The numbers on the car clock glowed orange. Forty-two minutes before take-off. The black leather was sticky because no breeze blew through the window at our ten mile per hour crawl. We always cut it close when we traveled with Pop, but this time I was sure we would miss our flight.
Fifteen minutes before take-off we arrived at the gate. The flight lady said they had closed the plane door. Pop was vehement that they open it, so they did. We ran down the tarmac to the plane, its propellers spinning. We were three of nineteen people on the flight. I counted.
I could tell Pop really wanted to show us a good time. Our rental SUV had a CD player and I played the new Dashboard Confessional album. We drove north from the airport and the music was a soundtrack to the languid, late summer sun, which flickered through pines and firs like a reel of lost film.
Two hours later we saw the water from the lip of the crater, two hundred feet below. The water was the bluest thing I had ever seen. It was like a blue cat’s eye marble that sits in dusty back-alleys and gets kicked around and because of how it looks against the beige and brown background of ordinary, seems even bluer. No. It was a hundred times bluer than that. Think of the best sunset you’ve ever seen, just after the sun has slipped below the horizon, the color of that little striation above the red and yellow, below the black. That’s a closer approximation of the color of this water. The only other water that could compare is South Pacific deep-sea water, the kind Great Whites and marlin and hundred pound tuna call home. It was bluer than that.
And it was ice fucking cold. Because it’s so deep. So you dive in, jump fifteen feet off a cliff or whatever, and the surface, the first three feet are constantly warmed during the day by the sun. But where your legs are treading the heat cannot reach, and all the surface heat is sucked down, down, two thousand feet, to where the water is pitch black, black like the sky above that post-sunset striation of blue.
It didn’t last long, the swim, because of the cold. So we got out after five minutes, letting the sun dry the tiny water beads that accumulated on our flanks, beading and cold, our hair drying from the late August sun. We took in the blueness of the lake again, because it was so incredibly blue, and walked up the hill, cutting through sandy volcanic ash, fertile for young evergreens, that slid and fell away as we beat the switchback path, one level to the next, grateful for the gravel path when we started to sweat. By the time we reached the parking lot a thin slime of sweat crept along our temples. Even our underwear, which we had swum in, had dried during the hike.
Satisfied, we left the park and drove south across the desert, lower into the wooded hills, and across the state border. The forest, an ancient person-less valley, echoed with the trees’ song, which faded in a dusky mewl of pain. They were singing about man’s vanity.
One of the biggest mountains rose in the distance. It had the same name as the off-brand soda mom bought us for thirty cents a can when we used to go to Winco when we first moved west. We sat in the car on hot July afternoons eating greasy chicken fingers and dunking them in ranch or barbecue sauce. That was the highlight of the day for us, when we went to the supermarket, when our restlessness forced us to leave the house, and mom bought us as much jo-jos and chicken as we wanted so she wouldn’t have to make dinner. I don’t know what Pop ate when he came home. Maybe that was the beginning of when they stopped loving each other. I considered this as the silhouette of the mountain shined black against the orange sky.
We drove ten miles out of the way to a campground for gas but it was too expensive to fill her up. Pop said give it ten dollars worth, we’ll get the rest in town. The high trees were red sepulchers in the dusk, guarding the deeper woods. We saw a tall ranger with a stiff hat outside a station and asked him how to get back to the road.
It was dark, and we stopped at a diner for more Americana, runny beans and fried potatoes and thick burgers. Wooden panels lined the walls, exactly the way I imagined Smoky the Bear’s house. From the diner across the border was another hour. Dashboard Confessional crooned. I had to turn it down and then off, because we had listened to it already, and I was embarrassed that I wanted to listen to it again, and that Pop wanted quiet. I admired the stalagmites of sweat that had formed on the brim of my ballcap from the day’s adventures.
The hotel parking lot was full with shiny chrome trucks and SUVs. The long quiet corridors still smelled of new carpet. In our room, the TV was on a fixture that swiveled to face one of the two beds.
“Pop,” I said, “I’m worried about missing football practice.”
“Why? I told your coach we’re on vacation.”
“Yeah. I just… I hope they still let me play.”
“They will. And if they don’t, I’ll talk to them.”
I said okay, but I didn’t believe him. I didn’t want him to talk to the coaches. I wanted to stay there and forget football and my new school and their divorce. That was the day I learned the best deceptions are the ones we play on ourselves.