Hitchers Online - Will McIntosh Page 0,1

my hands between my knees. “So what’s your sneaky idea?” I had no way of knowing how profoundly her words would affect my life. Not her life, of course. Just mine.

Lorena waited a beat, as if deliberating on whether she should say it.

“Do you think your grandfather set it up legally so you can’t continue the comic strip after he dies? Maybe he just told your grandma that’s the way he wanted it.”

“I don’t know. I could see him doing either.” We passed out of thick woods into open fields; I noticed a line of black clouds dividing the sky. I pointed at them. “We may get rained on.”

Lorena looked up, shrugged. “Oh, well. We’ll survive.”

“Grandma would never go against his wishes,” I said. I was pretty sure my grandmother hated my grandfather, but they had faced the outside world as a grim, unassailable wall for sixty years, and I didn’t see that changing just because he was dead.

It was so hard to grasp that he was dying. This morning as he sat hooked to an IV bag, telling me in no uncertain terms that I would not be succeeding him as the artist of his comic strip, Toy Shop, he seemed ready to roll himself to the summit of Bear Mountain in the wheelchair he’d occupied for the past fifty years.

“How much is he leaving her again?” Lorena asked. She knew it was almost nothing. Grandpa had never made huge money, and he lost most of what he’d made bankrolling Toy Shop Village, my father’s lunatic idea for a themed amusement center (and, unbeknownst to me at that moment, soon to become my home). Grandma would get the house and some merchandising and royalty money, but after the strip was discontinued the merchandising would dry up. When was the last time anyone manufactured a Nancy and Sluggo t-shirt, or a Dick Tracy toy radio watch? When a strip dies (unless it’s an iconic strip that’s become part of the fabric of our culture. Like, oh, I don’t know . . . Peanuts?), people tend to forget it.

An icy rain began to fall. I looked at the clouds, heavy and dark, bunched like fists. “Maybe you’re right, maybe she would be willing to cut a deal after he’s gone,” I mused. “She’s a child of the Depression, not one to put sentimentality above the practicalities of paying the bills.” I considered for a moment, then shook my head. “Nah. I couldn’t do it even if she was willing.”

“I feel slimy even bringing it up,” Lorena said, shrugging.

“There’s no harm in looking at all the options.” Lorena had nothing to feel slimy about. She’d been nothing but kind to my grandfather in the face of his thinly veiled contempt. Grandpa was certain all Latinos would be cleaning ladies and lawn mowers if not for that “affirmative action crap.”

My phone rang. It was my mom (calling, I would learn much later, to tell me Grandpa was dead), but I stashed the phone in my pocket as the rain turned into a pelting downpour, soaking my thin t-shirt.

Lorena shrieked with delight and held a sweatshirt over her head. In a moment the sweatshirt was soaked and she tossed it aside. We grabbed our paddles and got moving.

“We’re probably half an hour from the pickup area if we go hard,” I said, shouting to be heard over the splashing. The rain formed a lovely dappled pattern on the surface of the water. I still remember that so vividly.

“That’s okay. I love it,” Lorena shouted back.

As I paddled I thought about Lorena’s suggestion. From Grandma’s perspective, it sucked that Grandpa was putting his pride of ownership in the strip ahead of her financial well-being. Maybe as time passed I would change my mind, especially if reviving the strip meant Grandma could live more comfortably.

The sound of the rain took on a hard edge. Laughing, Lorena grabbed a little red and white cooler that had held our lunch and tried to shield her head from hailstones. They thunked off the steel canoe, ricocheting madly. I hunched my shoulders and paddled, laughing too. The little chunks almost, but didn’t quite, hurt, like a too-vigorous massage.

“This is so weird,” Lorena shouted over the din. “It was sunny two seconds ago!”

A long, growling rumble erupted all around us.

I stopped laughing. We were in a metal canoe, on a river. “Shit.” I paddled harder. “We need to get off the water.” I looked at both banks: they were steep, but