Maggie is lost.
Anne crouches in the trail, listening to that sentence loop over and over through her brain. Her daughter is six years old, blonde, brown eyes, Down Syndrome, lost. Anne places her hands, palms down against the pebbled black and white earth and breathes deeply. She’s waiting for the white noise to die down in her head, waiting for the panicked shouting of the afternoon to quiet so she can figure out what has happened to Maggie, so she can feel her daughter’s presence through the rock, feel her as the dowser feels the tug, the twitch of the stick–this way, this way.
Richard is gone–hiking out for help. He’s worried about the dark, wants a Search and Rescue team, is afraid if they hesitate they risk hypothermia, or worse. Maggie’s only got a tee shirt and shorts on; it’s October, it will get cold when the sun goes down. He’s taken Luke with him and even as she’s scared without them, Anne is perversely glad they have gone, she can hear now, she can hear herself think. She thinks that maybe now she’ll be able to hear Maggie.
Anne runs her fingertips across the pebbled black and white surface of the trail–Maggie’s feet stood here. Maggie’s feet, white sneakers, pink Velcro straps. Hiking the trail this afternoon, they had to stop twice so Anne could cinch those straps tighter. Setting her on a boulder, Anne held Maggie’s foot and pulled hard on the straps while she twisted away, straining to see the Stellar’s jay squawking at them from a nearby branch. “Maggie, sit still. Mommy’s trying to fix your shoe.”
But now, with the sun beginning to slant long and gold in the west, Anne sees only her own hands–blunt nails, long fingers, the nick on her right hand where she slipped with the staple gun stretching canvases last week, her wedding band. Anne remains crouched in the trail, thinking that if her hands can be Maggie’s feet then maybe Anne can get a direction. Anne concentrates on Maggie’s feet. Those feet were here. Her ankles in white socks, lace trim dirty from the hike: her knees, the left one scraped from last week’s attempt at the two-wheeler. She fixates on the physical reality of Maggie’s body. Her hands seem to sculpt a phantom Maggie in the air–calves, knees, torso. Maggie’s body is real; it exists. She is somewhere. She may be lost but she must still have material existence. She occupies space. She can be found.
Maggie’s not lost, Anne tells herself, standing up. She’s hiding. She does that sometimes, out of crankiness, or when things aren’t going her way, and then she gets bored waiting to be found, falls asleep. It happens all the time. Only this time it happened up here, on the spine of the Sierra, in this jumbled landscape of broken granite and scrub oak instead of at home, in the house, where they know to look under the bed, in the closet, to listen for Maggie’s snoring coming from the clothes hamper.
One hand shading her eyes, Anne looks out over the landscape. She is in a high cirque, three small lakes behind her, jumbled talus falling off the peak to her right, a saddle where the trail goes up and over to Aloha lake, two smaller peaks to the left. Turning, she looks out over the broken landscape that stretches below her to Wright’s Lake, the campground. It’s a mess, descending in ledges, boulders scattered and heaped, falling into a scrubby forest of pine and thick underbrush. High on the west flank of the Sierra, she can see out over the foothills, nearly to the Coast hills. A great empty gulf of air yawning across the state of California. To Anne it’s terrifying and she feels fear, like some great wind, rushing up from the flatlands, roaring up the foothills, swirling into and around this high basin like some infernal force.
Her heart races and she can’t catch a breath. Stop she tells herself, this won’t do Maggie any good, she’s got to get a hold of herself. Anne changes her mind; she doesn’t want to be all alone up here; she wants Richard. He doesn’t panic. He’s calm and rational and isn’t spooked by things. This was almost bearable when it was the two of them, trying to stay calm, trying not to scare Luke, trying to be the parents. But it’s really fucking scary up here all alone.
They were right here, Anne tells herself, looking at the faded orange cross painted on the rock. They were spinning , pretending to be fire helicopters. Richard was egging them on while Luke made whap-whap sounds and Maggie, lopsided as usual, giggled and kept spinning into her brother. Like that game we had as kids, Anne thought watching them, the one with the tops and the yellow plastic boxing ring. The goal was to knock everyone else out of the ring. Head thrown back, Maggie was looking straight into the sun, her arms flung out, white-blonde hair flying as she wobbled and spun and shrieked. Giving in to the delicious dizziness of spinning the children fell into a whirl of white granite, green-black evergreens and religious blue Sierra sky. Anne watched them, then waved to Richard that she was going to set up the lunch. She’d only gone fifteen yards or so to the lake, hoping to snatch a quick moment for a sketch while the kids were occupied, before they needed peanut butter and carrot sticks and cookies.
So where is she now? Anne asks herself as she wishes for the millionth time that she’d stayed here on this spot on the rocks and had never taken her eyes off her difficult missing daughter.
Maggie was right here with that raggedy, too-wide smile then the next thing Anne knew Luke was running, panicked — shouting that that Maggie was hiding and he couldn’t find her. Anne closes her eyes, hands clutching her face as she struggles to banish the visions of what-if: the afternoon haunted by fears of water, of the lakes; the thought of Maggie falling onto granite, blood running across stone. Anne presses her fingertips against her eyesockets. She knows she can find Maggie if she can only focus. If she can envision Maggie whole and unhurt, if she can get an image of her; if she can do this, if she can make out the details of the picture, she can find her, find the place where Maggie is hiding from her.
She sees only darkness inside her head. Even with Richard and Luke gone, even in this infernal quiet she cannot picture her daughter lost, she cannot sense her alone in this landscape, she cannot imagine where Maggie might exist in this place.
Anne opens her eyes and screams Maggie’s name into the wind. Her voice falls puny into the steady updraft from the valley. She shouts Maggie’s name again, trying to sound confident, trying to overcome the way the wind snatches the words, empties them and sends them flying out into that enormous terrifying space that is the valley. She’s fighting to keep the fear out of her voice, to sound friendly, like the good-mommy, the mommy who isn’t crazed with fear and anger that her six-year-old, her daughter who should know better, who does know better Down Syndrome or no Down Syndrome has wandered off, is deliberately hiding from them, has gotten lost in this tangled landscape.
Concentrate, she tells herself. If you aren’t going to hike out for help you’d sure as hell better do something. If I can only think like Maggie, she tells herself. Dropping to her hands and knees, she tries to see the seductive mirage that drew her daughter off. Moving slowly, Anne crawls across the landscape, scanning for a footprint, a broken plant stem, scuffed lichen. A jay squawks from a solitary lodgepole pine as Anne, on her hands and knees, hunts her child through the brittle granite landscape of the northern Sierra, granite the color of bone, granite that crumbles into windswept sandy soil, granite that won’t hold footprints.
* * * * *
More people, Richard tells himself as he strides down the trail. We have to get more people up here. If they could just get to a phone, get a Search and Rescue team before it gets dark, before the temperature drops for the night. There are too many boulders, too many trees growing in clumps of two or three, too many gullies and cracks in the pavement-like stone. He and Anne can’t search them all, and this late in the season there weren’t even any other hikers up there to help out. There must be a Search and Rescue team, he thinks. People must get lost all the time.
Rounding a switchback he glances at Luke, tells himself to slow down. He’s got that miserable look children get when they’re being dragged somewhere by adults, but what can Richard do? They have to hurry.
Looking up through the pines, Richard checks the light and figures they’ve got probably two, maybe three hours of daylight left. They should have headed down earlier, as soon as Maggie disappeared. But they’d thought she was only hiding. She’s done it before, in the house, once in the Denver airport — she was being bad. It was nearly an hour before they’d looked to the lakes. Maggie hates cold water, but with Maggie, who knows? If she’d been in there the whole time … neither of them had wanted to say it but it was clear from the way they followed the shore, peering into that deadly blue water. He was in the water before he had a chance to think about that flash of white. Richard shakes his head as if to to banish that vision of a small leg underwater, so far down he couldn’t see it properly, all he could see was a form, an outline and who knew how long she’d been down there? Be rational, he tells himself and looks up and checks the light, struggling to focus on the bright green lichen glowing with backlight among the dark pines. This is not a disaster. This is just a situation.
Dropping into another steep switchback, Richard sees that Luke is falling farther behind. “How you doing?” he calls up to him.
“My foot hurts.”
“It’s not far,” he tells the boy. “We’re almost there.”
Richard ignores the black look Luke gives him but does slow his pace a little. He should have insisted they hike out after the lake. He knew then that something was wrong, that they couldn’t find her alone. He shouldn’t have waited, they lost what, an hour? two? But Anne was convinced. She’d dragged them back to the place where the kids had been playing and had Luke crouch on the granite and cover his eyes. They’d been playing hide and seek when Maggie disappeared.
“I’m going to walk off and you tell me if it sounds like the direction you heard Maggie take,” she said to Luke. “No peeking–we need to do this by sound to make sure.”
“Okay,” Luke had answered, crouched on the bare rock, his hands over his eyes. Anne went uphill, to the left and climbed a little outcrop while Richard watched Luke–his body tense with concentration.
“Luke?” he’d asked quietly, “Does that sound right?”
“No, Dad,” Luke said through his fingers. “She didn’t go that way. I told you, she went down by the dam.”
“Anne!” he’d shouted.
She’d run back through the brush, inquiring smile on her face.
“That’s not it, Mom. I told you. She went that way,” Luke pointed downhill.
“Okay, okay, I just want to make sure,” she said, “Let’s try it again. Close your eyes.” Luke returned to his original position. Richard watched his wife. She had that brittle, high-energy sheen to her that meant she was untouchable. Richard knew better than to try to sway her. Eventually she’d wear herself out. But in the meantime where was Maggie?
Anne walked away, clomping a little for effect, heading not quite toward the dam, but uphill from it. Richard watched with a certain admiration; he would never have thought of going that way, but it looked like exactly the sort of thing Maggie might have done. Oblique. Richard had glanced down at Luke, placed a hand on the top of his head. Luke shook it off.
“Dad,” he’d said, annoyed.
“What do you think?” Richard had asked, waving Anne to come back.
Luke had paused. “That could be it,” he’d said with hesitation.
“But you’re not sure?”
“I don’t know Dad, we were just playing. I wasn’t listening that hard.”
Richard turns to check on Luke. Behind him, the trail is empty. Dust motes swirl slowly through the late yellow sunshine.
“Luke!” he shouts. “Luke!”
Listening, he hears only a solitary woodpecker working a trunk to his left.Oh shit, he thinks.
“Luke!” Richard shouts, and still, there is no answer.
Richard runs, panicked, up the trail
* * * * *
I just wanted light, Anne thinks walking among boulders, calling Maggie’s name into the relentless silence. She’d recently finished a series of small paintings, little jewels based on thirteenth century altarpieces. They were strange, but when she’d started them she knew they were strange, that no one was doing work like this, using these old forms, ancient techniques of gilding then incising decorative patterns into the smooth surface of the gold leaf. Opacity was what she had intended, the opacity of metal, of those saturated blues and reds. She wanted the opacity of the materials to reflect what she thought of as the opacity of family life — the way these people in her life, closer to her than anyone could ever be, nonetheless remained on some fundamental level mysterious, never entirely known.
She’d loved everything about the project — from cutting the wooden panels, and fitting the hinged diptych and triptych forms together using the old methods. She’d loved spreading on layer after layer of gesso, then sanding it down with ever finer grades of sandpaper. And finally, laying down the images.
Opacity seemed the only possible artistic response to Maggie’s absolute difference, to the fact that down to the strands of DNA in her cells she was so slightly and yet profoundly different than Anne, or Richard or even Luke. She had appropriated the elongated forms of Russian Christs, the swan shapes of medieval martyrs, the iconographic importance of position and size in order to paint the ordinary mysteries of family life. The tantrums and everyday disasters, those moments of goofy unexpected joy when someone said something unintentionally funny.
She’d liked the way that iconographic emphasis on size had allowed her to visually represent the different ways her two children demanded, needed so much in such different ways. She’d gotten worried though, when the image of Luke had come to her as a martyr out of an old Russian icon. The painting wanted to be what it was, Luke in a rectangular center portrait, surrounded by smaller panels depicting all the times she’d had to tell him to wait, all the times she’d had to leave him to take care of Maggie. But she didn’t want him to see it; didn’t think it could possibly be good for a little boy to see that his mother had painted him like that. The guilt and uncertainty had stopped her for a couple of weeks. Finally, she’d moved out of her garage studio and found a place in town to work, so she didn’t have to worry about Luke stumbling upon something he shouldn’t see.
Her show had been a success–she’d gotten a small mention in Art in America, in the back section– but now, that project felt like it was over for her. She felt like she’d pushed solid colors and shiny surfaces as far as she could. For a few weeks there had been nothing in that part of her head where the art lives, but then she’d begun to start thinking about big paintings, about catching that Western transparency of space and light that had convinced her mere weeks after arriving in Boulder for college, that she could never go back to the watery green of the Midwest.
Anne walks across this strange granite that rings like struck china and wonders if she didn’t break some cosmic taboo by painting those panels. She wonders if she missed the real danger–not that her children would be wounded by seeing those paintings–but that by sending their images out there, by using them as material for her art, she’s somehow tempted the evil spirits of the world, called attention to them. She comes to a boulder group, circles it, checks for Maggie in a small cavespace at its base. Two huge rocks, twelve or fourteen feet high, have come to rest against one another, several smaller stones rolled against them.
Eyeing the thick crack up the backside of the boulder group, Anne thinks bitterly that now maybe she understands why certain cultures refuse to name a child, refuse to praise the beauty of a child out of fear that the very act of cherishing will call down those dark forces which tear all that we love out of our grasp. This knowledge sits in her gut like a stone, nearly doubles her over. I can’t, she thinks. I’ve got to keep searching, Looking at the crack again Anne figures she can see from up there. It’s been years since she climbed, she and Richard gave it up years ago, but she used to be good. Reaching up with one long arm she feels the cool rock for a solid handhold, fingers recalling counterbalance, toes feeling out an edge to stand on. This is what she needs, something active and solid. Levering herself up, her arm moving slowly, smoothly for the next hold, wedging a foot sideways in the crack between the two rocks, she balances on that point where the boulders meet, and scans for Maggie– pink, white, a scrap of color–color that doesn’t belong in this landscape, a flag signalling the location of her hiding child, her vanished girl.
Anne looks across the two lakes. Linked, they form the headwaters of small creek that shines along the gulchbottom down to Wright’s Lake, the campground, their tent, the car–backseat strewn with Maggie’s toys, the pink feather boa she insisted on wearing the afternoon they left home. It’s Anne’s fault for dragging them all up here — it’s too late in the season–she’d had to call the ranger station to make sure the campground was even still open. Richard was in the middle of a big project, at that awful stage where it seems like all you do is draw and redraw the building, stand on the site trying to help the client visualize how great it will be. He hadn’t really had the time, but had managed to duck out of town anyway. She’s done this; she’s dragged her whole family up here just so she can see the light, and now look what’s happened.
Anne gazes out across the lakes: still, blue, cold. After they’d gone hoarse shouting Maggie’s name into the wind, Anne and Richard had looked to the lakes. First they’d screamed for Maggie, running through the underbrush, circling out from the place Luke had last seen her. They’d deliberately shut the lakes out, not thought about that terrible possibility. But Maggie wasn’t there, she wasn’t in the bushes near the heli landing site, she wasn’t responding, she just absolutely wasn’t there. She and Richard had looked at one another over Luke’s head, trying to be calm, trying to be parental. They decided to take a shoreline each. Visibility was good. Each glimmer underwater, each Coke can clearly visible at fifteen feet triggered an adrenal jolt of recognition: not hair, not tee shirt, not limb. Climbing over talus, Anne couldn’t believe that Maggie was in there. If Maggie had drowned, if Maggie was dead Anne would know. Despite the clench of fear in her throat as she stared into that dead clear water, Anne was sure, that although she wasn’t answering, although she’d disappeared, her daughter was still alive.
Until Richard dove into the lake. It is as if that moment is forever frozen in Anne’s visual memory–Richard’s feet disappearing beneath the surface, splash breaking the silence, Luke yelling Mom!
Anne sprinted. Jumping from unstable boulder to rock, she felt time slow down, felt the talus tilt, heard it clink with the hollow scraping sound of broken crockery, even as she watched Richard come up for air, shake the water from his eyes, flip over, hiking boots kicking once in the empty air before disappearing beneath the surface. She lost her sunglasses, heard them skitter and bounce down into the rocks. Everything was startlingly clear. Anne rounded the end of the lake, leaped off the last talus boulder and ran across the polished granite of the lakeshore, arriving as Richard, gasping with cold, blowing like a whale, burst through the surface, water droplets glittering like ice, clutching aloft in one hand an old white hat, an old white hat that must have blown off someone’s head and into the water, an old white hat he thought was the body of his child.
Richard swam toward shore, breathless from the icemelt lake, clutching the hat, convulsed with fright and relief, still haunted by what he thought was a leg underwater; bluish-white, drowned. Anne pulled him out of the water, crouched to encompass the familiar shoulders of her husband, her Richard, the man she’s loved since college, the only man she’s loved. She rocked him like one of her children while he spat “I thought”¦ I thought”¦” and she said “I know”¦ I know”¦” and Luke who’s almost nine and embarrassed by this display of parental affection, stood over them and patted his dad on the shoulder, on the head, on whatever parts of his father’s body were closest and said “Dad, Dad it’s okay. Dad look, it’s just a hat.”
And then they looked at Luke and laughed, laughed with the hysteria of people who are really frightened. And Richard reached up and pulled Luke into his arms and Luke squirmed and shouted “Dad! You’re all wet!” and they laughed some more, until they were all three lying in a pile on the shore, exhausted with relief and laughter. Richard shivered once, convulsively, in his wet clothes and the situation settled down on them like fog. Maggie is lost.
Anne, balancing one hip against the top of the boulder pile, looks out over this landscape she has sought, sees light streaming out of the late afternoon sky, sees it blaze off the exposed granite shoulders of the basin, sees it set the surface of the lakes gleaming a steely silver, and hates herself for seeing forms and colors instead of Maggie.
She turns to climb down from the rock. Blindly lowering herself, foot groping for a hold, a place in the crack where she can wedge her toe, she remembers how she hates downclimbing–the terrifying blinkered aspects of it, never able to quite see where she is going, the frightening tug of gravity as she lowers herself down. This is dumb. That’s all they need now, a lost child and a mother who’s hurt herself playing rockclimber. From a solid foothold eight feet up, Anne turns and jumps, landing with a whump in the stone hard dirt.
Dusting her hands on the leg of her shorts Anne turns to look around her. The glare has intensified, and she longs for her lost sunglasses. She’s got to stay in the present. She’s got to keep looking. To her right, there’s a clump of lodgepole–deadfall and three live trees. It looks like the sort of spot Maggie might like.
Maggie could have been sleeping all afternoon. The girl sleeps harder than anyone Anne’s ever known, and once she’s out, nothing wakes her up. If she’s been sleeping, Anne knows, she’ll be waking up about now, blond hair stuck to her face, hungry, disoriented, frightened. Anne grows very quiet, listening deep inside herself for a signal that Maggie is out here, that Maggie is calling to her.
As she walks across the bare granite, she hears only the sound of small pebbles crunching beneath the soles of her hiking boots.
* * * * *
Luke follows his father down the trail. He is going too fast and Luke has to trot a few steps every so often to catch up with him. The steep trail twists between high shoulders of rock. As they come around the corner by the big rocks where they’d had a snack on the way up, Luke can see the lake, the campground below. There are people on the lake in boats. He hears a shout rise through the still, late afternoon air.
They should have stayed at the lake. He and Maggie had been making boats out of sticks, and pushing them offshore, and then seeing who could hit theirs the most times with rocks before it sank. Maggie threw a lot of rocks but they missed, the little stick danced just out of her aim. So she went and got a really big rock, so big she could hardly carry it; then staggered out the little spit of land and heaved it into the water with a huge splash and a thonk on the bottom of the lake and they both laughed because it was so funny and because she turned around and gave him that “So there” look. Then Luke went and got one and it was a contest, who could find the biggest rock, carry it to the end of the spit, and chuck it into the water without dropping it on their toes.
Then Mom and Dad had said come on, we’re going to climb to the lakes and have lunch. It will be fun. It’s pretty up there. Luke didn’t want to go. He wanted to play by the lake. It was all their fault. If they hadn’t gone on this stupid hike he wouldn’t have lost Maggie.
He’d looked for Maggie — really, he had. He’d followed the creek down a long tunnel of green bushes. He thought maybe she followed the water. It was when he was edging around that deep pool, the movement startled him, caught his attention. Fish. There were fish in the pool; you could only see them when they moved because they were the same color as the bottom. Luke had crouched to watch. They were tiny, the size of his index finger, and brown. The fish were still, only their fins feathered back and forth to keep them in place. Luke wondered if they knew he was there. Did they think he was a predator? An eagle maybe, waiting to swoop down and pluck them flapping out of the water? He’d looked around for a rock. He’d only wanted to scare them a little, so they’d move.
He’d found a palm-sized hunk of granite. It was almost black, and heavy. He’d leaned over the water. There was a flash of movement, then stillness. Luke was dazzled. The fish had darted for safety before the rock even hit the water. They looked like a star exploding. Then it was still again. Quiet. Nothing moved in the pool. Even the leaves had gone quiet.
That’s when Luke remembered he was supposed to be looking for Maggie. He shouldn’t have looked at the fish. He should have found Maggie.
Luke is nearly worn out. It’s a long way back down and his dad isn’t stopping at all. On the way up they’d stopped a lot, because Maggie was being a pain. First her shoes kept coming undone. Then she decided she needed to name everything. “Jay!” she’d shouted at every bird she saw. There is a hot place on the side of Luke’s heel where a blister is starting. His father keeps walking and his wet boots make a funny little whistling sound every time he takes a step. Luke wants to stop. He is tired, and they’re going so fast he’s getting dizzy on the twisting trail. He knows they need to get to the phone but his legs ache and his foot hurts and he wants to sit down. He wants a lemon drop and a drink of water. He wants his mother to lean against and look down at the lake and for her to wipe the sweaty hair off his forehead and tell him it is going to be all right. And his father just keeps going. He’s getting farther away and Luke has to run to catch up.
Luke’s dad turns around. “Come on, Luke. We need to keep going. We’re almost there.” Luke feels his chest fill with anger and tears and he glares at his father. Can’t he see that Luke is tired and hot and his foot hurts?
Luke stumps downhill and the words fell in with his footsteps. My foot really hurts. My foot really hurts. My foot really hurts and Maggie is lost. Maggie is lost. Maggie is lost. My foot really hurts and Maggie is lost.
* * * * *
High in the talus field above the lake Anne alternates between calling for Maggie, gazing into the holes between these boulders jumbled on the mountain’s shoulder, and scanning the area below her for a sign of movement, the flash of Maggie’s bright hair or white tee shirt.
Anne had obsessed about this trip all week–planning the meals, getting the gear together, double checking to see that everyone had their winter sleeping bags, warm clothes, that they didn’t forget the stove. She’d been determined–this was the family she wanted–Maggie playing by the lake, Luke running to her with some exciting thing he’d found, a rock, a snail, an odd pine cone. She thought she had everything covered when she’d packed the car, picked up Richard from work early so they could beat the traffic, get up here in time to cook dinner in the campground, set up the tent.
And last night had been so perfect. She remembers thinking to herself, see, it was worth the effort. In the long yellow light slanting out of the west, she and Maggie had walked along the sandy shore of the lake. Richard and Luke were off to the bog–they were into stalking these days, a leftover from Richard’s childhood spent hunting with his dad. She’d smiled at the vision of tall Richard, skulking through the woods, Luke’s tow head behind him, while Anne and Maggie walked along the shore. The water was gold with reflected light, and the cool air fragrant with pine. Quietly, with concentration, they floated black bits of twig on the surface tension of the water. Anne has always been fascinated by surface tension–by the way molecules cling together under improbably heavy loads.
Maggie’s clumsiness meant they sunk a lot of twigs, but slowly she got the hang of it, placing pine needles on the water with Chaplinesque exaggeration, whispering to her mother as if the sound of her voice would break the water’s hold. It was in those moments that Anne knew — if Maggie were to wake up tomorrow without Down Syndrome, she would be a different child, not her Maggie at all. Anne’s fierce pride is that Maggie is not a falling off from some perfect child who might have been, but is in fact the only Maggie. Not a damaged Maggie, but the real Maggie.
She is adamant about this. Yes, Maggie is difficult, and yes, she has told the teachers, she disrupts the class and doesn’t always understand, or want to understand the rules of appropriate behavior. Yes, you have to tell her three, four, five times but it’s her right to be mainstreamed with other children and not shuffled off in some dead-end “special needs” classroom. Since the beginning she and Richard have been determined — it’s not what Maggie can’t do that is important, it’s what she can do. And Anne is absolute in her belief that Maggie will do everything that other children do–ride a bike, swim, ski, go to school, take dance classes. Maggie is Maggie, she might be different and difficult but, her mother insists, she is perfect.
Anne wishes she’d brought the binoculars. She’s high enough that if anyone was moving down in that little cirque she should be able to see them. Above her, she hears a pika squeak, and as she turns, she’s startled by movement. Her heart sinks as she sees that it is only a marmot, gold fur shining on it’s belly, standing on hind legs to check her out. Anne closes her eyes and concentrates on the vision of Maggie safe, ankle deep in water, crouched over her pine needle, a needle which floats in a fading circle of concentric rings, rings that disappear as they move away from their source.
* * * * *
Running back up the trail, Richard rounds a switchback, nearly collides with Luke.
“I’m coming,” Luke answers, looking up at his father with genuine surprise.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Richard nearly shouts, feeling himself go hard inside against his son.
Luke makes a circle in the dust with his toe.
Richard takes the boy by the shoulders, hard. He can feel the collarbones under his thumbs, flat wings of shoulderblade against his fingers.
“We have to hurry. Don’t you understand? Your sister may be hurt. We have to get help.”
Richard barely refrains from shaking him; his hands itch to shake those small bones. He shoves the boy into the trail in front of him and swats him once, not hard, on his rear. “Now move it!”
They continue down the trail. Luke sniffles quietly. Richard is all but dancing from the effort not to grab the child by the wrist and drag him down the trail. If he was smaller Richard might, but this year he has grown; he’s too big to carry. They move down the trail, far too slowly, although Luke is clearly limping along as fast as he is able.
Anne had balked when he’d brought up hiking out. We can find her,she’d insisted. She’s not lost. He hates when she refuses to be rational–there were only the two of them, well, and Luke. They’d been searching for nearly three hours and whether she was hurt or asleep or being naughty for some inscrutable Maggie-reason, it was clear they couldn’t find her by themselves. There has to be a search and rescue team, he’d said trying to keep calm, trying to make sense. We need help. Then she wouldn’t hike out with them, refused to leave without Maggie. Richard he had to agree with her there — the idea of Maggie emerging from whatever hiding-place she’d wedged herself into, thinking they’d left her, crying and no one to find her — of course Anne had to stay. He’d given her the smaller pack, with water, with warm clothes for herself, and for Maggie. It would be cold by the time he got back. He was worried about Luke too, what if it got late? They didn’t have warm clothes for him.
He’d only left them for a minute. He’d stepped behind a clump of alder scrub to pee, and when he got back, they were gone. He’d been standing on the rock, annoyed with the kids, looking for them. They knew better than to go so far away, they were supposed to stay in earshot. Luke knew that anyway, and he was pretty sure that Maggie knew by now that wandering off was a Very Bad Thing. Richard strode back uphill toward the heli pad, climbed the little swell behind it. “Luke!” he’d shouted. “Maggie! Come on! Lunch is ready!” They hadn’t answered. he remembered being annoyed with them, wondering why couldn’t they just be where they were supposed to be?
He’d looked around, there were big boulders up there, certainly big enough for a child to hide behind, and scattered clumps of hemlock, lodgepole pine. It was the granite though, that you noticed first, blinding white, scraped bare by long-gone glaciers, crumbling in places where the feldspar was breaking down. It was this austerity they’d been seeking, the skeleton of the Sierra laid open across the spine of California. He and Anne had talked about it last night after the children were asleep. She’d been describing the new series of paintings she was planning –” big open landscapes, abstract, transparent forms of color and light. He was glad she was moving towards abstraction; he for one wouldn’t mind not showing up in her paintings anymore. He was thrilled for her recent success, and he’d never knowingly thwart her work, but he had to admit, seeing his family exposed like that, flattened into odd medieval forms, made him deeply uncomfortable. Sitting together listening to the water lap at the sandy beach, they’d gazed up toward the granite gleaming in the light of the nearly full moon. Listening to her, Richard had one of those moments where he couldn’t imagine living with anyone else, where he honestly couldn’t imagine his life any differently from what it had become.
Luke trips and falls hard onto the palms of his hands.
Richard pulls him up, and Luke is crying in big gulping sobs. “Shh,” he says to the boy. Richard pulls Luke into his arms while perching on a rock.
“I’m okay,” Luke objects, pulling back. It’s the other thing that’s happened this year, Luke’s started acting tough on them, squirming out of hugs, hanging out with the other third-grade jock boys. He shrugs to wipe his nose on the sleeve of his tee shirt and Richard sees his palms are skinned, have little bits of gravel embedded in them.
“Let me see,” he says, catching Luke’s hands in his. Luke sees the wounds and tears well up again. He stands biting his lower lip to hide the quiver as Richard brushes the loose dirt off his son’s hands, trying to see how bad the damage really is.
* * * * *
It’s late when Anne, standing high on the shoulder of the cirque, watches the last violent streak of gold narrow against the western horizon. Stars begin to flicker in the purple night sky and a three- quarters moon douses the granite landscape with cold white light. It all looks like a charcoal drawing, she thinks. Like an illustration out of some Gothic novel. She is still trying to search by this pale light, still calling Maggie’s name into the chill silence.
Something rises up on the air. Voices? Anne strains to hear. Disoriented from having searched thousands of rockpiles and treeclumps and little flat sandy terraces between them, thousands of places a small child could have hidden, or could lie injured, Anne looks out over the valley, doesn’t recognize the line of yellow lights bobbing up the trail. It looks like some articulated creature, she thinks, like those dragon dancers in Chinatown. Firecrackers. Maggie shrieking and clinging to her, throttling her nearly, with her unpredictable terror.
As Anne watches them she feels unbearable shame settling into her bones. They have come. She has not found her daughter. Maggie is truly lost and it will take all those strangers to find her. Anne has lost her child on an afternoon hike. It is dark and she has had to put on a sweater and a hat and her daughter is out there in a tee shirt and shorts. She watches the bobbing light creature moving towards her, hears voices floating across the still cold air.
She knows she has to go down there but she feels an odd urge to run, to hide up in the rocks with Maggie. Slowly, quietly she moves between the scattered hunks of granite, passes manzanita spreading like dark pools over the pale earth, walks through the armlike moonshadow of trees towards these people who move towards her up the trail, these people she hates needing.