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Stalking

Stalking

Avery comes home from school with the assignment to read a chapter out of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It’s his eighth grade English teacher’s favorite book. I have a copy on my shelf, so Avery and I sit down in our screened in porch and begin reading the chapter back and forth. Avery swings in the hammock chair. I am pleasantly surprised that he seems enthralled by Dillard’s insights into muskrat behavior—or as enthralled as a thirteen year-old boy obsessed with Pokémon Go and Black Ops III can be. He laughs at her descriptions of the river animal, simultan-eously dimwitted and wily. He chooses the active stalking over the passive waiting she uses for muskrats—no surprise there—and keeps making connections between our dog’s behavior and the muskrats’. It’s a long chapter, and about halfway through our reading, the rain that has been sputtering and hissing all afternoon lets loose in a downpour, sending acorns onto the roof above and rustling up the branches all around us. I have to read louder to be heard over the din. When it’s his turn, Avery belts out a passage in which Dillard calmly smokes a cigarette within arm’s reach on an oblivious muskrat. Our dogs stare out at the rainstorm, noses aquiver. I point out the way the rain bounces off the roof next door, causing a small hazy mist to rise up around the chimney. Avery nods thoughtfully and mentions how a similar haze rises up off our basketball court after a rain. I don’t argue, though I want to point out the subtle differences of the phenomenon. Thirty minutes after we begin, I turn the final page and hand the book to Avery. He climbs out of his swing and starts speed-reading the final sentences. I join him. Our voices rise, now beating out the lightening rain. I can hear Ali’s car tires hiss on the cement. Avery is half up the stairs, bound for his video console, when Ali appears, the night’s groceries bundled in her arms.