The lightning storm from a few nights earlier momentarily scarred the surface of Ukanom Lake with ordered ranks of quivering pines, wavering in their sessile salute to death.
The next morning we were wrapped in smoke.
Driving south on Highway 5 the yellowed teeth of the sky opened just enough for me to see Mt. Shasta, almost unrecognizable without its usual turban of snow.
Four years ago, on that very same payphone there, I had a wonderful conversation with my dad, having no idea it would be one of our last.
“Why you so good to me, Pop?” I had asked, after he had offered to fund me on some then-important road trip to Utah.
“Because I love you, you dope.”
After last night, while sleeping in a puddle near Castle Lake during a mid-July downpour, with frothing indigestion from bad tortilla soup, Shasta is once again a pure white grizzly hump piercing the stratosphere.
Just as annual events give time a set of false teeth, so to does returning to a place for the second time after years of being elsewhere.
Perhaps that payphone still houses your voice somehow.
In the months after you died I would pick up the phone every once in awhile and start to dial your number, only to remember that you weren’t home.
Some day, years from now, I’ll probably return to this little town, and that payphone will be gone. Perhaps then, I will finally begin to believe that you are gone as well.
Mt. Shasta, CA
Mt. Shasta, CA