The festival stage was empty but for your father and the others in the band loading equipment. From the Big Horn Mountains the Nowood River flowed by children wading in the waning sun. The green of City Park shimmered with listeners waiting for the next act. Your father gave you a cord to carry.

Your chest puffed out, you held your shoulders back, your chin floated up. Such joy in a task! I followed and watched. Others also witnessed as you walked not around or under the rugged trailer hitch used to transport the stage. You hit it square on, as only a child of four would do, and you went down.

I ran, propelled by your screams, to the EMTs. Your blood ran into my skirt and at my breast and in the hand I cupped over your bleeding head. You were solid and heavy, and the distance for carrying a crying boy was far. In the ambulance you sat on your father’s lap. He had followed close.

The flag on your shirt was wet, your hair, sticky with blood, stuck up. A collection of the concerned gathered at the open doors. A doctor offered to take a look. She was the woman you wet with the squirt gun that afternoon. She bandaged you with tape and gauze, but we took you to the nearest town for stitches.

The songwriter’s girl, our new friend now, sat next to you as I drove. You cried because your father had to play the show. You cried and would not be consoled. You would not, until she asked about the fishing pole that glanced her face. “You have to be careful of that hook,” you sternly warned. Then you spoke of rivers, worms and bait.

Twenty-seven miles later and the best way to fry fish (corn meal, not flour), we arrived at the emergency room doors. Your dread rose like a trout feeding in a stream. A zoologist I know conducted a study to learn if trout feel pain. He slit their heads, tested their brains, and used Super Glue to reconnect the flesh. That’s what they used on you.

On our return, the badlands glowed orange and gray and the sky turquoise. Jilaena told how she had trekked across them when she was twenty-one. How she’d had to hitch a ride, defeated, only a few miles out of town. As faint violet headed for dusk, eons stretched before us. You and she ate crackers in the back seat.

The hospital had been as small as the one where you were born.

Chavawn Kelley