He slept as we drove back across the mountains, like a baby, with his chin against his chest. Sean slept too, and I crossed Snoqualmie Pass alone, with no conversation but my thoughts. There was icy snow at about 4,000 feet, but the semis had blown it from one lane, and I followed their track over the summit with the wipers going and the defroster fan roaring in my ears. At North Bend, Pop perked up and, pipe lit again, sat with his head against the side window.
"What is it?" I said.
We crossed the floating bridge into Seattle. Sean woke up, wiped his eyes with his knuckles and looked around at the rainy streets. "We're back," he said. "Damn, Dad."
"You can't hunt every day," I said to him.
Then when I pulled up in front of Pop's apartment building I began to understand his silence. I opened up the back of the camper and hauled out the burlap sack with his waders, thermos and field jacket inside. It smelled powerfully of sage, and when I looked inside the bag I found sprigs of it he had collected for his living room.
My father didn't want to take any of the birds—didn't want to draw and pluck them, he said. I walked him inside; Pop limped away and started up the bathwater.
As I settled in the car beside my son again and turned the key in the ignition, it came to me what Pop had forgotten, or left behind, or whatever you wanted to call it. The engine hadn't caught before Sean noticed it, too. "Pop's gun," he said. "He forgot it."
I put my hand on his forearm. I almost said, "Go on and take it in to him," but I didn't. I caught myself, and the two of us drove away. My son didn't say another word.