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A Night with Tim
Sydney Lea
November 30, 1992
On a camping trip with his seriously ill nephew, the author discovers what really matters
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November 30, 1992

A Night With Tim

On a camping trip with his seriously ill nephew, the author discovers what really matters

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I hid the radio in some scrub and ostentatiously zipped my fly as I ambled out. A few yards short of the fire site I stopped in some green growth to spy, but my slyness was wasted: Tim, apparently forgetting me, was scanning the valley as before, except that his masked face seemed inanimate this time. Spidery legs folded, he looked like a Vedic contemplative. It wasn't, I imagined, the inhalator's hiss that cut him off from the evening's fleeting noises—squirrels in dry leaves, a thrush gong, a grating raven—but some nonspecific sound in his mind.

The treatment over, though, Tim seemed reinvigorated. "I could cat a whole cow!" he shouted, wrecking my silly Hindu image.

"You're hungrier in the woods. And food tastes better too. You'll see."

"When?"

"Twenty minutes, 25?"

Tim whined and wriggled. Remembering the first thing he had unpacked, I thought to ease his wait. The knife was all rust and feckless edge, but I showed him how to cut wood shavings with it, just as my father had once shown me. Had I labored so? Had my tongue sprawled? Surely.

We laid the sticks, shaved ends down. Tim lighted a match, and the curls flamed up like paper. I sighed, rapt, half understanding the pyromaniac's lust for conflagration. I dropped four bacon strips into the pan.

"My dad wouldn't let me eat bacon," Tim said. "Too greasy."

Of course, he didn't want anything bad for you, I thought. That's why he lit out. Couldn't stand the pain. "Oh, a little grease won't harm you out here," I said. The boy's smile was only a flutter, but I caught it. Then the fat's odor melded with the scent of warm granite, of my sweat, of the evergreens and with stored sensations from other camps. The taste of a chew of pitch I had tried on Ball Ridge. The weight of a pickerel in my seven-year-old hand at Junior Stream. Oil scent from Carter White's lamp on Fourth Lake. Uncle George's whiskey tenor on Third. The smell of black duck broiled behind Gull Island.

I drained the bacon on a paper sack. With the sorry knife, I chunked potatoes, worried them till they were golden, scraped them into another sack, propped by the fire to stay warm. Tim, eyes closed, was eating the bacon. Slowly. All of it.

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