The Andersons spent spring break ogling breathtaking vistas at the Columbia River Gorge. On the fifth day of ogling, little Jeremy swallowed a breathtaking vista. Nothing ogle-worthy remained. A few scraps of bark and the occasional puddle. This embarrassed Mr. Anderson.
“Spit that out right this minute,” he said, slapping the back of his son’s head. Angry tourists and their guides surrounded the Andersons, their cameras threatening to become clubs.
“I can’t,” said little Jeremy, “I’m all blocked up with serene beauty.” His breath smelled of waterfalls.
This only angered Mr. Anderson more. He was a practical man; tucked in, belted, combed over. He wasn’t a fan of flowery language, and he certainly wasn’t about to apply it to his son, who, with his mangled teeth and horse nose, had somehow bypassed the Law of Universal Cuteness in children his age. “Listen to what I tell you,” Mr. Anderson said.
“Listen to what your father tells you,” Mrs. Anderson said.
“Listen to what your parents tell you,” the angry tourists said.
The boy belched pine needles.
A shortish man in khakis approached the Andersons. “As a representative of the Columbia River Gorge Breathtaking Vista Conservation Society,” he said, “I am obliged to take your son into custody until such a time as he relinquishes possession of said breathtaking vista. These folks have come from all corners of the world to ogle this particular breathtaking vista. Our economy depends upon such ogling.”
Mr. Anderson grabbed his son and thrust him into the air. “Step back or the kid eats the gift shop!”
A few tourists fainted. The representative of the Columbia River Gorge Breathtaking Vista Conservation Society screamed.
“Let him gobble it up,” said the gift shop manager, a moled woman with a lunch lady physique. “Who wants to buy tee shirts and key chains and velvet paintings depicting a breathtaking vista that doesn’t exist?” Half the tourists thrashed into their oversized plastic shopping bags, hunting for receipts.
The representative of the Columbia River Gorge Breathtaking Vista Conservation Society took a few steps toward the Andersons, who were backing away with their hostage breathtaking vista child. “Can’t we reason this out?”
“What’s to reason?” asked Mr. Anderson. “Don’t think I’m not tanning his hide when we get home.”
“Can I take a look at him?”
“He’s hardly breathtaking.” Mr. Anderson shoved his kid forward.
“Open your mouth there, boy.”
Jeremy looked back at his dad.
“Do as the nice man says, Jeremy,” said Mrs. Anderson.
Jeremy did as the nice man said. The representative of the Columbia River Gorge Breathtaking Vista Conservation Society stuck a finger in the boy’s mouth and peeked inside: the hawks were circling over the ancient trees, breathtakingly. “It’s all there,” he said. “A nice place to visit, a better place to bring home in the form of tee shirts, key chains, and velvet paintings. Take a look everyone, and don’t forget your cameras. Single file!”
The tourists shrugged and lined up in front of the boy. An old couple on their second honeymoon was first — they took turns stretching Jeremy’s mouth and pointing at the nature down his throat.
“Ma,” mumbled Jeremy, “I sick. Don’ like dis.”
“Shut up,” said the tourist. “My wife can’t see the mountains.”
Mr. Anderson went off to the side and whispered with the representative of the Columbia River Gorge Breathtaking Vista Conservation Society. They returned in seconds, holding hands.
“Five dollars per view!” they said.
“Oh, I’m so proud of him!” Mrs. Anderson said, holding another tourist’s toddler up to peep inside her son.
Mr. Anderson sat in a foldout chair beside Jeremy, patting the boy’s arm and weeping tears of pride. The line went around the corner of the gift shop, which now sold tee shirts and key chains and velvet paintings depicting Jeremy’s mouth depicting a breathtaking vista.
“Isn’t he wonderful?” said Mr. Anderson between sobs. Another five dollar bill joined the others on his lap.
“Quite the wonderful spectacle indeed,” beamed the representative of the Columbia River Gorge Breathtaking Vista Conservation Society.
“Isn’t he as precious as a dewy morning?” said Mr. Anderson.
“Dewy! Yes, that’s it exactly!” said the gift shop manager.
“As the golden rays at sunrise?”
“I can see the rays, Mommy!” said a tourist child.
“As rose petals dripping with a fresh spring rain?”
Mrs. Anderson nodded, welcoming the next tourist in line.
“Scenic!” Echoed the tourists, cameras clicking.
A deer hoof wiggled out of Jeremy’s mouth. Mr. Anderson pushed it back in with his palm.
J. W. Shumate earned his MFA from West Virginia University. He writes and teaches in Boston.
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