleanness, Max still snuffling around
her feet. She patted the snowball like a baker might do a risen heap of dough and returned it to its "frosty cocoon." Stuck to
the outside of the freezer was a pink and red heart she'd woven from strips of construction paper at senior care.

Careful not to disturb the snowball, I removed a tray of lasagna from the freezer and put it in the oven. My mother wandered
into the living room and turned on local news. For all her complaining about the West coast, she never went a night without a
recap of its events.

In the dining room, I returned to a pile of day-glo orange poster board and markers. Tomorrow, the city hall would vote on a
proposal for a new tract of homes. The developer had been trying to buy the land for two years, and when they first made their
intent public, I formed a committee to stop it.

With a fat, black marker that stank of alcohol and squeaked over the poster's surface, I wrote slogans including "Embrace wide
open spaces!" and "We need encampments, not developments!" My mother had helped with the wording, which I'd edited for
space.

When I'd finished taping yardsticks to the signs, it was time to turn the lasagna. I continued preparing dinner and was filling
salad bowls when Blake came home and poured himself a glass of milk. He wore a math team T-shirt that was stretched around
shoulder muscles he'd never asked for through any sort of weightlifting; at fourteen he was already showing his father's natural
build.

"How was practice?"

He sighed. "I'll be drilling all night."

At a school assembly next week, Blake would attempt to recite the most digits of pi from memory. For the last five months, he'd
spent his afternoons learning the nuances of calculating a circle's circumference. When study hall closed he came home and
paced a racetrack circle in our living room, mumbling numbers.

Blake dumped his backpack on the kitchen table. "Not in here," I said and held it out by a padded black strap. "You have a desk
in the living room." Which was also Steve's desk. "And take your magazine."

"It's not my magazine," he said, and was mostly right. My mother had bought him a year's subscription to the skateboarding
publication, but she was the only one who turned its pages.

"Well, maybe you'd like to read it."

He shook his head and went into the living room.

My mother purchased the subscription after he'd decided to go for the pi world record. He was already on his school's math
team and had competed at the Science Olympiad. "He needs a real childhood," my mother had said while filling out the
bill-me-later subscription card. "If you're going to raise him in this Southern California, he might as well have a Southern
California childhood."

I followed Blake into the living room and gave the magazine to my mom, who looked at it, then up at me. "Thanks!" She said.

Steve arrived home as the lasagna's cheese top was bubbling. I put it on the counter to rest but he immediately sliced in.

"It needs to cool," I said, but he already had the knife under a square, levering it up and onto his plate.

"It can cool in my stomach."

He had a wide smile. Steve was a facilities coordinator for a local college, and had been working long hours for tomorrow's
commencement. After all the kids were graduated, Steve would take off that weekend to the annual toy traders show. He
refurbished antique toys for a hobby; he supported my mission to save the world, and I supported his love of toys.

I put Steve's salad beside him and poured on croutons. He cleaned the bowl in three lively stabs then returned to the lasagna. It
was made with ground turkey and whole-wheat pasta, something I'd prepared three trays of and frozen a couple weeks ago.
Lean protein and whole grains were supposed to stimulate brain function, and whether it was because of this or the taste, it
was Blake's favorite food.

"Who's up for a hike tonight?" I wanted to check on a black-billed cuckoo nest on the trail behind our house. With the explosion
of development, the species' numbers had declined in the last decade.

Steve's crease-worn eyes gave me his answer to the hike, so I moved into the living room.

"I've got one hundred new digits to go," Blake said.

My mother was engrossed in a piece on Latino-Black gang violence. I turned off the TV and ushered them all into the kitchen.

As I brought the lasagna pan to the table, the black pot-bellied pig -- not more than three feet high but with spikes for teeth --
put himself between me and the table and snapped at the air. I jumped back, the lasagna tottering in my hands.

My mother put one hand around Max's snout and gave a stern, "No." She held it several seconds before letting go. I stood
frozen.

My mother took the lasagna and began serving.

"When's he going to stop that?" I asked.

"Pot-bellies are territorial. This is a new place and he has to show everyone he's in charge. They do it one by one, starting with
the weakest."

                                                                                        ***

Returning from my trail run the next morning, I opened the front door to the hypnotic, five-digit murmurings of,
"eight-one-eight-three-four, seven-nine-seven-seven-five, six-six-three-six-nine."

Blake added morning study sessions when he heard that another record challenger had frozen up after seven hundred digits. He
had dedicated himself fully to this goal, and I knew he would do it.

I cooked him a high-protein and vitamin-rich vegetable omelet and my mother and Max escorted him to the bus stop. Back at
home, she cut up five pounds of fruits and vegetables and poured them on the backyard grass.

I packed the protest signs into my Volvo station wagon and drove my mother to her senior activity program. When we pulled up
at the building, she remained seated beside me.

"Have a good day, Mom."

She didn't move. "You know, nothing much goes on at this place. If you're afraid to be alone with Max, I could... "

"No, no," I said. "I'll be fine."

Eventually she got out of the car and made the slow walk into the building. She'd hated the program since joining and her dislike
had only increased since. She was like a child who didn't want to go to school. But she kept going because she wanted to give
me time for myself. Selfishly, I never told her she could quit, because I wanted that time for myself.

Three of my committee volunteers were waiting outside city hall when I arrived. The council's land-use hearing would begin in
two hours, and we needed to have a presence by the time councilors arrived. I had notified the local news channels of our
intent, and parked across the street was a TV van.

Stacy, our committee's secretary, was tying a bandana around her head, her hair already pulled into a ponytail. I noticed she
was wearing hiking boots, then realized we all were. You could take the person out of nature, but not nature out of the person.

After more protestors gathered I gave them a pep talk. "We want to keep it peaceful. But we want them to know we mean
business." A second news van pulled up and I talked with their reporter.

Councilors began arriving. One woman, a first-termer who was a housewife and soccer coach, smiled sympathetically. The
majority walked by expressionless. We received only one scowl, which was from a man in a pinstripe suit. There was reason to
feel optimistic.

An hour into the protest, my cell phone rang. I rested my sign on my shoulder and spoke with the coordinator of my mother's
senior care program.

"I need you to pick up Irene as soon as possible."

"Why?"

"She broke Howard Cape's arm."

"What?" I asked and turned away from my group, which had begun a call-and-response of  
"What do we want? Wildlife! Where
do we want it? Everywhere!"

"And after stealing Margaret Lee's snowball, I think she needs a reprieve from the group."

I should have known to question my mother's story about how she got that snowball. "Are you suspending my mother?" I
asked.

"I'd prefer to think of it as a reprieve."

                                                                                        ***

My mother laid a skateboard on the backseat, atop my orange sign, then got in front beside me. I decided not to ask. Instead I
said, "You stole a woman's snowball?"

"They're suspending me for breaking Howard's arm."

I waved a dismissive hand. "Howard could break his brittle little arm just brushing his teeth. You stole a woman's snowball?"

"Her grandson was going to throw it at a neighbor."

"You stole a woman's snowball?"

"I haven't seen snow, or any type of weather, in three months."

Rather than reiterate my question a fourth time, I pulled out of the parking lot. I had been battling this land developer for two
years. And on the biggest day of our cause, my mother's antics had pulled me away from the fight.

When we got home she checked on her snowball, slightly misshapen with an icy shell but still intact, then watched the local
nightly news. I fumed in the kitchen with NPR.

When Blake arrived home she turned off the TV and asked about his day. He said he had a "killer" amount of Algebra homework.

"That doesn't sound like very much fun," my mother said. I had begun preparing dinner and was chopping broccoli. "I went to
the beach today and saw those skateboard kids," she told him. "They were jumping curbs and bus benches and all sorts of
public property. It looked like so much fun that I tried it."

I imagined my son giving her a polite, perplexed smile. I stuck my head in the room and saw this confirmed. Then she retrieved
the skateboard from behind the couch.

"It wasn't my 'thing,' as you kids say. But I thought you might like this." She held out the skateboard, neon blue wheels
spinning with a whisk of their ball bearings.

There was silence while he examined the board and I returned to the kitchen. A few moments later he came wheeling in, the
board cautiously warbling over the linoleum's raised pattern. "Look what Grandma gave me." He grabbed the counter and the
board shot back behind him. My mother was in the doorway, and jumped.

I looked at Blake. "Did your grandmother tell you she broke someone's arm with that?"

His eyes widened with something like adoration and he turned to her. "You did?"

It wasn't the reaction I'd hoped for.

On our drive home from the senior center that afternoon, my mother had told me they'd taken a field trip to Newport Beach and
that she'd purchased the skateboard at a tourist shop.

When she first moved in with Steve and me, I'd tried taking charge of her finances. If she could forget how to get home, she
could lose track of money. But she refused. "I'm not going to ask my daughter for an advance on my allowance so I can buy the
latest reading magnifier."

In Newport that afternoon, my mother and her friend took turns putting their low-heeled leather shoes on the skateboard while
the other clasped her hands and pulled. They did this down Main Street and over the pier's wooden slats. Feeling confident, my
mother let go of her friend's hands and pushed off with one foot.

I knew how the story would end. She lost control of the board (blaming it on the pier's uneven slats, rather than her
seventy-two-year-old muscles and joints) and plowed into Howard. He crashed into a bench and landed on his right arm. It was
particularly bad that she had hit Howard because he'd sold several antique toys to Steve. My mother had already taken Steve's
home office; I didn't want her to take his best supplier, too.

Blake turned the skateboard around and was riding it slowly down the hallway when Stacy called. She said the council's vote had
been postponed a day. "There was some confusion about a finding in the environmental impact study."

For that evening's walk we stuck to neighborhood streets at Blake's request; he wanted to ride his skateboard. At one point my
mother handed off Max's leash and the pig pulled him. Blake had never wanted to join the local baseball or soccer leagues. He
liked books and puzzles. And he wasn't too hot on the skateboard magazine. But he'd warmed up to the real thing in the hours
since my mother had given it to him. I told myself that it didn't matter, that Blake was mature enough to set priorities.

Steve and I dropped back a few steps. Since my mother had come to live with us, we'd learned to find private moments. I told
him the full story of what had happened with the senior care group.

"She's acting out," he told me.

I smiled. I smiled because his response was obvious, and I loved him, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I said, "But there
are better ways to express her unhappiness with that program. Like coming out and saying it."

"I'm not talking about the program. She's unhappy living with us."

And then he jogged ahead to take Max's leash while Blake tried to pop the skateboard into the air.

Back at home, Steve showed Blake how to grease the wheels and adjust the trucks to give the board more play. Then Steve
backed his car out of the garage and they worked on tricks. They were in there over two hours.

At one point I popped my head in and asked Blake how the studying was going.

"I need a break," he said, the back of his head and neck visible, his face looking down at the skateboard beneath his feet.

"Try keeping your hips straight and moving the board with your quads," Steve said, placing both hands on his thighs.

                                                                                        ***

That night, I dreamt I was above the timberline in northern California, perhaps on the summit of Mount Langley, with my mother
and a wood chipper. There wasn't a rooted tree within three thousand feet of elevation, and yet we were standing beside a pile
of felled trees.

My mother, through some feat of strength, was loading them into the chipper. The blades caught their pulpy trunks and they
zizzed through, fine chips shooting out the other end. She was talking about throwing a bury-the-hatchet party for the home
developer and my committee, her words a shout over the chipper's motor.

"I'll put together a veggie tray with dip and my ambrosia salad! Tell your granola friends to come hungry." She tossed another
tree in and shouted, "I'll even top the ambrosia with granola!"

I woke in the morning and called Stacy. There still wasn't any information about the council vote.

When Blake got out of the shower I asked him to wear his new collared shirt. A reporter from the local newspaper would be
interviewing him at lunch about the pi record.

Blake left for the bus stop with my mother and Max, and I drove Steve to the airport for his toy conference. Back at home, I put
my mother's bed sheets in the wash, then began an Internet search for precedence in similar housing development conflicts. I
learned that citizens lost more than they won.

My mother and Max returned and she fed him a few pounds of produce that he ate in the backyard. When he came back to the
living room I snapped my legs up onto the computer desk chair. But he walked past me and over to his bed in the corner. My
mother was on the couch, turning through television channels, and she laughed. I put my feet down and focused on the
computer screen.

I was reading about eminent domain being used to convert ranchland into a strip mall when I heard the words "a new wilderness
book that was showing how hip nature could be," on the television.

"Look at this," my mother called, but I already was. Onscreen was a newscaster and a Monk. "He has a book like yours," she
said.

Fifteen years ago, I wrote an outdoor survival book. I was a college student and during the summers took corporate types into
the woods and taught them to live without their secretaries. One client, who was a New York literary agent, suggested I put my
knowledge into a book. I dropped out of college -- Chico State, where I was two semesters from a Forestry degree -- and wrote
a book titled "So You Want to Live Deliberately". The agent sold it as 175 perfect-bound pages with a soft, glossy cover. It did
well for its market.

The Monk, a mid-thirties Congregationalist convert from Illinois, was being interviewed with a TV audience of several million. I
laughed. I left the computer and sat beside my mother. "This guy is going to sit in a chair for five minutes, answer five
questions, and sell five thousand books." Which was the amount of my entire first (and only) print run.

Some years later, after marrying Steve, I wrote a second book. It was about surviving in extreme climes and failed to interest a
publisher.

"You published a book," Steve once told me. "No one can take that away from you."

But the possibility of a second book had been taken away.

My mother and I watched the rest of the interview. As difficult as it was to admit, the monk knew his stuff.

                                                                                        ***

My mother and I picked up visitor badges at Blake's school office and were escorted to a spare chemistry lab. Neither Blake nor
the journalist had arrived.

"What is this reporter going to ask Blake?" My mother went over to a rack of glassware, looking at the different shapes that
things could be measured by.

I took a seat on a hard metal lab stool. "Probably about his memorization techniques, why he wants to break the record."

"Why
does he want to break the record?"

I watched her pick up and then replace a graduated cylinder. "I think because he likes a challenge," I said. "But you'll have to ask
him."

"I thought asking you would be the same thing." She tapped a fingernail against a glass beaker.

"Was that an insult?"

She shrugged. "I just wonder if this record is for him or for you. Does a fourteen-year-old boy get excited about hours of
memorizing a meaningless string of digits?"

"It's not meaningless. It's an irrational number and it's used to get your head around a circle!"

She narrowed her eyes. "You're what's irrational." She picked up and squeezed a pipette, mumbling something about
memorizing a poem instead of a strand of numbers. I sat fuming before a Bunsen burner.

We remained that way until Blake came in, followed closely by the journalist. He put a digital voice recorder on the lab bench
between them. It was in the middle of the interview that the journalist asked Blake how he'd become interested in numbers.

He said it started when he was five and saw Steve diagramming seating arrangements for a new lecture hall. Blake was drawn to
the chairs' organization, which resembled a fan, and spent hours helping his father come up with other shapes that would
accommodate two hundred chairs.

I'd never heard the story before. And as he jabbered on I looked over to my mother, sufficiently smug that I'd had nothing to
do with his interest in numbers. But she had her head down in a chemistry book.

                                                                                        ***

There was a message on the answering machine when we returned home. My mother let Max into the backyard, then followed.

"The city approved the development." It was Stacy. "The best we can do now is lobby for bike paths and parks. Who knows if
they'll listen. I was wondering about the wetlands north of the freeway, and whether... " I stopped the machine.

In the living room, I pulled one of my two copies of "So You Want to Live Deliberately" off the bookshelf. I'd received a case of
fifty upon publication, but they'd been dispersed to family and friends over the years.

The monk on TV that morning seemed like a decent person. But that didn't mean he could write. My book was good, dammit. I
flipped through its chapters, information about packing a backpack, proper clothing, navigation.

I went outside, where Max was rooting through my begonias. My mother was reclined on a chaise lounge and I took the one
beside her.

"The housing development was approved," I said. "Two years of work for nothing."

Her legs were straight out in front of her and she crossed her ankles. "When you were fourteen, you wanted to write a novel.
You scrawled five pages about a little girl with roller skates permanently attached to her feet and said it was a short story
instead. I helped you send it off to magazines."

"No one accepted it," I said. "So Dad mimeographed it and stapled it into little booklets."

"Sometimes you have to change your definition of success."

We lay silent for some time, listening to Max destroy my flowerbeds.

My mother would stay out there another hour, but I went back in and keyed my name and book title into an Internet search.
The world didn't want another book from me, so I wanted my first one back.

I was expecting the search to return book resellers, but all the hits were either about Henry David Thoreau or manifestos
against capitalism. I knew I shouldn't have picked such a cute title.

I called the wilderness stores I used to shop at when climbing Mount Whitney or other nearby fourteeners, checking if they had
any copies of "So You Want to Live Deliberately". Every store either didn't answer their phone, or didn't have it in stock. You
can drop a baby diaper in a landfill and it will still be around in twenty years. Where do old books go?

                                                                                        ***

I removed my mother's bed sheets from the dryer. They had been tumbled into an onionskin ball of flat and fitted and
pillowcases, and with it blocking my view, I stumbled into her room. I dropped the linens on the bed and looked back at a
hard-sided suitcase that had been in my path.

My mother was in an armchair, probably reading about the latest aerial ramp trick. She'd been spending a lot of time in her room
since being kicked out of the senior program. I kept telling her she should read in the living room, but she insisted the light was
better in here.

"You should have asked me to put this in your closet, Ma." I attempted to pick the suitcase up but couldn't move it more than a
few inches.

"Don't touch that." She set the magazine aside.

But I already had the clamshell open. Inside were rectangles of shirts, pants, two sweaters, and a pair of shoes packed
sideways. I felt around and grasped hardcover books and pictures frames, too. "What is this?"

"My valise."

I thought about Steve's comment from the night before. This room could be a luxury suite, and she still wouldn't be happy.
"Looks like you're about to get on the Oregon Trail. This is your home now, Mom."

She didn't say anything, so I closed the brass latches and stood the thing back up. Her primary bag had been unpacked and
stored in the attic, but this one remained like an escape suitcase. I looked around the room and realized the only personal affect
she'd put out was a mid-scream roller coaster photo from a senior care outing.

Eventually she allowed me to store the valise, still fully packed, under the foot of her bed. She went back to her magazine and
with her face obscured by a skate park, launched into a baroque sermon about a home filled with relatives, which was fine
enough and something to be thankful for, but not the same as one shared with your life's partner.

                                                                                        ***

After dinner, I declared an evening moratorium on numbers. Blake was going to break that record, whether or not he got in
three more hours of studying. My mother, on the other hand needed to get out of her bedroom.

"Instead," I said to them, "Blake is going to show us his skateboard tricks."

"But I don't know any."

"Then you can learn tonight."

Under the red and white signs depicting crossed-out skateboards, Blake rode circles around the park's swing set. My mother
and I were on swings with Max between us on the sand. Whenever he grunted or moved, I extended my legs straight and out
of his reach. It made my mother laugh.

"You're the nature nut," she accused.

"He's a domesticated pig, not a wild boar."

So my mother tied Max's leash to a sun-bleached, pink fiberglass rocking pig a few yards away, giggling to herself. Max
investigated the faded pig and, deciding it was okay, sat beside it.

Blake was trying to jump the skateboard off a curb but kept losing his balance. Finally my mother said, "Put your feet farther
back on the board. You'll have more leverage." Blake and I returned this with questioning glances. "What? I read it in an article."

With his grandma's advice, Blake resumed practicing. My mother and I glided over the sand, a view of a scrub-brush-swept hill
before us.

"I can't believe it's winter and we don't need a sweater," she said.

"It might rain tomorrow."

"It never rains in California," she said. "The climate's perfect. I'd always thought the state was either beach or desert. Either
way, nothing but sand." She dragged a foot through sand that had been trucked in.

"Hey, look!" Blake yelled. I turned and saw his arms raised in victory.

My mother and I, though we both missed it, clapped nonetheless. "The real challenge," she said, "is to do it twice."

                                                                                        ***

After lunch the next day, my mother and I watched a television program on attempts by cities across the country to stop
Wal-Mart from moving in. The problem of development was bigger than the tiny splotch of my neighborhood that I'd become
obsessed with. The TV show was detailing the prevalence of mountain lion attacks in recently developed areas when the phone
rang.

"I apologize for not calling earlier," a voice said. "This is Cliff Boatworth. My father, who owned The CONtent, passed away last
week."

I'd left a message with The CONtent yesterday, asking if they had copies of "So You Want to Live Deliberately".

"Thanks for calling me back," I said. "I'm so sorry about your father." Cliff and I talked a bit about his father and his store.
Eventually we got around to the book, and Cliff said he wasn't sure if he had any copies, that the store's organization had
declined as his father had aged. "I'll be liquidating everything this week," he added.

I asked if I could come look through the stock, which he said was fine. I didn't tell him I was the book's author.

When I hung up, my mother said, "Road trip?"

"Kind of." I thought she might laugh when I explained I was trying to recover old copies of my book, but she didn't interrupt
with any smart-alec line. "It can't take more than a few hours to look through a couple thousand books, right?"

She smiled. "And you think I'm crazy for stealing a snowball." She opened the freezer door and pulled it out, the thing having
now shrunk considerably from several days of the ice turning to gas and disappearing.

"If you want to come," I said, "I'm leaving in five minutes."

"I'll put Max in the backyard."

It wasn't until we were on the 15, above LA and passing ochre hills, that she asked how far it was to Lone Pine.

"Four hours."

We drove for a while without talking, she looking out the window and me staring straight ahead. Eventually she spoke up. "We
should have waited until the weekend, so Blake could come."

"He wouldn't have wanted to," I said, then caught myself. I didn't know this.

As if reading my thoughts, my mother said, "He might."

We drove some more. Silently I ran Blake's digits -- recited in his throaty whisper -- through my head. If nothing else, the trip
would have given him uninterrupted time to memorize.

"Do you think Alan will reseal the porch this fall?"

Alan was the cousin renting my mother's house. "I'll ask him to."

"Good," she said with a nod.

We passed more hills.

"You don't mind Max, do you?" I told her I didn't, and she said, "Are you sure?"

"I just hope he stops challenging me."

We stopped at an In n Out in Hesperia at my mother's request; she'd been on a Double-Double kick this past month. I liked
their hamburgers enough, but they were all she ever wanted. Still, I wouldn't argue; it was better than the Wienerschnitzel chili
dogs she'd previously been hooked on. I was doubly happy that her latest food addiction was only available on the West coast.
It was just one thing that she liked about California, but it was something.

My mother took a table outside while I ordered and returned with a tray. She pulled back the tan paper wrapping and we ate our
hamburgers while other travelers entered the restaurant in search of theirs.

Steve called as I was emptying the tray into the trashcan. My mother took the keys and got into the station wagon. Even
though it was 90 degrees she left the windows up as a sound barrier.

Steve said the convention was going well. He'd bought several Fleishmann toy boats and was looking for trucks without rust.
"What are you doing?"

"Feeding Max some carrots in the backyard. He's really taken to me."

I looked in the direction of my car, of my mother sitting inside. I was thankful she'd left the windows up. Because she was wiser
than me, and probably always would be, and I didn't want her to chastise me -- in loquacious detail -- for being embarrassed
about the road trip.

I might always be trying to cover up, or catch up, but I didn't want Blake to. And it occurred to me that I had no reason to be
sure he'd succeed. I had worked hard, too.

Steve said the development with Max was great news. "I bet you'll be walking him by the time I get home."

I hung up and got into the car with my mother, turning the air conditioner on high and pointing the vents in her direction.

"So this is where you spent so many summers," she said, looking out the window when we'd gotten back on the freeway. One
of Blake's skateboarding magazines was on her lap and she was mindlessly ruffling its pages with her thumb. "Remember when
you used to fill up that backpack, the one with the aluminum frame, and I wouldn't see you until September?"

"I didn't know what I was doing."

"Yes, you did. You were exploring the great outdoors, something other than the farms we'd raised you around. You were
having fun."

"I was ruining my future."

The road wound around a turn and I accelerated to climb another three hundred feet. She continued turning through the
magazine, looking at photo spreads and reading articles out of order.

"It's not wrong to want copies of your book," she said. "But none of us were disappointed that your second one didn't sell." In
the magazine's centerfold was a vertiginous skateboarder and she placed it against the wood veneer dash for a full view. "I saw
this artist on the local news yesterday; he works in skywriting. It only lasts a few minutes."

"You might get to see some snow," I quickly said, watching the RPMs race as I downshifted. "On the mountains, but we can
drive up close."
Michelle Panik