In and out
of the landscape, our car was engulfed in evergreens with sunlight perched on their tops, and their low branches reflected in fresh puddles that littered the sunbaked earth.
the warm seat from our 2002 milky white Aztec, I watched the five-pound portable cassette player continue to sing as its colors danced on the small box screen, not noticing we had stopped.
of the car, I opened the door in the fresh air while following my smiling dad, gazing at the looming cement monument in the distance.
this world, my dad was like a landscape; he remained constant as the cliffs, stable as the ancient arches, and his smile was as consistent as the air I breathed.
on the gravel underneath the overbearing raised plaque, I lurched my head straight up at the bronze image seeing two men and a woman peeking out with a wishful finger pointing west.
a quick hand motion, my mom signaled us for a photo. Then my dad hugged me close to his chest, and I could feel the air slowly fill and stiffly drain from his lungs.
of our picture-perfect trance, my parents whispered to themselves as I meandered back into the car, still hearing their hushed voices as they entered, sat down, and then over the sound of kicked gravel as we left the parking lot.
the car, I watched from the window as we pushed away from historic trees, passed skeletons of million-year-old mountains, passed vanishing elk in amber woods, and five-second towns so small they vanished as quickly as they appeared.
of the forest, we rolled into a parking spot groaning to a jittering stop in front of the park’s main visitor center, which was a large cluster of shops with pine floors that creaked and families that rang small bells hanging from doorknobs as they entered to store owners offering them deals on golden honey, huckleberry jams, and other things as rewards for their journey.
the shade of the entranceway, together we hopped out of the car, yet, my dad walked away from us while taking out a small L-shaped tube from his back pocket, pushing the top while inhaling, trying his best to breathe.
over the hills, my ears caught a whining sound that began as a whisper among the wildlife and decaying wood, but it wasn’t the wind whipping through the landscape; it grew, overcoming all sounds demanding to be heard like a hissing cicada.
the parking lot, an ambulance screeched to a halt as other visitors continued circling in and out of shops, yet one thought filled my mind. Where was my dad?
of sight of the person who was wheeled into the ambulance; my mom shielded us as we ran back to the car, jumped in, and as our engine ignited as the ambulance’s tires rotated, and without wasting a second, she followed close behind.
the two-lane road, we tailgated the ambulance, the flashing red lights searing into my eyes as the siren screamed at the cars ahead of us, charging forward like a bison, charging toward a western ridge where its calf lay in the shade of a lone pine oblivious of the dangers lurking in the swaying grass. Where was my dad?
beyond the other side of my window, we sped through descending sun with its dying light staining the bottom of the rippled clouds peach, shadowing the blue canvas and awakening twilight flowers while the horizon’s vivid, bittersweet tangerine brightened the monotony of the wild withered landscape.
a glimpse, we saw the wilderness bathed in water; moose and bison treaded through streams as partnered travelers toward waterfalls, where small puddles made swimming pools for chickadees who used decaying oak branches for springboards, where the water rolled off an unfurled raven’s charcoal wing, all heading west toward the sunken sun. Where was my dad?
of view, the young night stirred as we drove as their shadows slithered in the fields, and prairie dogs scurried over dried elk tracts into the underbrush. A wolf howled at the glimpse of the malicious moon’s grin, while somewhere in the darkness, a pair of owl eyes reflected the flashing red light that flickered over the cold and lifeless ground; its crimson light guided us toward a white building with a red cross.
The world stopped.
I entered the white-walled hospital room.
My dad was lying in bed with an oxygen tube in his nose.
On his index finger, there was a small clamp and a wire.
I pointed at it.
He put it on my finger.
He pointed to a screen above him.
He smiled at my heartbeat.
I returned it to his finger.
He breathed normally again.
As he dozed off, I took his hand.
As he pushed and pulled the air, I watched his chest rise and fall.
I squeezed his hand, feeling the rough channels in his palm that reminded me of the landscape. We weren’t always going to be together, and it won’t always be like this.
Although we suspended it for as long as we could.
We will wither, fade, and die
Shayla Felix is a Pacific Northwesterner living in Bellingham, Washington, currently studying creative writing at Western Washington University. She loves going outdoors, collecting weird-looking rocks, and marine biology (especially the creatures found in tide pools), and she hopes to travel to all fifty states one day. Follow her on Twitter @shayla_felix.