The rapid-fire clicks of Rose’s phone were like tiny needles poking into Amanda’s body. Amanda watched with a scowl as her daughter’s fingers blazed across the touchscreen. Why a phone with no actual buttons made a clicking noise when you pressed the on-screen buttons was beyond Amanda, and she usually ignored it, but today it was too much.
“Please, Rose, put your phone down for a change and enjoy the time outside with nature.”
Punctuating Amanda’s sentence, along breeze rustled the autumn leaves around them, whistling through branches and making the flames on their campfire bend to the side. Rose paused and looked at her mother with the attitude she usually had when her mother spoke, and her words carried the same feeling.
“We’re not even really camping. We’re glamping. I thought the whole point of that was to enjoy your technology while you observe nature from a safe distance.”
“We are not glamping,” Amanda said, her anger leaking out through her tongue a little. “The generator is to make sure we have a source of power in the case of an emergency, and to power the stove.”
“There’s fire right here!” Samantha said, holding out her phone toward the flame with one hand. “Why in the world do you need a stove if you also have a fire!”
Samantha took advantage of the phone being further from her daughter, snatching it and putting it in her jacket pocket. Rose’s eyes shot open, and she folded her arms as well, a look of unadulterated fury pulling her features down.
“I told you the first time you asked. The fire is to keep us warm.”
“Whatever,” Rose said, turning away. “You’re a terrible cook anyway.”
The blow was a smack to her ego, and Samantha shut her eyes firmly, counting to ten like the counselor had said to do before responding. She looked in the distance and saw that the sun had started its slow journey to the horizon. She stood and headed toward the tent.
“You’ll get your phone back after we hike back down and not a moment sooner.”
“I hope you snag your stupid hiking boot on a stupid root and you fall on your stupid face into some stupid poop.”
Samantha ignored her daughter’s words this time, but she began to question why she thought it would be a good idea to make a nature trip with her. Samantha went on hikes to calm her mind, but part of the serenity came from the peace and quiet of solitude. All of that was lost on her daughter, and Samantha grew increasingly frustrated with each passing moment.
The growl of the generator brought her back from her thoughts, and she remembers the soup was still cooking. It was hard to burn tomato soup from a can, but if she did Rose would find a way to tease her about it for years to come so she attended to the food on the miniature stovetop.
After checking she confirmed the food was just fine, and a bright idea flashed into her head. They had brought a few rolls to go with the soup, and she decided to toast them. She didn’t bring any butter or cooking spray. She split the bread in half and moved it around on the pan every few seconds to prevent it from burning.
Rose watched with pouty lips, and Samantha shook her head when she saw the glisten of tears in her daughter’s eyes. She knew Rose would keep them in, but all the willpower in the forest couldn’t stop them from forming. Seeing them sent a pang of guilt threw Samantha, and she debated handing the phone back.
Sometimes punishment is difficult, Samantha recalled her counselor saying. But if you rescind it too early, the youth will only see that kind of act as a weakness, and your authority will be destroyed.
Heeding the words Samantha remained resolute, finishing up the dinner and grabbing a bowl and plate for her daughter. She poured in the soup in a small bowl and placed some bread on the plate before handing it over. A wolf howled in the distance, and Rose brought her food close, looking around.
“Don’t worry,” Samantha said. “Wolves don’t like humans, and the .45 in the tent will scare them off if they get too close.”
“I’m not afraid,” Rose said, tipping the bowl to her mouth to drink. “You couldn’t have brought spoons at least?”
Samantha chuckled. “Be happy I gave you a bowl and didn’t make you drink from the pot when it cooled down.
Rose rolled her eyes, and Samantha sat down beside her daughter after unplugging the miniature stovetop and turning the generator off. In the absence of its growl, the song of crickets and cicadas rose and relaxed Samantha a little.
“Here, why don’t we go over to the ledge and watch the sunset?” Samantha said, standing with a little trouble as she balanced her plate and bowl.
Rose rolled her eyes again but complied in silence. They both meandered over to the edge of the nearby cliff, and Samantha sat down, swinging her legs over the edge and setting her food in her lap.
Following her mother’s example, Rose did the same but a little slower and with more care. She glanced over the ledge a little and shuttered before turning her attention to the horizon. She nibbled on her bread before setting it back on her plate.
“Gross. The bread is burnt.”
“Oh stop it. It’s a little brown, but it’s not burnt at all. I’d daresay it’s perfectly toasted.”
“Fine, you eat it then,” Rose said, tossing her piece on her mother’s plate.
The bread bounced off, hit the ledge and tumbled down to the trees below, disappearing into their canopy. Samantha sighed but turned to the setting sun. The sun turned the sky into a big bucket of orange and lemon sorbet, staining the clouds and making Samantha smile.
She glanced over at her daughter and saw the smile of awe pushing up Rose’s puffy cheeks.
At that moment she knew it was all worth it. They may not have a perfect relationship, and they may never get along, but one day she knew her daughter would look back on evenings like this and know that her mother loved her.