Hunting for Play
The brook would babble loudest at dusk. In the winter, I’d crack my window open to hear it’s sweet melody taunt me, beg me to come throw sticks in it, or wade in its shallows. The hundred year old Cottonwood trees were the kind that liked to whistle at me, creaking in the strong desert wind. My mom must have heard the same calls I did; she would randomly turn her head toward the brook in the middle of her stories. My brother and I would lay on each one of her sides, holding hands across her belly as we swayed in the beaded hammocks she made by hand. There, on the cusps of summer evenings, she would regale us with the stories of her hippie days, the concerts where she met Hendrix and did acid. We were fascinated with her, not because she told us things that were taboo in other households, but because this was the only time we spent with her. She was a labor and delivery nurse: her hands held other people’s babies more than they grazed our cheeks in loving touches.
When she wasn’t working, she went out with Carbo, the fictional hero of a romance novel that led nowhere. He was her meth peddler. “Someone has to do it all!” she would say. “I need something to keep me awake all the time.” It is something, isn’t it? And, we would walk up to our rooms to play, separate and alone. Then there were the golf course nights. When her head turned toward the brook, I knew we were in for it. She would grab us and swing us all out of the hammock in one, swift motion. Running upstairs, she would snatch three flashlights and three sweaters. “Time to get those skunks and raccoons!” she would yell running off into the sunset.
My brother and I would dash after her, flashlights jumping their rays up into the trees. We would hunt for the raccoons that scampered up the trunks to escape from our terror and madness. The goal was to get to the “lake,” a small, man-made water hole meant to swallow golf balls in its depths, but we liked to make it play music. There were crab apple trees surrounding the circumference of the lake. By feverishly yanking the fruit off the branches in clusters and tossing them high in front of us all at once, they would dance tenderly atop the water in a melodious xylophone effect…plop, plop, pleenck, plop. It was beautiful, and we would giggle. Off we would dash back home, tired and reluctant. I always wanted to see a raccoon; my mother said they were up in the trees watching us. The moment came where I finally saw one perched on the branch of my favorite Cottonwood. I didn’t say anything to my mom or my brother, but flickered my flashlight up to its glowing eyes every so often to confirm it was a raccoon. After that, the raccoon was always there. It took me a while to notice, but when I did, I saw two baby cubs on the branch below their mom, and I wondered: Did they yearn to play with her too?