See, Rob had the camera bag, the tripod, and the package of firewood, so that left me with the stupid bike. I offered to carry the camera bag and the tripod so that he could put the wood in the bike basket and wheel the bike himself, but he said no, he wanted to carry the camera. So I walked along with the wheels spitting gravel at my ankles as Rob talked about the last film he’d made up here, an ad for a t-shirt company that involved hiring an artist to paint on the bridge over the river. We walked. I wheeled the bike. He swung the pack of firewood and squinted at the sky.
The fire was illegal, technically. Our being where we were was illegal, too. But the train tracks stretched long in the amber light, and the ditch to our left was full of thin sounds - cicadas and something else - grasshoppers? - keening invisibly like silver whistles in the tall grass. Rob stopped.
“But what was the film for?” My oldest, up past bedtime.
“Well, Rob and Cameron were in the film club at school, and Rob just had this idea and wanted to make it. But they needed a girl actor, and I knew Cameron from Japanese class the year before, so they asked me. Hey, don’t spill that.”
“I won’t.” She pushes the glass of water away from the bedside table's edge and puts her chin in her hand. “But why were you in the woods?”
“For the last shot, Rob wanted to film me sitting next to a little campfire, and he had this certain spot by the river that he wanted to use. So we drove down and parked at the edge of the woods, and then walked along the train tracks - ”
“Mom,” says my youngest, reproachfully, “you are not s’posed to do that.”
I hold back a laugh at his serious tone. “You’re right,” I tell him. “But I was a teenager, and teenagers do stupid things. Especially artsy-fartsy teenagers like I was.”
They cackle. “Artsy-fartsy,” says my youngest, and they crack up, rolling around in their blankets like puppies. Finally they run out of giggles and I ask, “Okay, where was I?”
“Rob stopped,” prompts my daughter.
Rob stopped. “Here,” he said. “See?”
A flat dirt path, sloping steeply down into a clearing. A hundred yards to our right, the river, brown and glittering in the evening light. Carefully, I leaned over the edge, feeling my stomach jump with vertigo. I looked at Rob.
“If you think I’m going to bike down that - ”
Suddenly Rob whooped with joy, shed the camera bag, tripod and firewood into my arms, and seized the handlebars. Rob threw a leg over the bike and swung it around, lurching in that graceful, boy-bike way toward the lip of the hill, and before the words “you’ll break your neck” had left my throat, he was flying down into the clearing like a bird let out of a cage.
“Did he crash?” my son asks, eyes wide.
“No, he was an excellent bike rider.”
“Like Matt?” Matt, the neighbor boy who does wheelies on the tennis court. “Better than Matt,” I say, and their eyes grow wider. Better than Matt! They can’t fathom such a thing.
“Did you finish the movie? Can we watch it?” asks my daughter.
“Someday,” I say. “I don’t want you getting ideas about trespassing and building illegal fires.”
They giggle. “We won’t,” says my son. “I will not get one single idea. Promise.”
“I know you won’t.” I kiss his head and get to my feet.
“Wait!” He grabs my hand. “The story’s not done.”
“Yeah,” says my daughter. “What about the fire?”
“The fire’s for tomorrow night, bunny.” They groan. “Come on now, if you go to sleep right now, tomorrow I’ll tell you how Rob burned his sock.”
That gets them. They push their heads into their pillows and stifle giggles - “His sock?” - as I turn out the light.