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Eric's Story

Nick Belardes

         Jordan, my wiry six-year-old, is a slow runner. He takes short, choppy steps that give the illusion he’s running faster than he really is. But that didn’t matter. Not right then. Not in those days. After we finished our meal, he took to chasing ducks. He laughed and hopped and shuffled his feet, reaching for their tails. Two disturbed widgeon drakes flapped their wings, waddling in their escape. Olaf, a chef from Norway, was watching. He clapped his hands and sang.

          “Chase the ducks! Chase the ducks! Oh chase those ducks our strong and fast Jordan!”

          Jordan pumped his arms faster as the drakes easily escaped and flew over the lake. He stood at the water’s edge and watched them circle and land on a distant beach.

            “Almost got one, Dad,” he said in a pant.

            Walking into the lot with Autumn and Jordan, we caught up to Olaf’s son, Eric, also from Norway. He was about thirty. Me, about twenty-six. Autumn had barely turned twenty-one.

            “Any luck?” I asked as he bent over the go-cart, his hands dirty with grime. He was helping a stranger.

            “I’m not sure if I’m much help,” he said.

            “In fact, I haven’t been of any yet.”

            “You’ll get it,” I said.


The yellow school bus Eric bought had broken down. Our ’84 Bonneville was in the same shop after an engine burnout near Santa Rosa. We’d just come from Blue Hole, a strange New Mexico oasis, perfectly round. Eighty feet deep.

          Jordan stopped to watch him work while Autumn and I walked on toward some nearby park toys. The air felt cooler than it had earlier in the day, so we were able to ride down a metal slide and climb a jungle gym. Jordan spotted us waving and soon caught up with us again. We chased each other down the slide, around in the sand and through the metal jungle gym. Then Autumn got on the swing. Jordan, running in the dust and sand, was caked in dirt. His face and clothes were a mess. Sweat dripped in little brown beads and his blonde hair hung like strips cut from an oily rag. He ran up to Autumn and jumped on her lap. They swung high into the air.


             I walked over to a smaller slide, sat on it and watched them swing and laugh. I slid down and kicked at a clump of brown desert shrubs, anticipating a centipede that might come flying out at me like a maddened string of gumballs.

             Eric joined us too.

            “Give up on the go-cart?” I asked.

            “Oh yes,” he said. He smiled at Jordan who laughed and giggled each time Autumn swung forward. “You’re an inspiring couple of people. And your little Jordy is the most wonderful boy.”


            Of course Jordan was inspiring. Nothing phased him. A child of routines, here he was in the desert and he wasn’t angry about a thing. There was no bedtime cocoon of blankets to wrap himself in. No order. Just disorder, which Jordan typically complained about. The only way I could figure it was the entire desert was open before him. He could explore it like he would books about planets, planetary motion, natural disasters and trains. But how could we be so inspiring? We were just two people with a wonderful kid trapped in the middle of nowhere because of a dead car. Eric was actually following a dream and he was still smiling at Jordan and Autumn.

            “Olaf mentioned you have three girls of your own,” I said.

            “Yes, they’re in North Dakota. That’s where I used to live and where my wife lives now.”

            “Oh, you’re married?”

            “Separated. I haven’t seen her or my girls in months, though I talk to them every night on the phone.”

            “It’s good you at least take the time to do that,” I said.

            As Jordan and Autumn laughed and swung higher I thought about my other son, Landen. I’d missed his birthday during the earlier part of our trip and had sent him the present I promised—the largest Godzilla toy I could find.

            “I have another little boy in California. He’s four. I couldn’t afford to take him on our summer adventure. He’s too little and would have missed his mom. I write him letters every chance I get and tell him about the things I’ve seen.”


           I had sent Landen detailed accounts of our trip. I told him about fireflies and chasing them with Jordan like crazy summer-struck boys. We caught the glowing bugs out of midair, squashed them and watched their neon guts fade. We saw snakes slither into creeks under rocks and watched a girl feed French fries to snapping turtles. I made Landen drawings of each. There was a young Amish girl in a long skirt who drove a wagon and winked at me. We ate at one of their restaurants: a wood carved castle with spiral staircases.


We hiked beneath waterfalls and along old portage trails where Natives once carried canoes. I told Landen about the old Ohio & Erie Canal and its broken sandstone-quarried locks filled with turtles, bluegill, carp, muskrats and duckweed. In other places, there were canal ruins, no water, just grass, shrubs and trees. Elms, oaks, beeches, sassafras, sugar maples, shagbark hickories and many others, some surrounded by blackberry bushes filled with bunches of ripened berries. I even wrote Landen about a Mongolian yurt, made not by Mongols on the Steppes but by hippies in commune who Autumn knew, and about our Fourth of July in downtown Akron under a colorful smoky night sky.


            “Your kids will grow up to be great men and they’ll love you,” Eric said.

            Autumn and Jordan hopped off the swing and raced to the top of a slide.

            Eric watched them though he kept talking to me. “My girls are far away while I’m finding my way through life.”

            “And what have you found?” I asked.

            “That love is rare and good people are rare . . . Tell me about you and Autumn. How did you find such an alive girl?”

            “I suppose I first had to find out what an alive girl was,” I said trying to think of an answer that would satisfy the both of us. “Some people aren’t risk takers.”

            “Risk—yes. It is about risk, isn’t it? Well neither is my wife for that matter. You know, you really have to take risks to be alive. Must be why I admire you and Autumn and even your brave little boy. You’ve risked poverty for the experience of life.”

           “She’s adventurous beyond my years and usually doesn’t worry about anything. ‘We can do this,’ she says. ‘We can do that. We can fly across America. And don’t worry about money because life will work itself out for us.’ I don’t know whether to be angry or understanding. But here we are. Maybe she’s mystical and magical. I will say this, when she has doubts about anything, they last mere seconds. She has this way of always convincing herself about life’s perfection and truth being tangled with adventure.”


            “You should marry her. Do you love her?”

            Here was this man exploring the American countryside and himself, trying to understand life and its deep mysteries about love and people. I wanted to feel shocked a stranger could ask such a question. I kind of was. Yet I felt sensible enough about love and fate, and about gut feelings people get when meeting people to respect what he was suggesting. I thought hard my feelings for Autumn over the previous half year. And then I smiled at Eric’s wonder.

Nicholas Belardes is the author of a book of odd science and history, A People’s History Of The Peculiar (2014), Songs Of The Glue Machines (poetry: 2013), illustrator of New York Times best selling novel West of Here (2011), author of the first Twitter Lit, Small Places (2008), and Lords (fiction: 2005). He has contributed to Memoir Journal, Knock Literary Magazine, 826 Seattle’s What to Read in the Rain, Mission at Tenth, The Nervous Breakdown, The Weeklings, Latino Rebels and more. You can find him at

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