The first part of the third part of our adventure went well, that is once Raudi gave in to my dictate that there was to be no going back home, at least not immediately. After that, she complied and got into the spirit of the ride.
On the return portion of our trip, as we were coming up Murphy, I heard a vehicle coming up behind us. I looked back – it was a dark blue Econovan. We were trotting—I slowed down and waved the driver past. I then stopped and so did the vehicle, right next to me.
I looked over, a woman in her mid-teens rolled down the window. It slowly dawned upon me that she and the driver, and perhaps the other occupants were neighbors. Most years, at about this time, this family comes rolling into the neighborhood. The brood lives in Fairbanks, but they own property further down on Oceanview Road. In the past, Robert, the father, has worked the sweater booth at the fair. In recent years, the gang has come down here at this time of year out of habit. They spend their time in a yurt. There are a lot of vehicles in their yard.
Many years, they leave one behind.
“River,” I say to the passenger, “your name is River, isn’t it?”
“Blue River,” she says.
“I remember you when you were knee high,” I add, because I can’t think of anything else to say.
Blue River opens the car door. I first noticed a spilled container of orange juice at her feet. Then I notice that she’s holding a child. It looks to be about a year old. I deduce that it’s the driver Feather’s child. It is her eighth child, so she named it Octavio.
“Octavio?” I ask.
“Yes,” mother said, adding “we’re now calling him Nokio.”
I next say (in jest) “You have child number nine with you?”
In response I hear a number of yeses.
I get off Raudi, thinking that this conversation merits a bit more time.
“How many of you are there in the van?” I ask.
“Eleven,” several voices say.
I stand quietly and do the math. Mother and child make ten. I don’t ask about the eleventh occupant because I have so many other questions. Instead, I ask if Robert is with them. You see, I know Robert. Many years ago he was a student in a composition course I taught at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
“No,” River says. “He’s got a job at Safeway in Fairbanks.”
“He’s working to become store manager,” Feather adds.
I refrain from saying what I’m thinking, which is that Robert should check out the contraceptive section of the pharmacy. This is because I cannot bring myself to be rude. Though the parents are indiscriminate breeders, I like them, and the kids. They’re all very literate, and fun to talk with, limitedly.
“Can Nokio give Raudi an apple?” River asks.
Raudi, who up until now has been standing quietly, hears the word apple, and as if on cue, sticks her head in Nokio’s lap. The child giggles and pounds her on the nose. River, acting fast, gives Raudi the treat. As she chomps and slobbers, I again bring the conversation back to child number nine, asking how it’s doing.
A hand in the back waves a postcard at River, who takes it, and hands it to me. It’s a photo of a baby, lying in purple flowers. It’s swaddled in a green and purple sheet. Purple lettering at the top indicates that the child is named Jasper-Haze-Beowulf Blake Adair.
“We call him Beowulf,” River says.
“Big name for a small baby,” I reply.
I begin feeling raindrops and so say that I must get going. I get Raudi off her apple fix by pulling a treat out of my pocket, telling her to back, and then giving it to her. River shuts the door, rolls up the window, and gives a parting wave. I get back on Raudi, and urge her into a trot. Seeing as it is that she knows she’s on the way home, she does as asked this time apple spittle is flying from her mouth.
The van rattles on ahead, leaving me to wonder, why so many children? Each year Feather returns with yet another, and there seems to be no end in sight. And how is it that they pay for all their care, given that the father has a shit job? Must be that a portion of their income comes from the annual Permanent Fund Dividend checks. Every man, woman, and child in the state gets one. This gives people incentive to breed.
It further occurred to me that I could hardly wait until next year. I’m already wondering what they’ll name child number ten.
Next: 234. 9/1/14: Once in a Blue Moon