The pompom wobbled on top of Mom's head as she studied the secret message. I sniffed it, looking for a way to nyoink it off her head. I decided that I couldn't run far enough inside the car-house for it to be worth the chase.
"What's that on your head?" I asked instead.
"He was so nice to give me directions that I had to buy something." Mom turned her head and the pompom wiggled fetchingly. "What do you think?"
"It makes you look more interesting than you actually are."
Mom turned her attention back to the treasure map in her lap. "I know that there's a campground in Greenville, so I figured we'd aim there. But it's farther than I thought. We'll have to backtrack."
The sun was gone from the sky by the time the forest loosened enough to make room for cabins. There was just barely enough light to see the sign when the car-house slowed for a landing.
Mom slumped in the driving chair.
"What does it say?" I asked.
"That the campground is closed, but there's another one a few miles ahead."
The next time the car-house slowed, there was another sign. This one only had a few words on it. "What does it say?" I asked.
"It says closed for the season," Mom's eyes looked as full of rain as the clouds. Then she sat up straight. "Look, Oscar! A light! There's somebody here!"
We followed the light toward the truck-sized house glowing underneath. When our car-house stopped outside, a door opened on the truck-house's flank.
"Howdy," Willy Nelson shouted over the rain.
"Hi, is it okay if I sleep here?" Mom asked.
"Oh sure. They haven't turned on the water to the toilets or showers yet, so we won't charge you for the night."
"No showers?" Mom asked with something between attitude and despair. She sighed in defeat, not even noticing how nature was already answering her wish. "That's fine. Can I at least give you the $20 for being here?"
"We're not working, we just spend the winter here for free rent," Willy Nelson said, already fading back into the glowing warmth behind him. "Enjoy!"
The car-house pulled into a shadowy corner as far from the truck-house as it could get without driving into the forest.
Mom got out to make dinner. She came back a moment later and flung a granola bar on the table in disgust. She thwonked my bowl onto the clear spot on the floor and started pouring.
"Kibble?" I asked as the clatter of dry pellets mixed with the patter of rain. "Can't I have some of what you're having?"
"I'm having a Clif bar for dinner," she grumped. "It's too sloppy out there to cook anything and it's not like a little town like this is going to have a restaurant that serves vegetarian food."
She ripped open her dinner and bit into it savagely. "Go on. Eat," she grunted around a lump of oats and peanut butter.
In the morning (if you can call it that), I listened to the rain on the roof and waited for Mom to stop pretending to be asleep. Finally she took the blanket off her head and asked the Witch when the rain would stop.
"Never! You pathetic fool! There are flash flood and mudslide warnings all through this valley. This is your life now!"
"Mom, I needa go potty," I nudged.
"Yeah, me too." Mom threw the Witch on the pillow with all the disdain she deserved and leaned over to open the door.
I stood in the doorway looking at the moat that had grown under the car-house overnight. Mom stood up to look over my shoulder. "Come on! Seriously? All I want is to take a freaking vacation!"
I leapt over the moat and ran to relieve myself on high ground before my fur got soaked. Behind me, I heard Mom splash into the deep part of the moat.
Mom splashed out of the bushes and opened the door. I took a flying leap inside and shook the wet from my fur into the blanket. Mom humphed onto the bed beside me and peeled off her wet socks. She replaced them with her last dry pair and used her tee-shirt to squeegee the water from her hair.
Mom get ready for a run like someone preparing for an execution. I listened to the drumming on the roof with the same feeling of doom that I get when Mom takes my collar off while the shower is running.
"You don't really mean to run in this?" I asked in my coach voice. "How are we going to have any fun with a disaster like that happening outside?"
"I've been to this valley twice before and have never had a chance to run on its trails," Mom said through her teeth. "Dammit, I'm not going to let a little rain keep me from seeing this beautiful place."
"See what?" I looked at the grey window, which was so blurry with the fog of Mom's huffing that all it showed was blah on the other side. "Is the rain going to make it more fun somehow?"
Something inside of Mom crumbled. Her shoulders and jaw collapsed around the emptiness like a sunken pit. "No, not really," she admitted.
"Isn't this trip supposed to be all about having fun?"
"I guess you're right." The collapsed look to her shoulders fell a little further into relaxed. "Let's go find some breakfast instead. There's got to be a diner around here somewhere."
"I thought you said there were no restaurants in the wilder-ness."
"There are two things you can count on in small towns like this..." Mom began.
I love this game.
"Wait! Wait! Don't tell me! Let me guess. Moms and pops... A post-office-and-general-store-in-one... Quilts... Nosy neighbors and gossip... Churches... Cows... More cows..."
"I was going to say a tavern and a greasy spoon diner. I bet the tavern's closed, which means the greasy spoon will be open."
We drove to the local stop sign and the car-house parked behind the other three trucks in town.
"I'll be right back..." Mom said, slamming the door in my face.
When she came back, a warm, delicious smell followed Mom into the car-house. "Guess what!"
I sniffed the air for a hint.
"Chicken butt!" I wagged as I recognized the scent of eggs among the other greasy smells. I also smelled pig butt, and something more tuberiffic. I crowded in close so my nose could catch the smells as soon as the lid set them free. "Quick quick! Open it so we can see everything inside."
Mom opened the box with a TA-DAAAAAAA flourish, and a platter of bacon, eggs, and potatoes burst out like a surprise party in my nose.
"Oh! Oh! Start eating quick so that I can have some!" I hyperventilated.
“No, Oscar, the whole thing is for you. It's your reward for being such a brave boy for the past few days.”
"Oh no, I couldn't possibly..." I sniffed the bacon more closely. I'd smelled of bacon, of course, but since Mom's an herbivore, I didn't think such joy would ever be for me. Could dreams still come true on such a rotten day?
"Seriously, Oscar! Eat it!" She nudged one of the bacon strips toward me with the fork. I gave it an experimental lick.
It was even better than I imagined. I might have made the joy last even longer by chewing, but it was too late now. I set to work on the eggs and potatoes.