A CRACK IN THE ROCK
A short story
I ran into the dark woods, stumbling, careening against trees with no sense of where I was going in such blackness. I skinned through brambles until me foot snagged a humping root making me fall flat on me face. I groaned and quickly stood. “Oh my God, Missy.” Missy was not with me. They got her.
But at this moment my biggest terror was the woods, that I had never walked in, even in bright daylight. But I must keep running for my life. The moon slowly appeared from black clouds casting pale light, just enough for me to see the outline of pines, straight as bars, I couldn’t help thinking. How long I had run I didn’t know. It was too dark for me to look at my watch. Exhausted, my body was not used to running. I was not athletic. I stopped to listen for barking police dogs. No sound.
The driver, who was way over the speed limit, had tilted his head back, gulped the beer and passed the can to his friend in the front seat. I grabbed Missy’s hand. The men were fellow students at the university. We didn’t know them but answered their post on the bulletin board for a ride to a basket ball game. The driver must have thought no cops would catch them barreling on the country road, forests fields with an occasional farmhouse in the distance.
I propped myself against a tree, my mind clabbering with the thought that I had no idea where I was. Thank God it was not cold. It was June, but as I lay down to rest I shivered on the damp inhospitable ground full of rocks and roots. And every unfamiliar sound made my heart race, the wind swishing the branches became footsteps. The shadows from a new moon sketched images of humans lurking to capture me and all animal sounds were dogs.
When we heard the sirens the driver put his foot on the gas. “Fuck it. We’ll be late for the game.” But the cop car was right next to us. The driver pulled over next to the woods. The two cops stepped out. One cop told the men to step out on the driver’s side and told us to get out. On the side next to the woods. “You stay put.”
“Open the trunk,” One cop demanded of the driver.
“Run,” Missy whispered and stepped in front of me.
I never walked alone without my father or a boy friend in the dark. Don’t walk in the dark; never walk alone in Central Park even in daylight, my cautious father had warned. I never took a subway. Pushing, crowding, the smell of garlic, sweat and beer, or a brash body heaving against my breasts. Instead I walked the sidewalks surveying the window displays of Macy’s, Lord and Taylor’s or Saks.
“Open the trunk,” The cop said again.
The driver opened the trunk.
“Open those bags.”
“Oh my God,” he yelled. “Filled with marijuana. Okay cuff them all.”
Missy stepped in front of me. “Run.”
I ran into the woods. Somehow I thought Missy was with me. Missy was my best friend, my roommate. We talked everything over, courses, crises, boyfriends, courses, professors. Now there was no doubt she would go to jail.
Those were the days, a large bag of marijuana could bring long jail sentences. The college paper had a report about a student in jail for four years for growing pot in her dorm room. I told Missy I was scared to death of jail. “Things happened to me childhood.” I didn’t explain. Didn’t want to explain.
As soon as it was getting light I would look for a way out of these terrifying woods but it hit me, where would I go? Where? Where? Oh my God I’m a fugitive. I would be hunted far beyond these woods. A fugitive wherever I ran.
Dawn now, my watch said 5 a.m. I had to pee. Never done that outdoors either. What to wipe myself with? A fellow student peed by mistake in poison ivy and ended up in the hospital. I didn’t know what poison ivy looked like but I found a mossy spot and used a Kleenex from my pocket.
For the first time I cried. Which way? I turned round and round. Which way? I stood still to listen. There was a sound. A distant sound. A car. I wanted to be on a road but not so any car would spot me. through soggy ground up to my calves and stumbled onto a road, looking carefully to be sure no cars were coming. I knew the road.
Maybe the police wouldn’t yet have a picture of me from college. I had blond hair half way down my back. I was my high school’s prom queen. Friends told me I should try for Miss America. But I was afraid now that my distinctive looks could give me away.
When I heard a car coming I dashed back into the woods next to the road. I was headed north away from the school. But there were few cars this time of day. It was Sunday so maybe the word wasn’t out yet, in the newspapers or radio. I walked swiftly in the direction of Vermont. First would be the small town of Windberry, three miles away, still in Massachusetts.
I forced me tears away. Be immediate. I had always been immediate. Missy asked me why I never thought about the future, what I wanted to major in, be in life. I didn’t know why, but I also didn’t like analyzing myself. Why, I thought again, wasn’t my friend with me? I had to do this alone.
Hunger was attacking me. I felt in my pockets and found only twenty dollars. My daypack with my wallet had been left in the car. My uncle deposited four hundred a month in my school bank account, which I would have no access to now.
Anyway how would I dare buy food? The cops would have put out the alarm by now.
I wrapped my scarf around my head to hide my shoulder. Because the cops would know that I was tall. I tried walking hunched over.
I couldn’t tell my uncle that I was a fugitive. He wouldn’t believe I was innocent. He would turn me in. I hated him, the big fat slob that waddled like a seal down to the ocean in Hawaii where he lived. Now I would have to get money some other way. But how? I couldn’t be seen, like to look for a job. Anyway I had never worked. Why should I? Didn’t even want to work… slapping out hamburgers or like what Missy did down at the Jersey shore in the summer, clean motels. “Toilets, for God sake. Are you kidding?” I said to Missy. “And you never know what kind of low life you’d have to work with. Not worth taking the chance just to have the time off to swim in the ocean.”
“You’re a snob,” Missy said. But I didn’t mind. I liked being a snob.
The hot sun on my back was making me terribly thirsty. I wished I could hitchhike just to get farther away and I didn’t know where I was going. Now there were open fields. I heard a car and threw myself in the water filled ditch. Would I be forced to drink disgusting ditch water? I hadn’t felt thirst like this, ever.
My face was a curse since I was unusually beautiful. The cops could spot
- And I was sick of people commenting, whistling, asking me out, cornering me on campus, truck drivers yelling, “Hey gorgeous.” I was leery of any man’s sincerity.
My distrust had kept me a virgin.
What was I to do? I began to cry again. I needed help. But who would help? Hearing a car I jumped flat into the ditch. I rose full of smeared in cold mud and shivering. As I squirmed shook and tried whipping at my clothes and face, I thought of a priest. They were swore to secrecy but wouldn’t help either. It came to me from a sign I had once seen, a lawyer.
I wished I had a comb. I needed to look presentable. I would explain and he would set me free at once; call whoever he needed to call and I’d be back on campus by afternoon. He would no doubt give me a ride there.
I fixed my scarf to hide my hair and thick eyebrows.
Attorney at law.
The door was locked. Of course, Sunday. I knocked anyway. There was a car parked in front. I Knocked louder. I heard footsteps. The door opened and a man about forty years old, with ruffled clothes and ruffled hair said, “Yes?”
“Are you a lawyer?”
“Yes. But we’re not open on Sunday.”
“I need you now.”
“Sorry, come back tomorrow.”
“Please, I’m desperate.”START
Sighing, he opened the door wider, letting me in. I followed him climbing a flight of worn steps. His wide back was slightly bent, making him not quite as tall as me. His rumpled clothes revealed their all-night wear. He opened an oak door with his name in gold letters through an office to another office, a cramped room with a desk, two chairs, two file cabinets and a couch with a faded blanket he had obviously just crawled out of. He snatched it up dumping it on the floor behind.
“You slept here?”
“I had a lot of work so I slept here. Actually I’m divorced and at the moment I hang out here.”
I wondered why he told me personal stuff. Maybe he wasn’t a good Lawyer, not professional. He looked too relaxed, too casual. But I felt lucky that he had been in his office. He pointed to a chair for me and he sat behind his desk yawning while finger combing his mopish graying hair. A new fright attacked me. Would he dismiss me? Not believe me?
“So what is a kid like you wanting a lawyer at this hour?”
“Are you going to believe me?”
“It might be good if you told me what to believe,” his tone was cool.
As if still running, I talked fast, “Me friend Missy and I… No I mean we saw a note on college bulletin board. Two men. Students. They they were speeding. Cop car chases. Told all of us to get out. Missy and I got out on the opposite side. They found a huge bag of Marijuana. Missy told me to run. Missy didn’t. ”
“Why did you run?”
“Are you on drugs?”
I paused a moment to look at his still eyes looking straight at my eyes.
“No I’m not. I don’t like the… Could I have a drink of water, please?”
He filled a glass from the bathroom. I gulped it down.
“Of course you must turn yourself in. Do you want me to represent you at trial?” He asked, I thought, with sympathy.
“What trial? What are you talking about? I just want you to explain to the police so they will understand and if you don’t mind, drive me back to the college.”
“I would say you have two counts, one accessory to a drug crime, the other leaving the scene.”
“Wait a minute, I hardly even knew the guys. I can’t go to jail.”
“I’ll try my best, but a bag full of pot, times are stiff. ”
“I can’t turn myself in.”
“See you at Police Headquarters across the street.” He handed me his card. “This will be for your phone call. Then as soon as I wash up I will come see you. I will notify your parents if you like. I’m good at calming people down. We’ll get bail money.”
“I don’t have parents. They’re dead. My uncle is responsible for me, sends me money. He lives in Hawaii. Don’t tell him. He’s mean and would stop supporting me. So I can’t pay you anything right now. I will later.”
He stood and put out his hand to shake. His hand was big and needed lotion.
“That’s okay. See you over there.” He gently shoved my shoulder toward the door.
“You’ll get me off. Come right over and explain it all?”
“I will try.”
Out on the street I stopped a moment, glanced at Police Headquarters, swiveled around and dashed down a side street and through back yards, alleyways, fast until I was out of the village and almost into Vermont. It would be better that I was in a different state, wouldn’t it?
I stayed at the edge of the woods so I could dash in deeper. I walked until the sun was in the west. I had waded through briars that tore at me jeans and shirt, over fallen branches and under growth.
Me belly was twanging with hunger and thirst. I must find a place to buy something, if I dared. At least the spitting rain was making me cooler. I folded my scarf into a cone and enough rain filled it for me to sip. Bitter, acid rain. Self–pity, struck me full blast as tears rolled down my face.
I wished all the time that Missy were with me. As night approached came the whipping fear of the woods thick with horrors and rank scent of creatures, yet I didn’t have a choice. But just before dusk, dragging with fatigue I spotted a diner. I peeked in the window and saw only a portly waitress and an old man.
With my scarf over my head and low on me forehead I stepped gingerly in the door and stood at the counter, my back to the door incase some other people might enter. I ordered two cokes, and a hamburger, fries, and a slice of apple pie to go. I paid, three dollars and fifty cents. I must be careful. What would I do when money ran out? Don’t go there, I said to myself.
The waitress slapped the bag of food down and the man turned to stare and pressed on me a flirting smile.
I jumped up, kept me head low and ran out. But outside I noticed a newspaper container. Stopped, put two quarters in the slot. Before reading I ran across the street, into a field, settling behind an oak tree.
Headline: FUGITIVE IN DRUG STING. My name was there. My god, I said out loud. A cop was shot to death. So the driver had a gun. And that stupid lawyer wanted me to confess. I read, gasping at each sentence. Maybe poor Missy will be in jail for years.
I ran faster. A soaking rain gave me more energy. I ran for more than an hour before the rain, gushing down me face, wore me down. I ate as I ran. My sneakers were full of water. To keep me spirits up I pretended the squish, squish sounded like me taffeta dancing dress.
Think positive but how? and why? Night came and good I had not come to a town I climbed a split-rail fence, snapped off some pine branches and dug down into leaves where the rain hadn’t soaked and laid down, pulling more branches over me.
I had decided that was the last time I was going to cry. Yet I went on crying, trying not to face what would happen to me. I just prayed I would get to Canada and be free. Very early in the morning I was back on the road my clothes muddy and damp, but the sun was out, drying me. Near the town of Manchester I found an outdoor phone and dialed his number. A woman answered. I used a different name. “Janet.”
“He has a client. Can you wait?”
“No,” I braved. “It is urgent.” I had only one more coin.
“I’m sorry he has a client,” she repeated.
“Couldn’t you just tell him it’s urgent and I’m on a payphone running out of money?”
I put in another quarter. “Yes, who is this?” He asked.
“The innocent girl,” I said.
“Why didn’t you call me before? I will be over at Headquarters as soon as I can.”
“I’m not at the police station.”
“Then where are you?”
“I’m near Manchester, Vermont.”
“In another state? Why the hell are you there? This is bad. This is really bad. Stay where you are and I will come get you and this time I will take you to Headquarters myself.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Allison you understand that you must.”
“Then why are you calling me? There is nothing I can do unless you turn yourself in.”
“I need you. I need some money to keep going. “
“Then I’m sorry I can’t help you.” His voice was distant, yet edged with worry.
“What kind of an insensitive person are you? You want me to starve? I will be waiting at the rope tow across from the ski lift at Bromley Mountain. I will need a backpack and sleeping bag, tent and…” the phone went dead.
I paced back and forth near the rope tow. He didn’t come. I stamped me feet in fury. Twice I crossed the street to the summertime-deserted lodge by the ski lift to drink water from a fountain. Toward dusk I watched every car go by, forcing myself not to scream in despair. Then I lay down near the rope tow, facing the parking lot.
The sun was retreating over the mountain and now it was almost lightless when a red car slowed and stopped and Will Vail stepped out. But he was carrying nothing. I ran to him. “Do you have a sleeping bag and pack?”
“I’ve come to take you back and help you turn yourself in. The cop that was wounded died. This is now very serious.”
“No. I won’t.”
“Okay, then this is it. This time I mean it. Don’t try and contact me again.”
He walked away. I followed him, grabbing his shirt. He turned around.
“How can you desert me?” I screamed.
“You are deserting yourself. When they catch you, you call me.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out 50 dollars. “Until you come to your senses.”
He got in the car and pulled swiftly out of the lot. I watched him until he disappeared around a curve.
I found a place to sleep, down an incline off the road. It was getting cold at night. I slept very little. Stay in the present. Take care of yourself. Even though all me life I had been taken care of. Too bad I couldn’t call me uncle. The last time I saw him I was thirteen. That was when he did it to me. After that I begged my parents not to make me go again. But I never told them what he had done.
When I arrived at college there wasn’t enough room in my and Missy’s closet for me wardrobe. My parents had little money. My father was a book binder but mother adored dressing me and bought me expensive clothes, which I loved. I had to put about half in the dorm storage room. I mourned my clothes. But it was a better disguise that I looked grungy and that me hair was slick and oily and had begun to mat. I stank of sweat and left over period.
In the next few days, the first of July and about forty miles from college I braved going into a sports goods store at the bottom of the mountain hoping to find a book on wild edible foods.
“We don’t have one just for that,” the fit young woman said. “We have one on hiking trails that has some edibles.”
“I’ll take it and a small flashlight and five trail mixes and scissors.” I put out eight dollars and eighty cents.”
“You look familiar,” the clerk said, “Haven’t I’ve seen you somewhere?”
I didn’t answer.
Don’t rush, look normal while my heart ate at my chest. Instead of feeling more secure each day I felt less because wouldn’t the FBI be involved now. I slipped through the rows of cars to the back of the store and onto the road.
I trudged up the long hill to the deserted ski area again and the phone booth. An answering service picked up. I left a message, in soft, pleading tones. “Mr. Vail, Please help me. I am still across the street from the ski area on the hill with the rope tow. I need a tent and a sleeping bag.”
I waited one more day. I walked down to a brook and washed myself. I cut my hair to just below my ears. Red-eyed and cramped from sleeping on the tufted ground I walked back up to the edge of the road, still going north. Canada. I will go to Canada. I will be free in Canada. But how will I live and what is going to become of me? Don’t think about that. Only the freedom.
I had walked a few miles, my head down, staring at each step, thinking, I’m totally, totally isolated, as if I have been rocketed to another planet with no hope of returning. Living without society, without friends, without Missy was a kind of jail. Jail. How ironic, escaping from jail was jail.
A car honking startled me. I thought of running for cover when I saw the red car and Will Vail parked it at the edge of the road and jumped out. I ran to him.
“Did you bring the sleeping bag and tent?”
“I have come to take care of you.” I felt something about him. Will Vale… was he connecting with me?
“You have come to help me?”
“I brought some things for us to eat. You don’t look okay. Too thin.”
We ate on flat ground at the bottom of the rope tow. After we ate he asked me about me experiences walking and where I had slept. “Such hardships,” he said, shaking his head. “And for what? As he packed up the waste he said “Yes I came to help you go back.”
“Are you nuts?”
“I am more and more concerned than ever about you. You simply can’t live like this. Are you in a fantasy world? Where are you going? What are you going to do? Please listen to me. You could probably get off lightly or get out sooner on good behavior and then is always appeal too.“
I didn’t say anything.
“Do you really think this running will last forever? Even if you get a job you would be looking over your shoulder all the time, never without fear as you ran from one low level job to the next for the rest of your life. Your name would be on the most wanted list in every Post Office. You would never have peace and you will waste your life, no school or career, no husband or children.”
I said nothing.
I said nothing but thought, Missy saved my life and you want to take it
“I really need some things. You can get them from the sports store down the mountain, a backpack, small tent, small towel, soap, toothbrush, paste, sunscreen, and a hat, bug repellent. I have to have a poncho, two pairs of shorts and 2 shirts and 6 undies, size 5, a bra, 38 b cup and tampex, small size.”
“You think I’m going to buy you underwear, a bra and tampex?”
“Didn’t you ever buy those for your wife?”
Instead of answering he stood up. He sat down again. “Just tell me why does jail frighten you so much that you are ruining your life, running away from living your life?”
I didn’t answer.
“If you tell me I might go to the sports store to tide you over until you come around.”
I thought about it. I’m ashamed to tell you that my own uncle did that to me. I was sent to him for a vacation in Hawaii to get me out of New York City in the hot summer. He wasn’t married and had no children. I was thirteen.
He had very strict rules. Me parents didn’t have rules. They believed in a free spirit. When I disobeyed me uncle did a terrible thing to me.”
“I hate to hear.”
“If I didn’t water the flowers at a certain time, or forgot to do the dishes or make my bed by eight in the morning he dragged me down to the cellar and locked me up. He would stand outside the locked door endlessly berating me. ‘Your parents don’t know how to bring you up. I will teach you how to behave. I am going to keep you busy all day. When I tell you to do something you will do it.’
“I screamed, hollered, begged but he didn’t answer. I was in constant panic, not knowing when he would let me out.
“How long did he keep you there?” Will Vail’s voice was a whisper
emphasizing the horror.
“Up to four days, depending on my infraction. Now, I’m terrified of being locked up, even locked in an elevator. I walk the stairs. In theaters, I sit near an exit. At school I asked for a first floor dorm room so I can easily escape.”
He paused. “I understand. But still I you can’t keep on going. I’ll go get the things you asked for and I know you will eventually see …”
When he came back with all that I asked for, he
gave me the flashlight to shine on the tent as he put it up. Then he shook out the sleeping bag. “You realize fall is on its way and then winter.”
“You’re such a pessimist.”
“Wait, just a little,” I begged.
“I mean couldn’t you stay just a little longer?”
“Okay, I’ll help you make a camp fire.”
As they worked together gathering branches I asked him why he had
gotten a divorce. “Nothing big.”
“Won’t you tell me?”
“Sure. She liked golf and wanted to be a pro. I didn’t like golf. I didn’t much like sports. A few years back we decided we had nothing in common and we didn’t have children. She didn’t want them. So we divorced.“ He poked the fire.
Will stayed with me late into the night.
When Will was gone he had left me only twenty dollars. As I watched his
car rive away I held back my tears. What kind of a person was he?
Didn’t he understand the bind I was in? Didn’t he have empathy? Didn’t he have a heart? Didn’t he know he was all that sustained me? Twenty dollars so I would have to call him and he would try and get me to go back with him.
I cried out for my mom and dad. How could they be dead? They would have saved me somehow.
The next day I packed up, nearly falling over from the weight of the pack. I kept my mind busy on the trail by searching for edibles from the book I had bought. I found blackberries but in my frantic picking scratched my hands into bleeding. My book said don’t eat milky discolored sap, spines of fine hairs, grain heads with pink, purplish or black spurs. Everywhere were deadly amanita mushrooms. How was I going to get enough nourishment?
In the late afternoon I found yummy oyster mushrooms and chanterelles. and. I remembered mom boiling up dandelions greens that they picked on an excursion to the Jersey meadows. How bitter they tasted. I craved even them.
The pack was so heavy I was forced to sit every half hour. And the rocky path was so arduous I couldn’t think about anything else but me burden. Watch for the trail marks. Look for signs saying potable water. As the days went by I found Amaranth, wild asparagus and sorrel, wrinkled rose, and purple flowering raspberries. When I saw any hikers I turned me head away or slipped into the woods.
New Hampshire. It was August eleventh and the nights had begun to get cold in the high altitudes. On a sunny day I bathed in a brook, scrubbing my hair three times. It had been more than a many weeks since I had shampooed it and that I had seen Will. My gut told me I would never see him again.
Now and then late at night or very early in the morning I would brave it off the trail to the edge of a town and an occasional diner or gas station to buy food. I had only five dollars and 62 cents left and I had lost a lot of weight. My loneliness was a disease, scraping away at me mind and body. Who was I?
Trying to survive took up most of my thoughts, though Will sneaked in when I was lying still in the dark. I could visualize his face, his broad forehead, ears, the scrubby eyebrows, broad honest lips.
My loneliness was a disease scraping away at my mind and so deep inside me that I felt a continual burning. I was becoming disoriented, my mind stumbled. I rarely saw hikers because it was late in the season. I groaned from the aches of my feral day dreams that accompanied me even in the daytime. I began to converse with myself, or angrily with Will.
If I met him he might not recognize me. I saw my own reflection in a stream…my hair clipped unevenly. My God! I rolled my scarf up to make a belt to hold up my pants. But I had come to fear little in nature. Nature’s beauty had begun to capture me. Golden fall light on every piece of grass or weeds. Waning light through the trees elongated the shimmering shadows and when the wind blustered everything in nature seemed to wave at me. When I crawled in me tent that night, and I couldn’t sleep I counted the clothes I had once owned: 25 sweaters, 30 pairs of pants, too many socks to remember. Earrings of gold and silver and amethyst and pearls but I had lost all interest in. The thought of me ever longing for material things now disgusted me.
In a village in New Hampshire I came upon an outside phone booth which was beginning to be rare. I stepped inside to get out of the wind. But then I couldn’t resist. I searched for the card and found it in the bottom of me pack. He picked up.
“Thank God. I was so worried. Where are you?”
“In Maine at Moose Head Lake. I sprained me ankle. I need help.”
“You mean you’re running out of money?”
“Yes, that too.”
“You lied about your ankle?”
“No, it does hurt.”
“But you can walk?”
It was again near dusk when Will, arrived. My heart leapt at the sight of him, his shaggy hair, shaggy eye lids, gray eyes, slumping shoulders, long arms and beautiful hands.
He was carrying a big backpack, a tent and a walking stick. He set them
down by a grove of trees. “I’m going to walk the trail with you.
I’ve always wanted to and I closed the office for a couple of weeks vacation and brought a lot of food. ”
“Really, walk with me?”
“Your ankle okay?”
“It is now.”
He raised his eyebrows.
As the sun was setting it took a long time to find a flat enough place to put up our tents, and I was almost too tired to eat but he told me I must. I ate slowly almost falling asleep over my food.
I woke in the night chilled. I sat up shaking and pulled myself out of my bag and crawled into his tent. “Will?”
He sat up startled. “What?”
“Okay, bring your sleeping bag in and we can open them and zip them together.”
“Nobody is going to arrest me this far away.”
He didn’t answer. Near dawn he woke and drew me closer. As if half asleep he unbuttoned my sweater and pulled my arms free. We unbuttoned, unzipped in frantic motions but once naked we slowly caressed every inch, tentative like the blind finding a way in a strange territory. He kissed my neck, cheek and ran his lips across my face until he found me lips. We threw off the top bag, our bodies too hot from lovemaking and lovemaking again.
“I have loved you since the minute you stepped in my office.”
“I have never let a boy make love to me.”
“But I’m a man,” he said.
After breakfast of trail mix and juice from a can we walked on the narrow path side by side. I thought of nothing else but the night before… feeling our panting dizzy swirling as if toward a black hole, unable to escape but not wanting to escape and all of our existence going with them, memories, longings, sorrow, fear, loss… racing faster and faster as if toward death but ending in a parachute of silk.
As we walked we sweated from climbing and peeled off layers of clothes. When we sat for lunch we talked about what we were seeing… the scarlet leaves of the maples, the lemon colored quaking aspen and the cathedral of a tall birch forest that made me cry out with joy.
When we sat on a log to rest he took my hand, “Allison this is hopeless, you being a fugitive. You can’t get a driver’s license or use your social security number. But If you go to jail for a while then when you get out we would be together unhindered for the rest of our lives.”
I said nothing. My lips quavered as he kissed me.
Late afternoon Will, looking at the trail map said, “There is soon a bare stone peak we will be able to see a view of the White Mountains and down into the long valley. Let’s leave our gear on the trail, go see the view and come back and pick it up. And tonight let’s go to a motel, hot bath, mad lovemaking. Maybe for several days.”
As they reached the top it was snowing and the wind drove the cold through their clothes. The view was beginning to white out. Will said, “Let’s climb that cliff of rocks for one last look.”
We left our packs down a ways and went to find the cliff. We could climb with grabbing onto rocks and finding foot holds. The stones were worn in places that other hikers had been. But it wasn’t easy and I was scared. We were a few feet from the top of the cliff and I was behind him when he slipped. I wondered if I could stop him from crashing down on the rocky ground but as he slipped his foot caught in a crack that stopped him, thank God, I thought.
But he tried to get his foot out and couldn’t. He was facing the wall but twisted his body around to try and get his boot out. His back was now leaning against the rocks now and facing me. He tried to wiggle free but that wedged his boot farther down the crack. I reached him and stood on a small ledge in front of him to unlace his hiking boot for him to pull his foot loose. But still he couldn’t pull it out. I pulled with all me strength, but still it didn’t budge. His foot was too squeezed and swelling now. “Wait,” he said, “my Swiss army knife.” He pulled it from his pocket and opened it to the saw. He handed it to me and sawed and sawed at the top of the leather, but I couldn’t get my hand in far enough to cut him free. And the storm rage and the temperature was dropping rapidly.
“You go,” he said. “It is almost dark. Take the big flash light in me pack down the trail.”
“Would I get someone before dark?”
“Yes. Get help.”
But we both knew help would not come soon enough. The raging storm, the thermometer dropping rapidly.
“Go.” He shouted.
“No.” But I wanted to.
“I beg you, go.”
“Okay, I’ll run and get help.”
I ran to our packs searching for the flashlight, turned it on and started on down the path running. Would I get help in time? No. But I knew he would die alone. I couldn’t help that. People who loved each other died alone all the time no matter how much they loved. He understood that and made me go.
I must run faster. But I didn’t. I stopped. I stood thinking. He would be very cold by now. I ran back up to our packs and pulled out a sleeping bag and turned and ran back up the trail calling out, “I’m coming.”
I could barely see him from the whipping snow. “Will, I’m here.” I climbed up, slipping back once and grabbing a rock to save my fall. When I got to him I threw my body against him, blanketing us with the sleeping bag.
“No, what are you doing? Go.”
“Hush,” I said. “I won’t go.”
“I beg you.”
“I want you to live, Darling.“
I tightened my arms around him.
We lay our eyes and noses and shivering lips together.
Late in the night as the sleeping bag slipped from our shoulders and we no longer spoke, my freezing mind fuzzed into shadowy thought, who would find us? A hunter? A ranger? A late fall hiker? Or would it not be until the snow had gone and spring had come? And would Missy ever know? I thought how Missy had stepped forward that night, sacrificed herself, did not run with me into the woods so that the cops wouldn’t capture me.
Missy had taught me something.