by David Cox
I lost my son in the woods some time ago, and I kept looking long after the search and rescue people had given up. It was a hopeless case, certainly, and my kid was undoubtedly dead, or in Wyoming. But I kept searching the woods anyway in a tragicomic act of dogged hope, and that was how I came face to face with Bigfoot. As a matter of fact, he was trying to give my son back to me. It was evident that they’d been together awhile; my son was diapered in a loin clothand stank like sin.
Bigfoot’s eyes were more tender than I’d imagined, and my son’s were fiercer and harder than I remembered. But, to compare them, I’d say they were about the same, like they’d come to resemble each other. The scrub oak closed in around us, locking us in a weird standoff at the dusk-end of sunset. The bushes rustled and I noticed that there were other bigfoots, a mother and her two hairball children. The young ones whined and reached for my son but the mother held them back. Like I say, Bigfoot was on my side. He kept pushing my pungentsix-year-old toward me, but the kid was distraught, rolling around in the dry leaves like a little Lear, raving and screaming and getting up and running back to Bigfoot, who pushed him toward me again.
I, myself, was messed up, by the shocking reunion. The little turncoat always liked the woods better than he liked me, so I was on my knees at the end of that little clearing of oak trees, caught somewhere between wanting to sob and wanting to club him on the head.
Finally, Bigfoot ended the stalemate by grabbing my tragic hero and foisting him into my arms. Bigfoot backed away, then turned around and headed for a gap in the trees where his mate and offspring were waiting. I struggled with my son, who, when he saw Bigfoot making an escape, clawed me in the face until I dropped him, but I immediately dove forward and caught his ankle as he ran for Bigfoot. He shrieked as he hit the ground, and Bigfoot looked over his shoulder for a moment before disappearing into the darkness.
A desperate wail of rage tore loose from the tiny king.I stood over him and told him it was time to go home, and that I had ice cream, and that we could come camping again sometime, and I was sure Bigfoot would let us visit. He thrashed and wept, but eventually the rage ebbed out of him. Soon he was almost still. I stood over him, and his sorrow seeped into me.
I paused, for once in my life, and thought. I knew, looking at him, that this was a lawless, losing battle of custody. If I was going to keep my son–if I was going to win back his loyalty, it was going to take more than a petty trip to the ice cream shop. Before I knew what I was doing, I called for Bigfoot. I told him to come back. I left my son in the clearing and went back into the bushes where I took my shirt off, and ripped my kaki pants into a loin skirt. I smeared dirt on my cheeks and rolled in some sludge I found on the ground. When I came out of the bushes, my son stopped crying altogether and looked up at me, and Bigfoot came back into the clearing. Here, I said, this shirt won’t fit too well, but you can make them work until you get something better. And here are your car keys, I said, reaching into my trouser pockets and pulling out both keys and wallet, and here’s your ID and credit cards. Take your family to a movie.
Slowly, Bigfoot took them, and my son stood up. For the first time, he held my hand. We said goodbye to Bigfoot and his posse and watched themwalk off toward the campground where my car was parked.
It was dark by then, but we gnawed on roots for dinner and gathered berries for dessert. We found three big grubs while we were digging and smacked our lips. We washed our hands in the creek and went from there to our hollow tree lined with soft moss. A pictograph of me and my son was scratched into the inside, just above where we put our heads down and fell asleep together.