I’m hanging from the railing of a deck. At a chateau in a state where I don’t live. On a vacation that I was coerced to come on. Pissing and shitting my pants.
A man reaches for me. Our wives are sisters. This man and I make nice. He reeks of pot. All these years, I’ve never touched him. I want desperately to touch him now.
Below me, a twenty-foot drop. Onto land I’m told is beautiful. In a state that they call paradise.
Paradise is six hours from home. By Nissan Versa. With a wailing three-year-old. Her mother promised to drive half-way, but laid her feet on the dash and slept.
How did I end up here? This man’s wife is a bartender. Her cocktails taste like sundaes. I came out to smoke. A cigarette, not pot. I looked over the railing. (Ironically) thinking of jumping.
There are bears in paradise. I hope they find me before these people do. Better headlines. I would become the best anecdote of everyone I knew. My tragedy would ruin this place for these in-laws. Which I have attempted for years.
My three-year-old is watching, her nose nuzzling the glass door. Crooking it, like the day she was born from being pressed against the wall of her womb. Upon arrival, I released her from her car seat. She toddled to me and threw a hand on my knees. Then vomited car-sickness through the tent of my legs. Onto the golden carpet of paradise.
She’s isn’t crying now. Her brain knows it won’t recall me if I fall. Hard-deleted. Replaced by a man my wife likely doesn’t know yet. But my flaws will inform his selection. I, the beta version of her happiness. A trial-run whose bugs he’ll overcome. Perhaps he’ll be a first-responder. The man who recovers me from the guts of a bear. The only father my daughter will know.
The brother-in-law reaches. I grab and catch him. His hand is tacky. I’m not bothered. He is like an angel topping these trees. And just as high.
Earlier, we hiked a mountain. His thighs chafed. He blamed this on physical bulk from his recently-adopted workout regimen. My eyes rolled then. I’ve since become converted. His musculature is astounding: thighs that can lock and remain planted, shoulders fit to lift a man. From the jaws of hungry bears.
When he lifts, I rise. I release the railing and grab with a second hand. My nails draw blood.
Then, I’m over the railing. On my back. Safe.
In-laws embrace me. I heave. And vomit a sundae of liquor. And wail real tears. My wife, un-widowed. My child, un-bastardized. She’s crying now. Her brain has acquiesced. I, as her father, am here to stay.
Then, I realize: to die in Tennessee is to die a martyr; to merely cause panic in Tennessee is to cause an uncomfortable drive back to Ohio.
I’ve made the pothead a hero. Ruined their vacation, but lived to face the music.
Bears of paradise, forgive me.
M.C. Schmidt is the author of the novels Blue Flame and Murder is a Drag. He is not a fan of family vacations to Gatlinburg TN.
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