Rick looked into Jill’s eyes. “Once we leave, there’s no turning back.”
“Uh huh. Meaning what again?”
“We’re off to the wilderness and we’re dependent only on what we can carry with us.”
Jill sounded skeptical. “You mean the wilderness out in our back yard?”
“Right, ‘til tomorrow. The contractors promised. They need the power off for twenty-four hours to finish.”
“And excepting bathroom breaks.”
“Of course. We’re not barbarians. Plumbing, yes. Electricity, no… Let’s do a quick inventory and get a move on. Are the kids all packed?”
They weren’t. Jill attended to Marie while Rick rousted Tim.
Moving a family of four to a tent for one day, though simple in theory became a surprisingly daunting task. Camping for a week would be no less difficult for the effort expended. Rick already had the tent and sleep gear ‘on site’. He planned to BBQ this evening. He’d filled the ice chest with drinks and a second one with food. A third held only ice. They had snacks, flashlights, batteries, spare clothing and blankets… Everything he could think of.
Video games, despite their obvious value for distracting young children, were verboten. This would be a family outing, damn it.
Rick wanted the kids to learn something – about self-reliance, planning and priorities. Though young, they were not too young. Tim, a rambunctious ten, saw the enterprise as a great adventure.
Marie, eight, remained on the sidelines. Sleeping anywhere but her tidy bedroom struck her as veering too closely into what animals are most famous for - dirt. Tim’s enthusiasm tipped the scale in the wrong direction. Marie felt a hostage.
Rick enlisted Tim to help raise the large tent. It provided ample room for them. But Tim got bored before the last tent stake got driven home. Rick tried to teach him the wonders of a compass but that became a chore too.
“Tim, it isn’t work if you look at it as a team project.”
“Knowing how things go together gives you an edge. You become a leader. You can teach others.”
“Okay. Can I go now?”
“Are you all packed?”
“Well make sure. Once we leave the house, there’s no going back.”
“Because I promised. Those are the rules.”
Rick didn’t understand it. At Tim’s age, he couldn’t get enough of this stuff. What’s the hang up? Marie, he understood. But Tim?
Jill said, “all the activity might be over stimulating.”
“Maybe. You have a good sense about this stuff. But most anything would be more stimulating than endless video games.”
Tim helped carry supplies out to the tent. Rick made arranging their gear into a contest.
“Listen up, guys. Great teamwork today. Everyone chipping in made it easier for everyone. Now, you know the rule. We are out here for the duration. No running back to the house. The workers need their space without worrying about tripping over a rug rat.”
Jill frowned at that term but the kids laughed.
“Pretend we’re camping in the wilderness. We have each other and the gear we brought. If you don’t have it, you do without. Got it?”
“Now, check your stuff. Ensure you have everything you need. No going inside. You have five minutes. Check your gear.”
Jill said, “And go to the bathroom.”
The kids rummaged through their things and played tug-o-war with one of the sleeping bags.
“I’m making one last trip to the house, guys. Anything else you need?”
The kids shook their heads. Jill shrugged.
“Good.” Rick ducked out of the tent.
He entered the house and scanned each room for some essential item. He spotted the first-aid kit. They never needed it. But sometimes a Band-Aid came in handy.
He grabbed a deck of cards from the junk drawer. Ready for any emergency.
He spoke to the contractor. The re-wiring project progressed as promised. They would finish tomorrow.
Rick stowed his last items in his corner of the tent. Jill had begun preparing for the barbecue. Laughing and yelling, the kids ran around the yard with squirt guns. He’d planned it perfectly.
Marie tripped over one of the tent ropes.
She screamed. “He pushed me!”
Rick ran to her and helped her up. “Are you okay?”
She repeated the charge which Tim loudly denied.
“But are you hurt, sweetie? That’s the important thing.” He examined her and she seemed no worse for wear. “Why don’t you two help Mommy get the food ready?”
Tim continued to protest.
Rick touched his shoulder. “I know, Tim. She ran too close to the tent. You’re the big brother. Let’s move forward. Help your Mom.”
Marie cried that she missed her doll.
Jill and Rick met her outside the tent.
“Dolly is missing!” she cried.
Rick looked at his wife.
She said, “No, not Parton. Don’t ask.”
Rick knelt down, “She’ll be okay. You can get her tomorrow.”
“I need her now!”
“That’s too bad, sweetie. We all agreed not to go into the house…”
“Rick…” He looked at Jill. “I’ll get it.”
“No. We agreed, Jill…”
“Do you really want to be the one who withholds her doll?”
Rick rolled his eyes. Jill went into the house.
He moved to the barbecue. He stuffed some newspaper into a cylindrical device and then filled it with charcoal.
“What’s that, Dad?”
“They call it a chimney. The holes draw air past the burning paper. The heat moves up to light the coals. It’s faster than the old way.”
He struck a match and lit the paper. Rick crouched and blew into the holes to encourage the flames. Smoke poured from the top.
Rick shuddered as ice water drenched him. He turned to see Tim holding an empty container.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Tim ran. Rick took after him as he rounded the tent. Tim tripped on a tent stake and slid on his belly. He rolled over and curled up defensively.
Rick shouted as he pulled Tim up by his shirt. Tim squirmed as Rick carried him and plopped him into a chair.
“Is this what you call team work? I’m trying to get something done here. If you won’t help, stay out of the way. Stay there.”
“Dad! Your shirt!”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“It caught on fire!”
“I told you to be quiet. I don’t… What are you talking about?” He pulled at his sleeve. Shreds of charred fabric pulled loose.
Tim said, “You were starting the fire and it came out the other side. Your shirt caught…”
Rick nodded. He offered Tim a hand up. “You okay? Sorry, Tim. I didn’t realize.”
“Didn’t you feel it? I was afraid.”
“I feel it now. You did the right thing. Thanks.”
They returned to the barbecue. Damp charcoal lay on the ground. It hadn’t had time to light. Rick shook his head. Tim had to laugh.
Marie cried out for her Dolly and ran to Jill. “Daddy started on fire! Tim put him out.”
Jill looked at Rick in shock.
“I’m okay. Need to dry off.”
“Are you burned? Let me look.” She frowned as she examined his shoulder. “How does it feel?”
He unbuttoned the shirt. “A little tender. Did it blister?”
“If it didn’t blister, it’s no worse than a sun burn. I’ll be fine. Tim’s quick thinking saved me.”
“Positive. That’s what first-aid kits are for. We’re in the wilderness, right?”
“You should clean it inside.”
“Inside is off limits. It’s dark in there.”
Tim said, “Just a flesh wound, right Dad?”
“Okay everybody, let me be clear. If any of you ever see me on fire, please don’t hesitate to put me out.”
Marie looked up. “It’s raining!”
The downpour began with a crack of thunder.
“Everyone into the tent!”
Laughing and screaming, they all ran for cover. Once inside, they took stock of the situation. The kids looked up at the roar of the deluge hitting the stretched canvas.
Rick said, “I guess burgers are out.”
Jill smiled, “So much for your wilderness journey.”
Pulling out his cell phone, Rick said, “I’ll see if they have something with pine nuts on it.”
He called and ordered, requesting the delivery to the tent in the back yard.
Jill applied ointment to Rick’s shoulder. “How does it feel? You must be cold. Do you have another shirt?”
“I’ll be alright.”
“Go in and get one, Rick.”
“Jill, I won’t break the rules. We’re in the wilderness, right?” They nodded. “And I’ve got you all to keep me warm.”
Marie draped a blanket over Rick’s shoulders. He thanked her with a hug and a kiss.
He pulled out the deck of cards. “Who wants to play Gin?”
Tim and Marie spread a blanket on the floor of the tent while Rick hung the lantern on the tent post.
He tossed the cards to Tim. “Your deal. You with me?”
“Got your back, Dad.”