The Sky Trail was steep and it was too late to walk two hours down Bear Valley to the coast. By taking the Limantour Road, Walter could get his mother to the top of the ridge, then walk with her through the huckleberry thickets and the Douglas firs. It was an easy path. It would take twenty minutes. They could get to the meadow and back before the sun went down.
Do you come here often? Walter’s mother wanted to know.
Yes, Walter said, parking the car, I come here often, whenever I want to be alone.
It was September. Berries swarmed on the bushes. As Walter made his way up the hill, he stripped a branch of its fruit. He liked to roll the black beads around his teeth, to break the freshness from their skin. The firmness of the flesh, the juices spitting through his mouth reminded Walter of me, and for a moment Walter chewed the berries, mulled them over, slowly, sensually. Then a distant cough put things right. Walter was not out for a walk with his wife. Walter was out for a walk with his mother and he swallowed the mouthful whole. Above him the sky was so blue the branches of the Douglas firs looked black. Around him the day was so still the song of a distant hiker hovered above the hills and Walter looked back at his mother. But there was no point calling the song or the deer that crossed the path between them to her attention. Eyes to the ground, her breath short, his mother labored up the slope.