The Cabin at the End of the World(9)

Andrew says, “Yes, I am.”

“You are not funny right now.”

“I can yell to her from here. But that might spook the bears. Make them more likely to attack.”

Eric laughs and says, “You are such a dick.” He stands, walks to the deck railing, and stretches, pretending that he’s looking out over the lake and that he is not going to walk inside the cabin or down the deck stairs and directly to the front yard.

“Maybe it’d be okay if some bears showed up. I like bears.” Andrew closes his book. His dark brown eyes and smile are aren’t-I-clever-and-cute big.

“She can come out back and search for grasshoppers.” Eric gestures below the deck but there isn’t much backyard at all, and what little they have is a mixture of sand, pine needles, mossy patches, and a small row of pine trees that yields to the shoreline. Eric twists his beard at the end of his chin, turns around, and says, “She probably needs a drink, or a snack, or more sunscreen.”

“She’s fine. Give her another five or ten minutes and then I’ll go see her, or get her. She’ll probably come looking for us before then, anyway. So sit, please. Stop worrying. Enjoy your sun. Or stand there and block it for me. Though you are getting a little pink. You burn even quicker than I do.”

Eric plucks his white T-shirt with the team usa soccer logo from the picnic tabletop and puts it on. “I’m trying not to hover. I’m trying to let her—” He pauses, leans against the deck railing, and folds his arms. “I’m trying to let her be.”

“I know you are. And you’re doing great.”

“I hate feeling this way. I really don’t like it.”

“You need to stop beating yourself up. You’re like the best dad in the world.”

“Like? So I’m almost the best dad in the world.”

Andrew laughs. “Hmm. Akin to, maybe.”

“Can you be more specific as to my ranking? Put a percentile on it?”

“You know I’m not good with numbers, but you’re near the pinnacle, the apex of best dads, the kind who earn the coffee mugs and T-shirts saying so.” Andrew closes his book and is clearly enjoying teasing Eric.

Eric is losing the playful joust and his patience. He blurts out, “And you’re one of those best dads, right?” even though he knows he isn’t being fair. “Now I know what to get you for Christmas.”

“Come on now, Eric. We’re clearly tied for like the best.”

“I think I prefer ‘akin to.’”

“That’s the spirit. But listen, even the best dads in the world worry and nag and fuck up, and you have to give yourself permission to fuck up and allow Wen to mess up on her own, too. Accept that none of us will ever be perfect.” It’s the start of a spiel that Andrew has given before, usually followed by references to their weeks-long discussions prior to adopting Wen, and how they talked about not giving in to the lizard-brained fear that rules too many parents and people in general, and Andrew would then switch into academic mode and quote studies that cite the importance of unsupervised play in a child’s intellectual and emotional development. Eric isn’t sure when Andrew became the whimsical, carefree sage who in his professional academic life is as persnickety and precise as an algorithm. But these are the roles they have fallen into since welcoming Wen into their lives. These are the roles they’ve embraced and find comforting in a way that acknowledges the wonderful, frightening, fulfilling, alienating, and all-consuming what did we do to ourselves? existential parental condition.

“Yeah, I know, I know. And I’m still going out front to see how she’s doing—”


“—only because I’m getting burned. I’m thirsty, and I’m bored. My book totally sucks.” Eric walks to the sliding glass door that opens to the small kitchen.

Andrew sticks out both legs, blocking the door. “None shall pass.”

“What is this, the world’s hairiest toll bridge?”

“That’s not very nice.” Andrew doesn’t move his legs and pretends to read his book. He obnoxiously licks a finger and turns a page.

Eric pinches some of Andrew’s leg hair between his fingers and yanks quickly.

“Ow! You’re such a bully.” Andrew swipes at Eric with his book. Eric steps back and avoids getting hit initially, but Andrew lunges forward again and swats him in the back of his left leg.

“Don’t hit me with magical realists!”

Eric slaps Andrew’s hat brim down over his eyes and then snags the book out of midair while a laughing Andrew tries to hit him again. Andrew clamps down on Eric’s arm and pulls him stumbling onto the picnic bench. The two of them wrestle for the book. They trade light, playful jabs, and then a warm kiss.

Andrew leans away, smirking like he won something, and says, “Okay, you can let go of the book now.”

“Are you sure?” Eric tries to quickly yank it out of Andrew’s hand.

“Don’t—you’ll tear off the cover. Let go so I can hit you with it again.”

“I’m going to throw you and the book—”

The back slider opens with a rattling crash, loud enough that Eric instinctively looks for a shower of broken glass. Wen runs out onto the deck, talking at supersonic speed. She jumps back and forth through the doorway, inside to the cabin then out on the deck then back inside again. She looks around wildly like she’s afraid to be outside, and she’s still talking and now waving frantically at them: come here, come inside.

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