We came to the labyrinth of grain aboard a wooden chariot littered with hay and pulled by a sturdy tractor that made a pleasing rumble as it crawled past the fields of pumpkins and the stand of apple trees.
The kids — thrilled at each muddy pothole — and I exchanged bemused glances with the other parents onboard, all of us relishing the prospect of our children picking actual apples instead of using an iPad to do it. We disembarked our tractor with a spring in our step, eager to reap our harvest. The kids plunged forward, surefooted, into the corn maze. I followed behind, challenging their confidence in each path they chose, as if their desired heading were analogous to declaring a college major. One dead end equals a sociology major. Another dead end and they’re moving back into my basement and working the night shift at the convenience store.
It’s fun, this family outing. We’re happy to be together, reveling in our romp among the tall, brittle reeds of rotting corn. I caution of the time, considering we took the last available tractor ride. They dismiss my concern with hearty laughter, but I glance reflexively at my phone to note the hour — at which point I also see I have no reception.
4:15 p.m. — Guys, I don’t have any bars on my phone. I realize I told all of you to not even consider taking a phone, but I am just checking to see if anyone actually listened to me for once. This would be the one time I would be happy if you hadn’t. Okay, yes, you’re right. Also the time I told you to eat expired hummus.
4:18 p.m. — This will be fine. It’s a corn maze, not a chapter from a Tolkien book.
4:20 p.m. — Another dead end. I really thought this was the way. We’ll just turn in the direction of the setting sun. The sun sets in the East, which is the way we need to go. Really? In the West? Did that change recently, like with global warming?
4:21 p.m. — Weren’t we just here? No, not just standing in front of a wall of corn. Standing in front of this very wall of corn.
4:23 p.m. — I wish one of you was an African rebel right now, because then you’d have a machete. They always have machetes to hack their way through cane and oppressors.
4:25 p.m. — Guys, look at the camera on my phone. Tell me your names and ages — and what you hoped to be when you grow up. Don’t say a pirate, that’s not how you want to be remembered by America. Say an astronaut. Say a senator. Just say it. Now stare sadly at your hands and look skinny while I pan the camera through the corn. Don’t grab your sister.
4:30 p.m. — I’m hungry. And thirsty. And anxious. This is like the Weight Watchers’ Trinity of Trouble.
4:33 p.m. — What do we do at nightfall? We need shelter. We need fire. We need prey. I can’t stop talking in survival terms. Rations. Hypothermia. I’m just saying words now. And I can’t stop. Flares. Smoke signals.
4:35 p.m. — I know this is an uncomfortable family dilemma, but I think it’s on your minds too. Which of you would like to be sacrificed first once starvation sets in? We need to establish the rules before our logic is clouded by hunger. I think the oldest. That gives me more time to save for college for the younger two. Maybe the youngest, actually. I didn’t bank her cord blood anyway, so I may have subconsciously made this decision when she was born.
4:38 p.m. — Remember when I told you I had all of your pre-kindergarten artwork digitally cataloged? I really threw them out. I didn’t even recycle them because I was afraid you’d pull them back out of the bin if they sat around too long.
4:40 p.m. — I learned nothing useful as a Girl Scout. I learned I could eat four sleeves of Thin Mints in the time it took others to tie a square knot.
4:44 p.m. — I’m going to just lie down here for a few minutes. You’ll pass by me again, I’m sure of it.
4:48 p.m. — Do you know about the law of threes? We can only go three minutes without air. Three days without water. Three weeks without food. And I’ve got about three hours without Internet in me.
4:51 p.m. — Do any you know how to whittle anything? Not like a Precious Moments character, like a weapon. We might need it as the darkness settles. From the look of this corn, something with sharp incisors may be our roommate.
4:52 p.m. — I’m taking my shoes and socks off. I saw it once on a show. The girl who thought it seemed counter-intuitive to strip away clothing now has feet made out of titanium while her friend she deemed crazy still wears Jimmy Choos.
4:54 p.m. — Stop looking at me like that. I know what you’re thinking, but I’m no source of nourishment. There is no protein to be derived from these flaccid muscles. I’m pure gristle and bone shaft.
5:00 p.m. — From the beginning of our society, we have relied upon corn! If I rub this ear of corn and set it on fire, won’t I have something amazing like a Butterfinger?
5:04 p.m. — It’s over. Let’s all lie down together, holding hands. I’m going to fashion crowns of corn husks, and we’re going to sing a song we all know. No, not “Dynamite.” Something more tranquil, like a hymn. Fine. Mariah Carey’s” All I Want For Christmas” will do.
5:10 p.m. — Wait, what’s that? There’s the clearing! We’ve made it out. God, thank you. I will do better. I will try harder to do your work on Earth. I will nurse fallen sparrows back to health. I will help old ladies find their sizes at T.J. Maxx. I won’t believe in dinosaurs. I will make wreaths and donate afghans to assisted living centers. I will stop ridiculing people who read Nicholas Sparks novels. I will stop hoping girls I didn’t like in high school have cellulite and premature age spots. But above all, I will never make my family do free activities I read about in the paper. And I will never bring corn as a side dish to a barbecue again.