If I was ever called to testify in a court of law which of us it was first hit upon the concept of road skiing, I would have to say I did not recall, so organically did the idea grow out of the conversation we were having inside Matilda to keep from thinking about the loss of Our Alex. The sport of road skiing, which I am pretty sure was invented for the first time that day by us Gallagher’s, is not all that different from water skiing except in that the surface upon which one skis is a road instead of water and in place of a motor boat you have a car. So there’s Great Aunt Ginny racketing along behind us, clutching the tow rope for dear life and hellfire, sparks flying out from under her skis, hollering like a Texan on a wild bull, me half out one window cheering her on, Mallory out the other window doing likewise except for a deal more cussing, Our Father gripping Matilda’s wheel fit to crush it, stomping the accelerator halfway through the floor, shouting something at the top of his lungs about Iphigenia in Taurus, Our Mother finally getting in the spirit of this vacation, really letting her hair down for once, just screaming with laughter, kicking her naked feet so the fuzzy dice spun up round the rear view mirror like a tetherball and by God, here come the cops.
So the Old Man gets as far out his window as he can go while still holding on to the wheel, cranes his head half backwards on his neck like an owl at the pursuant Fuzz, his eyes in no way any longer attuned to the road and traffic ahead of us which we are now approaching even faster than we had been due to the spastic extension of his entire bodyweight pressing down upon the gas pedal. He commences to lecture the Staties on the subject of Armageddon and it’s salubrious effects upon the rigidity of laws and strictures governing such thing as vehicular speed. And I’m yelling at him that no matter how charming and persuasive his argument might be, it is physically impossible for the Coppers to hear him under the current circumstances, but he himself can’t hear me over the wind and the sirens and his own shouting, though I’m a hell of a lot closer to him than the enraged bacon now climbing up Great Aunt Ginny’s ass, and his situational deafness would illustrate my whole point pretty nicely if he could only hear me which of course he can’t! The passenger cop squeezes halfway out his window fixing to shoot our tires out, which at this speed on an Interstate desperately in need of infrastructural attention is near on impossible, not to mention the obstacle presented by the skeletal octogenarian slaloming wildly back and forth between him and his target. Trailing medical tubing and old lady undergarments, the cobwebby remnants of her frantic, wiry white hair peeling straight back from her speckled scalp, dentures banging around the maw of a toothless old mouth stretched wide open by at least three gees combined with complete unleashed geriatric glee, a sight entirely magnificent and then we went off road. Careening down the median, jouncing up and down, Frodo howling canine curses, huge divots of turf and dust spraying every which way, Matilda finally protesting, throwing her hood up in outrage, shooting steam out her radiator like a cartoon bull, banging down once and twice and in the end at last stopping, the cops going sideways, tearing the hell out of some Sunday Schools municipal roadside beautification project, and all of us tumbling out of our cars, Gallagher’s and police alike, laughing our heads off at the crazy ass impossible fun of it all.
We picnicked with the Heat there on the median while Matilda cooled off. Officers Halloran and Steiner regaled us with tales of restraining orders torn asunder by shirtless malcontents who tempered their innate stupidity with methamphetamines and cleaning solvent fumes, cretinous brutes who sober might not be able to tie their own shoes attempting complicated larcenies under the influence of house brand cough remedies and elective head trauma, and other suchlike hoohah. Our Mother did what she always did at Picnics, which was to lounge like the lady in ‘Luncheon in the grass’ except with clothes on, a painting she had described for me in terrible detail many picnics ago when I was much too young to want to hear about it. She would go on doing it until someone said ‘say, you look like that lady in that painting would if she had clothes on’, or until the pose made her bones hurt enough to get cranky, whichever came first. The Old Man produced from a bottomless cooler tin foil wrapped portions of whole roast turkey, sandwich bags of goldfish crackers, grapes, hydrox cookies mostly smashed to dust, cheeses of unknown origin, slim jims and Red Vines, Trout Almandine, box wine in three colors and a wide array of paper goods and plastic cutlery. It was a feast! Even Mallory allowed a smile as she spoon fed Great Aunt Ginny something awful from a jar and Frodo frolicked in the wildflowers. I only wished Alex would have been there to give me shit about that long ago Gallagher picnic where I stepped in the Boursin (a spreadable cheese with garlic and herb he favored) and ruined his day, a story he whipped out at every picnic ever after.
“Do you know,” Officer Steiner let out “I hold two records in our local police history. I have made the single greatest number of arrests resulting in the single smallest number of convictions!”
“He does like to arrest” Officer Halloran explained
“What would you arrest me for?” Mallory asked, attempting flirtation. A cloud crossed Our Mothers brow, heavy enough with impending rain to throw her off her pose. “Red Ants!” she snarled, slapping her daughter’s thigh, hard. “The bastard scourge of every picnic.”
“Red Ants? Really?” the Old Man lilted, stropping grainy mustard on a slab of sourdough. ”Because I’d have thought we were still too far north for them. We must have been speeding faster than I imagined, officers, to get South enough for Red Ants” Halloran puzzled that one and then Steiner let out a guffaw which broke the ice enough for Mom to rise. “Mallory,” She said, “Why don’t we see if we can find these gentlemen some pie? I believe I stowed one underneath the foul weather gear.”
Back in Matilda I asked the Old Man why he thought the cops had let us off.
“They sensed like mindedness!” he cried. “Never under estimate it. Of all the arrows in my quiver it’s the mightiest, with the possible exception of the Boxing Glove arrow”.