The bed shakes, the window rattles in its sash.
By the time Andrew fully wakes, the low rumble has stopped. He rises from the bed and walks to the pine-paneled kitchen for a glass of water tapped from Cambrian sources beneath the soil and duff of the Redwood Empire. Returning down the small hall of the cottage, his weight creaks the wood-planked floor.
He looks in on Ellie, asleep, undisturbed by the earthquake. Scarf looks up from the foot of her bed, the rattle of a growl beginning low in his chest, as if he’s returned to the litter, the cold canine night, the lair. It’s common knowledge that animals sense imminent earthquakes.
"Good dog," Andrew whispers to the Jack Russell terrier he purchased for his daughter from a farmer out on Cutback Road. Three months now, and Scarf has tuned into Ellie deeply, territorially–the farmer said he’d do that. Ellie sighs in her sleep and turns slightly toward the wall. Her Wendigo Elementary School backpack is ready, a sad note for the transplant kid still intent on belonging after just over one full year. Her sixth-grade classmates have been mostly kind, she says, though one accused her of being a "Bay Area person."
Andrew finds the charcoal shadow of his own bedroom door.
There was a big earthquake here once. It knocked over the marquee at Wendigo Theater. It is something he will wait to tell Ellie.
He lies back down, knowing that if he heard certain songs right now, or thought certain thoughts, he would weep, but hears instead the cry of a raven for which the night has been mixed in its blessings, and thinks nothing.
*
The off-leash area is set near a low rock cliff at the base of which two mature elms take divergent paths upward from the stone. Dry whacks of a tennis game on a nearby court counterpoint the listlessness of the sun-drenched giants, which predate Columbus, even Jesus. This first October in Wendigo is profoundly hushed, the weight of ages heavy and warm on yet another one-strip redwood gateway. A forested crossroads morphed from a trapper settlement and is now home to retirees who can afford it, service people driving fuel-efficient cars, and a complement of pot growers who zealously guard their crops, some of them hardcases. Count the tourists too, always, but especially in summer.
Ellie’s swim lesson leaves Andrew alone with Scarf at Muir Park.
His cell phone throbs, and the natives glance disapprovingly. It’s Carol, Jana’s old best friend.
"Can’t wait to see the redwoods," she says.
"But you’ve been here before," Andrew reminds her.
"Yeah, ages ago, as a kid."
Jana and Carol met at Devon Hill County Club, philanthropic division, Carol newly divorced, but the combination of happily married and just divorced somehow melded. They became an almost everyday thing, the kind of hip-joined women friends who would have been thirtyish stay-at-home moms in another era. Andrew theorized that Carol represented some free bird of a woman to Jana, and to Carol, Jana was a proximity of marriage to cling to…but what did he know? They shared in their relative affluence a calling to give back to the community.
You could call Andrew close to Carol too, fraternally, as befits a happily married husband. They became a trio on Saturday nights, with occasional guest appearances by Carol’s dates.
Her voice is dry and revved up, the connection clear from Orinda.
"How do you think it will be for Ellie, me coming?" Carol asks.
"We’ve gotten a dog, Scarf."
"You’re a good dad, Andy. See you tomorrow afternoon."
Scarf intercepts an imperious beagle who wanders close, and they sniff. He’s always more volatile in Ellie’s absence. It’s like the dog knows she is regenerating somehow and wants his part of it. With Andrew it’s just the opposite. There’s this distinct impression that Scarf wishes the apparent leader of the pack would snap out of it, do something exuberant or adamant, or even show fury. Like Scarf feels an instinctual aversion to a disgraced alpha, a being untrustworthy for its aura of collapse.
The cell phone throbs again, and the natives are mulling the newcomer’s sense of propriety.
Alarmingly, it’s the director of the community swim center.
"We’ve had a little incident here, but Ellie’s fine."
She does seem fine, sitting up in the director’s office.
"What happened, honey?"
"I don’t know–I just got a cramp."
"Our lifeguard got to her within seconds," says the director, with a perfect blend of concern and legal awareness.
On the ride home she’s quiet, but that’s not unusual. Andrew can smell the chlorine in her drying brown hair.
*
That night Ellie talks about a boy named Sean, a member of Wendigo Junior High School’s swim team.
"He has a dog, Delta," she announces from the wood-framed couch. Such talk has never been big between them. She has taken Jana’s cue, who had seemed to think men needed a lot of quiet time, and that a mother was the one for talking. The best times at Devon Hill were when they’d take on a task together, rounding up some Christmas decorations at the mall or turning a flower bed for one of Jana’s plantings.
"Delta?"
"His family came here from Antioch."
"How old is Sean?"
"Fourteen."
"What does he want to be when he grows up?"
"Dad."
It figures the first boyfriend would come now. It had to happen someday.
Jana was like that, one for the boys. It makes sense her little girl would find her bearings with a boyfriend. Andrew wraps his mind around Ellie coming of age, how time registers differently in the Redwood Empire, the childhood vacation that is now his life. He has forgotten when Wendigo resonated in his search and Devon Hill was only resonant with grief, that his redwood memory sprang from the deepest of all summers on earth. It is different living every week, every month, every somnambulant minute of the year–and now their first autumn–under the ancient trees. Down deep where he almost won’t admit, he hopes they intercede. Work a miracle cure, like the opposite of headstones. He hopes they have some capacity only to be found here. He has the strangest feeling the trees will be there for him when he is ready.
Scarf senses something, looks up and licks Ellie’s face unexpectedly. For that brief second it’s like Jana is still alive, perhaps folding clothes in the back bedroom.
It is just over a year since Loma Prieta, the rumble that left them bereft.
*
He’d wrangled an early punch-out from his boss at Field Aeronautics. Ryan Lipke was no Giants fan, had the Athletics all the way, but he understood. After signing Ellie out early from aftercare, he stopped off at Albertsons and was home a good forty minutes before the scheduled first pitch in the third game of 1989’s legendary World Series Battle of the Bay. Jana’s supervisor at the credit union was bound to regular business hours, World Series or not, so Jana would have to catch the first inning on the radio during her commute home.
Andrew was setting two plates of fish sticks and rice on the counter during the pregame when the earth pitched. This one had a sickening duration. There was a moment of ominous curvature in the window over the dining room table. The power went out and then came back on, all in the time it took Ellie to run to his side, the way she always moved to whatever parental unit was closest when earthquake weather proved portentous.
Father and daughter gazed at the restored television, Candlestick Park, the fans standing, ballplayers peering up at the thrumming steel.
Andrew saw the Cypress Structure on his screen.
Chopper cams zeroed in on a pile of toppled concrete trusses, smoking here and there in the evening sun. The power went off, stayed off.
And Jana never came home. Her spine snapped when the upper level crashed down, and she died, right there on the top deck, with the sun pouring down and the streets still shaking.
Ellie understood, the earthquake killed her mother. She cried often in those first weeks and regularly asked to stay home from school with her hard-hit and long-divorced maternal grandmother. After a lost Christmas and dreary day-to-day sleepwalk through a time of regional earthquake repairs and a changed dynamic with friends and associates, Andrew gave his notice at Field in February and stuck a For Sale sign in front of the house. Ellie was oblique when given the news, no complaining and no excitement either, as if passive to the designs of a higher power that had already wreaked havoc in her life.
After meeting with a realtor in their emptied-out, three-garage mini-McMansion with wall-to-wall bamboo flooring, he went upstairs to the room that up until the day the movers came he’d left exactly as when they’d been together there. When he was apprenticing at an aircraft maintenance shop in San Lorenzo and she worked a Denny’s gig to pay the California taxes. New Wave music had swept the eighties, and a night on the town meant over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, where dancing and occasional snorting went on into the night. Then she got pregnant, he got hired at Field (a big raise), and then Ellie came, and nights they came home after work and school. Nights out were dinners with other marrieds-with-children. On weekends, a Lake Tahoe Best Western fit the bill.
They were planning a second child when Loma Prieta happened. In fact, before the autopsy, he thought, feared, that Jana had been already in the first weeks of a pregnancy. The autopsy showed that she was not pregnant at the time of her death.
A cottage near Wendigo’s touristy strip was a bargain after greatly appreciated Devon Hill sold. Jana’s respectable early death benefit was cold money, but she would have wanted them to have it. They had enough to live on for at least two years without touching his savings.
*
Carol has the Bay Area edge that Andrew lost. She exhibits in her caftan dress the fractured duality of waiting in lines and moving at breakneck freeway speeds with someone on your bumper. He gives her a big hug in the front yard, noticing the suburban grit caked on her Jetta’s undercarriage.
Ellie comes out, Scarf not quite himself, almost polite, at her side.
"So, this is Scarf," says Carol, scratching the terrier’s rock-hard noggin. They leave an anxious and disgruntled dog at the cottage and lunch at the Fir Pit. Carol has trimmed down since Andrew and Ellie went down for Emilio’s funeral, but the relentless Orinda sunshine is beginning to tell on her. Andrew has always appreciated her lithe prettiness, but with Jana nearby, it was through an objective prism, as in wishing for Carol a good man. They are part of the same loss now, Andrew keeps reminding himself–anything more is unthinkable.
"I thought we’d take a ride up the Avenue of the Giants tomorrow," he says as the waitress takes his plate.
"Can Scarf go?" asks Ellie.
"I don’t see why not."
They drop Carol off at the Best Western, and her back walking to her upstairs room is somehow a mirror of Jana leaving. Andrew comes into Ellie’s room and sits on her bed. Scarf nuzzles under her pillow, two malevolent lights in his black eyes.
"Mom had good taste in friends," Ellie says ingeniously.
Her backpack is ready, and her expensive pink Nike athletic shoes jar in the patina of her bedroom’s soft wood. She’s got a photo of a boy tilted against her nightstand lamp, a skinny California boy if ever there was one, olive toned, and masculine, but with traces of both sexes, the progeny of where land meets sea.
"Is that Sean?"
"Yes."
She’s a good student, he tells himself. The teachers at Wendigo Elementary have elevated her work beyond what would be expected for any motherless child. They didn’t know her before, can only guess at the change, but apparently see enough to know hers is a soul in the process of being saved. Like Scarf, they want their part in it.
The children he’s seen with Ellie seem to accept her, including another transplant girl who seems vivacious in such a way as to put her parents on notice. But he knows enough about what can happen in junior high to watch and wait, hoping Ellie will be stronger when their second October arrives.
The town is holding their bets on him, however. There’s been no woman in his life, and even in evolved California that can raise eyebrows. They’re still waiting, after one goddamn year, to see how best to reconcile man and daughter. He does what is necessary, won’t perform a Mr. Mom kabuki for them. He has tried to present the image of a stricken but dutiful father, and he thinks they do believe that. There’s nothing they can quite pin on him.
On the avenue the next morning, they hike under the giants. Andrew and Ellie have been around long enough to be called locals in the accelerated California sense, Carol the suburban outsider, and Scarf finds a great hall of edification among these prehistoric trunks, to and fro, now out front, now a switchback behind them. A place of great markers and scents a dog could only dream of, and now does dream of. No sunlight filters to the gray dust and duff between the trees.
They skip the Fir Pit and opt for a Thai restaurant making a go on a side street off the strip. Scarf is finally exhausted and doesn’t protest his exile in the car.
*
May Day 1990, Loma Prieta’s six-month anniversary. A phone call from Emilio’s mother, Toya. Jana had befriended the Rastafarian handyman after finding his name on the Albertsons bulletin board and hiring him for some tile work in the bathroom off the great room. Toya said that Emilio had been hit by an SUV while crossing El Camino Real. Andrew and Ellie drove down for the funeral.
The Cypress Structure’s ruins were gone. A graded line of dirt presaged the construction of a new ground-level freeway. Andrew spotted the billboard Afro queen, still smiling into the heart of Oakland, over the gold-orange beauty salon near where Jana had died. Grotesquely tilted storefronts on the dunes of San Francisco’s Marina were long demolished and gone, and the Bay Bridge was whole again.
After picking Carol up at Devon Hill, they attended Emilio’s service and then joined his modest procession along the Bayshore Freeway to one of Colma’s renowned cemeteries. A darkened avenue haunted their return to Wendigo, and songs did come that brought familiar tears, made him cough up a few low sobs, Ellie fast asleep in the backseat.
A fox darted out near the high school fence, grimacing as if Andrew’s headlights complicated its hunt.
Two months later, a dog Andrew found in an advertisement in the Garberville Gazette.
*
Carol’s over for breakfast Saturday morning, and she won’t hear of missing the dog park. Andrew collects Scarf’s leash, and they all pile in the car. Once loosed, Scarf wanders the familiar terrain in ever-widening circles, looking back every now and then. Silk fairies from some impertinent deciduous budding float the scene and stick to dogs’ noses.
"Looks like the dogs and people have it good here," says Carol. Andrew wonders if she, like all visitors inevitably do, is thinking about moving to Wendigo. Something about the idea appeals to him, buried so deep it’s like a tremor that only rattles clocks but has the potential for total upheaval.
When Ellie drifts after Scarf, Carol’s eyes lock onto Andrew’s.
"I’m feeling my way," he says.
She edges closer. "You’re doing a good job."
Two long-hairs with an excitable Labrador congregate under the tallest trees, and soon prohibited smoke wafts back into the forest. A teenage girl with stiffened hair and a nose ring does homework at a picnic table, her toy poodle stepping on and off her assignment. A biker rumbles up in the parking lot, his Yorkshire terrier all outlaw pomp in a black leather jump seat.
Ellie looks up from Scarf’s wanderings, and Andrew watches her gaze turn from lassitude to feral interest. She’s spotted something. At the gate is a tallish boy wearing a denim jacket, struggling to unleash an eager midsize hound. Once freed, the dog–Delta, it suddenly dawns on Andrew–races in a frenzy of arrival around the park. Ellie moves toward the boy–it must be Sean–and Scarf’s inexorable nose follows.
After Delta slows from manic dash to troublemaker’s lope, all four of them come together along the tennis court fence. Delta and Scarf circle warily. Ellie and Sean meet with a different encirclement. They turn and walk over to where Carol and Andrew’s green bench views the off-leash universe. The boy is full lipped, with upswept Vulcan eyebrows, the denim jacket hanging off of him like a tire around a scarecrow’s shoulders.
"This is Sean from the swim team."
"Pleased to meet you, sir, ma’am."
"I understand you’re from the delta," Andrew says.
"Uh, yes," answers Sean, "Hence the name of Delta here."
They all laugh at the incongruity of hence coming out of this young boy’s mouth.
"So, are you guys coming to the barbecue tomorrow?"
"What’s that now?" says Andrew.
Sean rips down the zipper on his jacket. "I’ve got the flyer."
Andrew takes the teal-colored paper from the boy’s slender fingers.
Dog Park Appreciation Barbecue

Sunday, May 30th, 3 pm

Come show your support!

"We can go, can’t we?" asks Ellie.
Carol to Ellie’s rescue: "Maybe I could talk to work and come in a little late on Monday."
"Yes, yes," Andrew says, "we probably should come and show our appreciation."
That night he dreams. Trees shake, ravines fall, marquees collapse, and a fox–or is it Scarf?–runs out of the ground and into a meadow full of fairies.
*
They drive past Wells Fargo and see the thermometer has hit ninety-two.
"This is nothing," says Carol, the sweltering Sunday noon no skin off her back.
"I wonder how this heat is going to affect the dogs," says Ellie.
Turnout is fantastic for the appreciation barbecue. Both tennis courts have been reserved, and a long table is arrayed where the nets have come down. The minarets of condiments stand near towers of napkins, cylindrical cups report for duty in stacks, and coolers lie like steamer trunks in a row. Women are busy dispensing buns and pointing out salads. A middle-aged man Andrew recognizes stands before a huge backyard broiler which sizzles and puffs the scent of charred beef.
Banned by city fathers from the tennis tarmac, the dogs have packed themselves around the gate in the cyclone fence. Andrew, Ellie, and Carol squeeze through, leaving Scarf to wander none-too-pleased among his kind.
The regulars have brought fold-out chairs and sit on the composite surface of the courts, smiling convivially, amused by the novelty of their own company without dogs underfoot. Andrew notices couples whose place he has coveted, whose happiness often haunts him, and venally hopes the dog park regulars notice his attractive companion. At the broiler Ellie holds out her plate, smiles, gets a blackened burger on her bun.
"Paul Abrahamson, pleased to meet you," says the man holding the grill turner.
Andrew and Carol are next in line. "This is Ellie," says Andrew, "my friend Carol, and I’m Andrew."
"And that must be Scarf," says the cook, revealing his membership in the off-leash intelligentsia before Scarf takes off. A dachshund begins barking from the parking lot gate. Abrahamson looks up, perplexed.
"What’s gotten into Fritz?" Abrahamson says while dispensing Carol’s well-done patty.
"Maybe there’s an earthquake coming." Andrew can’t resist.
Abrahamson looks at him deeply, as if for the first time, his mouth downcast and slightly open. Andrew wonders if he was around when the big one hit Wendigo.
Ellie finds a vinyl lawn chair, but before she lifts the burger, she scans the packed fence line for Scarf. Carol is rooting through one of the coolers for drinks. The dachshund’s barking has become intermittent. The grill man, Abrahamson, yells from within wisps of broiler smoke, "Fritz!"
Carol hands Andrew a Coke, and they find two molded plastic chairs.
"Where’s Ellie?" he asks. She’s no longer in her chair.
Carol scans, mom-like, and Andrew misses the wife who fell three stories in her driver’s seat and did not survive the impact.
"There," says Carol.
Andrew finds the azure summer blouse he purchased for his daughter in one of Wendigo’s pricey boutiques. She moved back over to the tennis court gate, where Sean stands denim jacketed despite the blazing sun. Delta is heeled beside his long legs, as if this important off-leash event has inspired an attempt at behavior.
"I’ll bet a dip in the river is nice on a day like this." Carol changes the subject.
"One thing we didn’t get around to–next time."
Sean slips through the gate, now besieged by dogs made restless and transfixed by the tantalizing scent of cooked beef. He and Ellie head for the broiler. Andrew sets his plate on the tennis court, and rises from his chair, remembering that it was Sean who invited them here.
"Sean," Andrew greets the young man.
"Yes, sir, glad you could make it."
Ellie goes into explanation mode. "Sean can’t leave Delta outside for very long. We’re getting him a burger."
"Delta or Sean?"
Ellie and Sean laugh.
"Sean, Dad," says Ellie.
"A new friend?" says Carol after Andrew retreats. He watches as Sean scoots back out the dog-clogged gate, turns, and takes a big bite of his stacked-high burger. Delta finds him, and Ellie and the dog watch as Sean makes short work of the burger.
Andrew watches as Sean reaches over the fence to embrace Ellie.
Suddenly Scarf bursts out of the pack of dogs.
He’s airborne–who knew he could jump that high?
Sean rears back, and Ellie is aghast. "Scarf!"
In midair Scarf snaps his jaw, clearly going for Sean’s throat.
The pack circles the action but leaves an open space, as if dog brains understand that something is seriously at stake for the newcomer Russell. A peculiar ruffled look, the hairs on his back up, fangs showing, prelude to a bite. Delta is camouflaged at Sean’s legs, wanting no part of it.
In command of the stillness he has created, Scarf sniffs once and almost comically shakes the whole thing off. The terrier monster is gone.
"Wow," says Sean. Andrew realizes how young the boy is. Carol squeezes through the cluster of people and dogs. "Is everything okay?"
Andrew says nothing but sees that Paul Abrahamson is coming over.
"Hmm, has he ever done that before?"
"No," says Ellie, and Andrew shakes his head. No.
"Something you’ll have to keep an eye on."
Scarf gets leashed, obedient and remorseless.
"It was only a hug," Sean says before he and Delta join the exodus of people, dogs, and vehicles away from Muir Park. Blessedly, the thermometer is falling, and the sign at the Wells Fargo reads seventy-nine degrees. It’s time for Carol to get back to the Best Western–there’s a five-hour drive ahead of her in the morning.
*
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