Dog Cavanaugh ~ Riding in Happiness

She used her old Brownie cam­era on us. Something was won­der­ful that I didn’t under­stand. The cam­era had been in her fam­i­ly since the 1930s. I’d nev­er seen my moth­er look com­fort­able with com­pli­cat­ed con­trap­tions. But that day she had per­fect con­trol of every­thing, and so much fun star­ing into the view find­er, chat­ter­ing away at us, the cam­era like a loaf of cake. She squeezed the film winder between her thumb and fore­fin­ger to advance us all into anoth­er moment, and then anoth­er, and anoth­er, click­ing and laugh­ing and being so happy.

When we were done with pho­tos, she brought out tuna and cel­ery sand­wich­es, a cold bot­tle of Coca-Cola, and a half pitch­er of lemon­ade. She poured the coke into the lemon­ade and told us it was some­thing all the moth­ers were doing. My sis­ter said, “It tastes like a day of sky.”

For maybe twen­ty min­utes or so every­one in the world was as hap­py as we were. I was afraid to ask how. It was obvi­ous that every­one every­where could see beau­ty before them and feel the warmth of the sun on their skin and know with­out doubt that their moth­er loved them what­ev­er was going to hap­pen next. She alone was mak­ing that feel­ing pos­si­ble. She had touched on some­thing new in the world and had whipped up a batch of hap­pi­ness for every­one everywhere.

Occasionally that year, peo­ple we didn’t know showed up at our house and smoked cig­a­rettes with her out back and drank gin with lots of laugh­ing and loud con­ver­sa­tion. I don’t remem­ber, ever, those peo­ple leav­ing. They were there and then they were gone.

Not much lat­er in my life I had sex­u­al thoughts about my moth­er. I’d seen her naked a few times too many. I didn’t under­stand what I was fill­ing up with. Neither did she I’m sure. All the the­o­rists had point­ed at the same thing. The demise of all real feel­ing comes from denial and shame and the astound­ing trait of human­i­ty to lie to itself and ignore ini­tial stir­rings of real expla­na­tions for twist­ed secret human emotion.

Since those ear­ly days, I have had sex­u­al thoughts about many women who demon­strate sur­pris­ing com­pe­tence with tech­nol­o­gy. The same is true of women who can throw and catch a base­ball, and those who like to fish.

Later that day of the Brownie pho­tographs, we went to pick up piz­za for din­ner. Our car was still quite new. I remem­ber rid­ing every­where through our won­der­ful lit­tle city in total hap­pi­ness, our moth­er talk­ing to us the whole time, jok­ing, smil­ing at every­thing and point­ing spe­cial build­ings out and a few peo­ple to us. She told us at a stop­light it was impor­tant to nev­er for­get there are lawns and kitchens galore in this coun­try. Time seemed to be los­ing its dark­ness, a lid slid­ing off. It felt like we need­ed to look inside every­thing we could find because there was a secret we were sup­posed to dis­cov­er, or some­thing wasn’t right even though we were so happy.


Dog Cavanaugh is a mixed-race Afro-Irish American author. Most recent­ly, he has pub­lished fic­tion in Bull Magazine and Philadelphia Stories. You can track him down at