Hugo was exhausted from chasing sticks in the Blanco. The river lazily receded as wispy Mexican feather grass faded in all around him, their delicate golden fronds rustling in the breeze and lulling him to sleep. Sometime later, he woke up and carried out one of his favorite stretches. The full-on back to front: behind in the air and front on the ground, for that extra pull. As he was wrapping up, Zippy wandered over.
“How was the river today?”
“There were some huge sticks floating today. I grabbed every one of them before they floated past, and as soon as I thought I was done, more floated toward me. One of the best days I’ve had there!”
“It’ll keep getting better. On this side, it’s like practicing a sport, or the piano. The more you imagine it and do it, the more fun it becomes.”
“I don’t see how it could get any more fun than today.”
“Well, you like to chase sticks, right? And the fun is not only in chasing sticks but getting the biggest stick, right?”
“Yeah! I can grab sticks out of the water that are five or six times as long as me, and run them all the way back to the shore.” Hugo was quite proud of himself.
“Were the sticks that long back there? It’s harder to remember the longer you’re here, I know. Think hard though. When you were back there, how long do you think they were?”
Zippy was right. It’s tough remembering what was back there and what was here, except for one thing. His people aren’t here. So, he closed his eyes tightly against the sun, folded his ears against his head, and worked on remembering, on listening. He heard Kevin’s faint voice, growing stronger as he concentrated. He was shouting, “Go get it boy!” Kevin’s voice. It had been a long time since he thought about hearing it. The cold water nearly washed him off his feet as he splashed in. He felt the thrill surge, of closing in on the stick as it tried to escape in the swift current, the victory as he bit down on it and headed back to shore, to Kevin. As he leapt out of the water, stick safely clenched in his teeth and perfectly balanced, he saw it now. This stick was two, maybe three times as long as him.
Hugo returned from back there, to here, a little disappointed.
“Zippy, you know how much I love to chase sticks. Why did you tell me to remember how it was back there – so you could point out that I wasn’t as good as I thought?”
“No, no Hugo. Just the opposite. It’s not that you couldn’t carry sticks five or six times as long then; it’s that you can do it now. The more you do something here that you loved doing there, the better it gets. You never grow tired of it. You have more fun each time you do it because the thing you like most about it gets better. For you, the sticks get longer and longer. Some day you might be hauling twenty-foot sticks out of that river!”
Hugo laughed but that blew his mind as he imagined such a scene. And he understood.
“It’s the same reason the sun feels brighter and warmer every time I lie in it, without ever getting hot or panting, isn’t it? And all the other things that we do around here. It’s all like back there but more. Or less. It, things…. They fine-tune themselves for us.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way but you’re right. Remember that term when the times comes to have this talk with Kaydon,” counseled Zippy. “But don’t ask me how it works. I have no idea. No one does. All I know is that just when I’m thinking something is perfect, it feels more perfect the next time, and the next.”
“And for you it’s playing chase with Kevin around the house, isn’t it?” Hugo knew Zippy well enough by now to guess what his might be.
“Yeah. Every time we do it, I get more excited to be chased. Or when he changes direction and catches me coming the other way, I hear him giggling as I stop and change direction, barking the whole way. He gets faster, and so do I. He changes direction and I forget, and love when he catches me. I only wish he were actually here. I see what I remember of him but I know he’s not truly chasing me. It’s me remembering how I felt when he was chasing me.
It was hard for Hugo to picture Kevin chasing him like that, much less giggling. Or laughing. He didn’t laugh much with him. But he got Zippy’s point. As his mind drifted away to how impossibly large the next stick might be, Zippy was already off, running from a laughing Kevin chasing him throughout the old house.