Saturday, June 13, 2015
Resolute, I rinsed the big trout off in the restorative water of the river. I cleaned all the fish, washed up, ate the last of some beef jerky, and took all the gear to camp. There was no sign of Clay. It was as if he had never been there.
I put the fish in the cooler of half melted ice and remaining pop. I carried it to the parking spot where I found Gal’s car missing. Opening my car door, the phone was still plugged in and fully charged. I loosed it from its tether and fired it up. Displaying the time as 10:30, I smiled. I could be on the road by noon and still make it home just before dark.
“Thanks for nothing Clay, oh, and for leaving my phone,” I said to no one.
A chipmunk came up to my feet and begged for a freebie. I found a withered french-fry on the floor by my seat and tossed it down. Its cheeks filled, the ‘munk took off, and I went to break camp.
I filled my car with equipment, removed all traces of having camped, and left for home in midday’s heat. Humidity high, I put the car’s AC on medium and made tracks for the Upper Peninsula.
My phone remained asleep all the way to my first pee stop. At the state’s roadside rest area, I relieved and replenished myself. I was down to 25 bucks and used a fifth of it on vending machines. A large paper cup of black mystery fluid, boiling hot, passed back and forth between my hands and smelled somewhat like java. In my car, I synched my phone to the radio and called my wife. Knowing she was working, I left a message on the home machine.
“Hello there my lovely one. I’m headed home, should be there right at dark, and I am soooo ready to be next to you in our bed. Love ya, bye.”
Northbound traffic on I-75 was piddly compared to that heading south. Countless vehicles, almost bumper locked, tape wormed their way home at a scooter’s pace. Finishing my candy bars and cream filled cake, I choked down coffee swill. A road sign wooed me to the mighty Mac Bridge that waited some 30 miles away.
Contemporary and folk tunes about heaven came to mind but also an old hymn I learned from Clay. It came to him via his church. Sung in Ojibwe, it spoke of Gitchi Manido and Ishpeming. Yep, God and heaven, and people made of red earth. Big Nob might be waiting at the toll booth to take my entrance fee for Ishpeming. I hoped so.
Finally on the bridge, it reminded me of Clay and how he hated crossing the straights. I put him from my thoughts as the tires of my car hummed inconsonant tones while passing over steel grate plates of the bridge.
I coasted to the toll plaza slowly and switched lanes when I saw Big Nob’s silhouette in a booth.
Five days had passed since seeing Nob but it felt like a month. I had my money ready and rolled up. The big guy’s goofy grin made me want to jump out and bro-hug him.
“Get back to heaven before the devil knows you’re escaping hell,” was his command as I lowered the window the rest of the way and stopped.
“Dammed straight Nob, all the way,” I replied.
He snatched the money from me on the first try as I plied our routine.
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