Sunlight, dappling through the copse of aspen, warms my skin as I lie in a nest of pungent pine needles, aspen leaves, and Douglas fir. I've dragged the 1920s Victrola record player from the three-room log cabin where we vacation every summer, wound the handle, and placed my father's favorite 78 rpm vinyl record on the turntable. Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" reverberates among the mountains surrounding me, giving the chimpmonks their marching orders. I tap the cadence on my tummy, and watch, through slitted eyelids, the pillowy clouds shapeshift into ponies, bears, hoot owls, and unicorns.
The slam of a wood frame screen door and the maniacal whoops of two boys cut through the music.
These two words, ordered by my older brother, bring me to my feet. I know they have their birthday BB guns and I know I'm the target. I take off, running like the summer wind through the trees and up the mountain behind our cabin. But I cannot outrun the copper-plated iron pellets. I hear the pump and pop of the guns first, and then the stinging between my shoulder blades on the tender skin covering my spine. Primal fear sticks in my throat, strangling my scream. Like the shape of the shapeshifting clouds, I become a hunted animal.
I lose myself in the trees and circle around to the cabin. Ripping open the screen door, I fly, as if on the wings of a unicorn, inside to my daddy's protectived arms.
"What's wrong, honey?" he asks, giving me a comforting hug.
I hear my brothers trying to catch their breath outside on the porch. I imagine I can smell their sweat, but it's my own stink of fear that I'm inhaling.
I know I'm not supposed to tattle on my brothers, but the words spill out: "The boys..."
Like the two words my brother Stone uttered that sent me running, I can hear Stone and Mark scamper off the porch. I'm sure they've sprinted across the meadow in front of the cabin and are headed for the river banks of the Red River.
They don't come back until late afternoon, but when they do, my daddy confiscates the rifles. "Your sister is not a target. You were supposed to shoot at the paper targets we got you, not each other."
My daddy was my protector. And even though I've learned to protect myself, I miss him so much.
Happy Father's Day, Daddy.