Just a Mountain

by Jules Archer

“Your mother and I saw it.”

And like always, they start at this.

They shouldn’t. The story’s not all that interesting. In fact, Dad tells the same story every year. He initiates and they goad him on; every time they pass the worn mountain with the piebald patch of trees at the very tip.

And it’s not the story that gets them. It’s the notion, the idea, the fathomable thought, that their Dad actually says the words without scowling, without distaste. Your mother and I. It’s one of the few times (the only really) their Dad speaks about their mother as if they were once a real, live, couple.

The sisters, settled in the back of the pickup truck, eye each other, mirror smiles and mischievous eyes. The Oldest scoots forward in her seat. Youngest nods, prodding her dad along.

Dad chuckles and even though they all know the story well, that old mountaintop in Red Lodge, Montana, brews up the annual nostalgia.

“Well,” he drawls, pointing at the approaching mountain in the distance, “Your mother and I were coming up here to hunt one year, driving this exact same road…and it was on that there  ridge when we saw it…”

“The bear right, dad?” Youngest asks, jumping in.

“Yup.”

“It was a black bear?”

“Nope, a grizzly. The biggest grizzly you ever seen, just playing outside of the tree line.”

Dad waits until the truck nears the spot on the mountain where he and his ex-wife once had their sighting and points. “Right…there. Just sunning himself…” His finger juts at the mountain, the tapestry of forest lining it with its one bare spot of green, unshielded by trees.

“That’s really cool. What did mom say about it?” Oldest asks, pressing a hand against the window, taking in the view, imagining the phantom bear.

“Oh, you know your mother. She laughed, snapped a few photos.” Dad reaches back to pat Oldest’s leg. “It was a good day, baby.”

And that’s that. The end of the story. Dad tosses the truck into gear, the old beast groaning as they prepare to head up the crooked switchbacks that lead into the canyon of the mountain and to their tried-and-true fishing site.

Surroundings fading away, the sisters give the mountain a longing glance, knowing that once upon a time, their parents had some good ones.

———

Feeling a bit nostalgic.

Here’s to Montana.

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