I woke up to the click-clack of the exit warning, the crackle-crunch of a car kennel, and the tick-tock of an engine catching its breath.
"Where are we?" I ran to the little couch under the big window in the back. "We're at the ocean! Let me out! Lemme out! Lemme out!"
"Hang on, where did I put your leash?" Mom asked her hips, one at a time.
When I looked out the window, my tail jumped into my chest. The sea was wet as wet could be, but the car kennel wasn't dry. When I looked closer, I noticed something was terribly awry.
"Never mind the leash!" I barked. "This car kennel is falling into the sea! In emergencies like this, thing to do is flee!"
"It's not falling, Spud. It's just a..." The uh turned into a grunt as she leaned to grope the floor, "... dock."
"That was rude," I scolded.
"Not a f... Not a duck, a dock. Like a parking spot for a boat. Although, I guess this is called a slip because you can drive your boat right in."
I had no idea that there were cars that became boats and then turned back into cars again, let alone that they would have their own slippery kennels.
"If seven knaves with seven zambonis sanded it for half a year, would it solve the slippiness to make our paws adhere?"
"It's concrete." Mom gave me a funny look. "Why are you talking like that?"
I winked my eye and coyly tilted my heavy head. "What do you mean?" I asked, 'fore jumping off the bed.
Mom and I walked across the pavement to where it slid under the frothy waves. We stood side-by-side watching two sailors work on the boat parked about a block offshore. The skinny one worked a crane on the boat's trunk. As he cranked, the crane fished wire boxes the size of Smart cars from the bay. A fatter man caught the boxes, still streaming with seawater, and stacked them on deck.
I sniffed the air wafting from the trays. “What did they catch? A prune drying rack?”
“They’re oyster beds," Mom told the bay.
“They don’t look very comfortable.”
“They’re comfortable for the oysters." Mom shrugged. "Oysters are strange creatures. Or... I guess the strange part is how much rich people love them.”
"Why? Are they beautiful?"
"Their shells look like wadded-up newspaper and the meat inside looks like mushroom flavored Jell-o. But they make pearls, which some people call elegant."
"How do they make the pearls?"
"They form like a zit when a piece of grit gets in their shells."
"Fancy," I agreed. "Are oysters delicious?"
"I've never eaten one, but I've heard they taste like boogers. People eat them raw, right out of the shell like seagulls." Mom wadded up her face to show what she thought of people who picked their nose and ate it.
"The time has come," I announced, "to snack on many things.
On mini-moos, and chips, and yummy snacks,
of full fridges, and Burger King.
We'll talk of why pretzels are tied in knots, and whether buffalo have wings."
"Seriously, what's gotten into you?" Mom asked as we walked back to the kitchen end of the car-house. "I'm calling this whole trip off if you're going to talk in couplets the whole time."
"A loaf of bread," I plowed ahead, "is what we chiefly need. Peanut butter and vinegar, are very good indeed. If you'd be so kind, Mommy dear, I'm ready to feed."
"Gross. Stop talking like that," Mom said like a punch. "The only thing that's more annoying than someone who talks in couplets is someone who sings in everyday conversation."
She pulled two pieces of bread, peanut butter, jelly and a knife out of the food drawer and piled them on a plate. Then she reached into the fridge and added a mini-moo to the platter. She smeared peanut butter on the bread and searched for a paper towel to clean the knife.
With her back still turned, she asked, "Shall we hit the road again?"
But answer came there none. Which was scarcely odd because, my mouth was stuffed with peanut butter, and the chewing just begun.
"Hey! That was my dinner!" Mom whined.
"One must always be selfish around shellfish," I mffed with my mouth full. "Tweedle dee, don't blame me, when it's you who's Tweedle dumb. An explorer with a snack must watch her back, lest her wily companion eat every crumb."
The ocean had grown by the time we reached our next bathroom break. This time we had to walk a long way from the road, and then down a big box filled with stairs to reach the beach. The cliff was far too tall for the stairs to go straight down, so they curled in on themselves as they drilled down to the beach.
Mom dropped the leash and went down the stairs slowly and jerkily, with her hands on both railings. Her face looked like someone was trying to feed her medicine she didn’t want to eat.
This was much stranger behavior than talking in cutlets. “What’s gotten into you?” I asked.
She didn't answer at first. Instead, she cringed as she took another cautious step. When her paw came to rest on the next stair, she took a few deep breaths and paused her concentration just long enough to say, “I’m not good at heights.”
“What’s to be good at? You don’t even have to try. The heights come right to you between the stairs, see?” I stuck my face in the open air between steps to show where the sky was coming in and sniffed the sand far, far below.
Mom whimpered like a puppy, closed her eyes, and stretched the corners of her mouth down her neck. “Please don’t do that. You might be sucked through!”
But I wasn’t.
Even though we weren't tied together, Mom's screams worked like a short leash, freezing me in my tracks every time I moved too vigorously. Mom didn't inflate back to her full size and walk like a normal human again until her paws hit sand.
Now that the game of red light green light was over, I zoomed over the beach in uneven loops, trying to stand in all the places at once and appreciating how the beach smelled different depending on where I was snuffling them from.
I couldn’t believe how many fun things there were to sniff and look at, but also that Mom let me do it all off leash! Mom said that it was okay because there wasn’t a single person there to see us. Not one! Except in my own bathroom, I’d never been totally alone outside in the daytime before.
I ran around and around barking at all the nobody until my face hurt. It took me a while to figure out that it was from smiling. I didn’t know that smiles were something that could make you tired, because I’d never tried doing so much of it.
"We should stick our feet in the ocean," Mom said when the zoomies had finally drained from my legs. "That's what you're supposed to do when you begin a long journey."
Mom led me dangerously close to the waves. Then she kept going.
"Eeep! Look out!" I ran to safety as the wave sloshed over Mom's legs.
When she didn't wash away, I dared a soggy step, and then another, until I was beside her again. I winced as the cool water washed over my toes. Then relief washed over me as the ocean sucked the wave back in, leaving me behind.
“This is way better than The Fart," I wagged. "Where did this magical place come from?”
"This place has always been here." Mom's eyes swept down the cliffs, over the sand, through the waves, into the ocean, and swam to the distant sky. "There are dozens of these little coves along the coast. Hundreds even.”
“Then why haven't we visited one before?”
Her eyes stayed on the sky and narrowed in accusation. “Because I had to work.”
“Why can’t exploring be your job?”
“Because exploring doesn't pay well and we need enough money to pay for food and somewhere to live. You work too, remember? You have to patrol Your Trail every day.”
Now that I was here, I couldn't remember anymore why paying attention to what everyone else was doing seemed so important. "Are there houses in places like this, too?"
“There are, but there isn’t a lot of work for the people that live in them.”
“But you still haven’t explained why it’s so important to work to live in houses when we could be on adventures all the time.”
“When I figure it out, I'll be sure to let you know."