My fingernails are filthy, I notice, as I tend to the fire at my little campsite on the top of Table Rock. It’s no surprise. Climbing a cliff is a dirty business, Dad used to say.
Dad used to climb Table Rock with me when I was a boy. He’s here with me now, but this time, he rode up in my backpack, his body conveniently converted to ashes and placed in a can by the local crematorium. It’s a situation a bit like the powered eggs we’d used to have for breakfast, rehydrating them with a little water. I briefly wonder if it would be possible to rehydrate Dad.
That would probably take a lot of George Dickel whiskey, I muse, and I’ve only brought one bottle. The thought of it makes me thirsty, and I pull the bottle out of my backpack and take a sip. Pretty soon that sip resolves into another, and another, and more. Dusk falls on Table Rock, and the buzz I’ve given myself vies for prominence with the preen of the crickets in the birches and maples that line the surrounding mountains.
I take Dad out and sit his Folgers can on the edge of Table Rock, letting him take in the gathering gloom of twilight and the sound of the insect symphony. He used to like this time of day, especially in remote places like this. He would light a cigarette and pour his whiskey and revel in the solitude. Dad didn’t like being around people all that much. He and I got along great when I was a kid, but when I aged to the point of possessing independent thought, he had no use for me.
I roast a couple of hot dogs on a tree branch over the fire and eat them for my dinner. This reminds me, like everything else, of being up here with Dad as a kid. Sometimes, we’d also have a can of beans, hobo style, but I didn’t bring any this time. I usually ate the bulk of the food when I was a kid. Dad was content with his whiskey. He’d never given me any, even when I begged, because I wanted to be just like him. It didn’t matter. He’d passed on to me the thirst for the stuff in my genes, and that was the gift that keeps on giving.
As night closes in, I walk over to Dad and pull the plastic lid of his can. I pour a drop of Dickel into the can. Have a last drink, Dad, I say. I hear the drop fall and kiss itself into the ashes. Nothing rehydrates. No hard working timbermen. No lonely alcoholics. No wife beating maniacs. Nothing.
I walk back to the center of Table Rock and place the bottle of whiskey down by the fire. It’s a liter sized bottle, and there’s plenty to last me through the night. Dad wanted his ashes spread up here over Table Rock. I’ve come to oblige.
I get a running start, and I race toward the can, and then, in my best NFL field goal kicker impression, I send the can sailing into the blue black air. It spins, end over end into the distance, spreading a shadow of dust and Dad into the firmament.
As I walk back to the fire and the whiskey, I imagine Dad settling peacefully over the rocks, trees, streams and dirt trails that lead up to Table Rock. He’ll be happy here, among the things he could relate to.
As I sit and sip my whiskey, I realize that when I climb down tomorrow, I’ll almost certainly gain little bits of Dad in amongst the dirt under my fingernails. I should have clipped them shorter, I muse.
I figure I’ll wash my hands of him when I get home.