Vinyl squeaked as Paxton’s mom, red eyes and all, slid into the booth across from him. Paxton crunched ice and sighed through his nose. His mom saw it. “Don’t be so judgy, Pax. There’s nothing wrong with a little wake and bake. Weed’s legal in Alaska, even if the Fed’s haven’t gotten on board.”
“Trust me, Mom, I know. It’s just — ”
She cut him off with a wave. “I’m starving.”
“Go figure.” Paxton took in a lungful of air scented with coffee, bacon, and toast. He crunched another piece of ice and let the breath out.
Intent on the menu, his mom ignored him. After decades of subscribing to the reefer madness hype, she’d accidentally eaten a pot brownie at a friend’s house and had the time of her life and decided with the zeal of the newly converted to spread the good word, including to Paxton, who’d been smoking weed before he was legal to drive.
Back then, his mom had told him it would stunt his growth, rot his brain, and destroy his ambition, but teaching himself to grow it turned weed into the gateway drug that led to Paxton getting in on the ground floor of the legal pot industry in Colorado.
These days, his biggest problem was managing the cash piling up in his garage since most of his customers paid cash on account of the product behind his seven-figure income being federally illegal. That the Feds still wanted to tax it worked in Paxton’s favor — he’d use cash to massively overpay his state and federal income taxes, which resulted in large refund checks of freshly laundered money.
But that only went so far, so Paxton took a page from his mom’s book and bought houses and rented them out, which rapidly turned into a whole other rabbit hole until he’d hired a property manager.
All he’d wanted to do when he started was grow a few plants, make a few bucks, and not work himself to death. Mission accomplished, but the whole deal had gotten out of hand. He looked across the table. His mom was still staring at the menu like it was the face of God. How was it she didn’t know it by heart by after all these years, even if she was higher than John Lennon?
Paxton chewed ice and looked out the window at the cars and trucks parked untidily in the Trout House Cafe’s snow- and ice-covered parking lot, all covered in frozen grit and road spray like they always were this time of year. He looked out another window across the Hay Flats and up at Pioneer Peak. Thought about getting up on top of it again. Thought that if he could look through the wall behind him, he’d be staring at Hatcher Pass. Lots of amazing country up there. Maybe he should move back. Let someone else deal with the business headaches and do nothing but hunt, fish, and hike. Get his pilot’s license, get into some real remote country…
Paxton’s mom closed the menu and announced she’d be ordering the bacon and cheddar omelet with extra cheddar and sour cream, tater tots with country gravy on the side, coffee with lots of cream and sugar. Plus a cinnamon roll to start.
Kayla, coming over with the coffee pot and notepad, heard the announcement. “Here’s your coffee, Sandy. Cream and sugar are on the table.” She winked at Paxton. “What are you having, stranger?”
“Good to see you, too.” It was — in more than one way. “Pancakes, sausage patties, two eggs over medium.” He turned his coffee cup right side up and slide it to the edge of the table.
Kayla poured coffee, leaving no room for cream, knowing he didn’t take any. “Sourdough pancakes?”
“Please. Can’t hardly find ’em in Fort Collins.”
“That’s a reason to move back right there,” his mom offered.
Paxton stared. Even stoned she’d read his mind, just like she had his entire childhood.
Kayla was grinning. She knew that score, too. “Anything else?”
“Call me later?” Kayla’s grin took on a different tone, one suggesting another reason to move back.
Paxton smiled back. “Definitely. You still got the same number?”
“Yup. I should be done here by two.” She left to put their order in.
“You know what?”
Paxton sipped coffee. “What’s that, Ma?”
“I read on the Internet that Kansas is actually flatter than a pancake. If Kansas had holes as deep as the ones in pancakes, you know, proportionally, they’d be a hundred miles deep.”
Paxton found himself with nothing to say. He looked at the table. The babble of mingled conversations and the nearly musical clinking of silverware against plates washed over him.
“Left me speechless, too,” his mom said, tipping her head back and flooding her eyeballs with Visine.
Paxton handed her a napkin to wipe up the excess. She took it, nodding her thanks. “I’ll be right back, Pax. I’m off to the little girl’s room.”
Little girl’s room? Paxton watched Kayla deliver a round of skillet breakfasts to a group of bowhunters. She looked even better than she had when he left. He’d heard through the grapevine that she’d added back-country skiing to her list of hobbies. She loved the outdoors, too, would be great company on those way-backcountry trips he’d be taking once he had his pilot’s license. She caught him looking and gave him that grin again. He grinned back at her.
His mom slid back into the booth and fixed him with a look. “The topic of the day, Pax, is politics.”
Paxton stifled a groan.
Not long ago, when his formerly dope-phobic mom had asked Alexa to play Bob Marley and started in on how George Washington grew hemp and began praising the many and various splendors of cannabis, Paxton had weathered the mom-splaining by laughing to himself about the stoned talks he and his buddies had had back in the day about wouldn’t it be great if your parents smoked and decided that, like a lot of things, that particular idea looked a lot better in the hazy eye of the baked mind than it did in full-resolution reality.
Once again his mom knew what he was thinking. “Not like that,” she said.
Kayla reappeared with their breakfasts and somehow had enough hands to top up their water glasses and coffee cups. That done, she slipped a 4-ounce wide-mouth Mason jar full of a tawny liquid onto the table. “My latest venture,” she said. “One hundred percent pure Alaskan Birch syrup. Let me know what you think.” She flashed a smile and turned to the table behind them, pouring more coffee.
“If you say so,” Paxton said to his mom. He held a pancake up with the side with the holes facing her. “But before we do this, you’re sure you don’t want to tell me about how time is a pancake?”
Paxton’s mom regarded him and his pancake. “First, don’t play with your food. Second, if time was a pancake, then the holes” — she took the pancake and folded it into a C-shape with the holes facing out — “would be wormholes, which, most likely, will be proven to exist very soon.”
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Paxton said after a moment.
His mom shrugged. “Carl Sagan was a huge pothead.” She dropped Paxton’s pancake onto his plate and licked her fingers.
Paxton spread butter and poured the golden brown birch syrup onto his pancakes. “Alright. Politics. Lay it on me.”
His mom, chewing a mouthful of eggs, bacon, and melted cheddar cheese, held up a finger.
Paxton waited. He’d had all the talks, stoned and sober, about pot and politics — it’s just a flower, it’s better than big pharma’s pills, it’s so much less violent than alcohol, just think about the tax revenue, there’d never be a deficit again. It was all true, but Paxton had accepted the fact that the Uncle Sam wasn’t ready to accept any of it except the tax money, mostly on account of how all the prohibition nonsense made enormous amounts of money for the powers that were and would be and those powers tucked some of that blood money into Uncle Sam’s many pockets in the form of the legally sanctioned bribes known as campaign donations.
Paxton’s position was that as long as the DEA didn’t show up at his door with handcuffs, he was fine with letting the whole fucked up situation be. His mom, he suspected, wanted to free the collective mind from mental slavery.
Right on cue, she swallowed and rinsed her mouth with a sip of coffee that looked to be at least half cream. She wrapped both hands around the cup, soaking up the warmth, and leaned forward.
“The next election is in sixteen months. I want to stop talking about politics and start doing politics.”
“What do you mean, exactly?” Paxton took a bite of pancake. The birch syrup wasn’t as sweet as maple. It was almost fruity, with a smoky undertone. He loved it.
“You’ve got tons of money,” his mom was saying. “After a couple terms as a representative, make the jump to state senate. Or skip that and go Federal, put an end to Prohibition and the War on Some Drugs.”
Paxton looked at his mom.
She stared back, the dope fuzziness gone from her eyes. “Paxton, so help me God, before I die I want to live in a world where the good guys are actually good and win somewhere besides in the movies.”
Paxton sat back. “I don’t know, Ma. I’ve been thinking all morning about stepping back from the business. Letting someone else run it. I don’t want to jump right into — ”
“Oh, Paxton, don’t be stupid. You’d be a terrible politician. I’m running. You’re going to write the checks.”
Prompted by Audrey Wells who, in a conversation a while back, offered up the line, “Time is a pancake, Latham.” Leave me a prompt in the comments: a living thing, an inanimate object, a location.
Image from Wikipedia (public domain).