My grief is not a mother’s grief. I know that much, I say to Clyde in the quiet hours after the boys are asleep. More like losing a good friend, I tell him, only because he asks. I feel him recoil from me on the sofa. Our time is almost up anyway. Whether Elise is found or not, Grace and Edward will return. Clyde will go back to his daughter’s house on the East Side and these weeks will echo in us until they force a separation or, more terrifying, a depth of feeling that binds us, though we have no means to make a life together.
In my afternoons alone, I recline on my soft mattress with my hands across my belly. Elise awakens in the dark Cadillac and smells the lemon scent lifting off the creosote plants in the rain. She crawls across the leather seat, still warm from Edward’s body, and steps into the blackness. The rain is cool after the hot day; the air in the car stinks of cigarettes and breath. One foot moves into the desert, then the other. A wrapping dark like this exists in few places—no place Elise has ever been. Ten yards out, she looks back at our bodies cramped in the tiny conveyance, ready to drag ourselves over another long stretch of highway. She smells the after-rain and thinks: why? She moves deeper into the desert as we begin our search for her, she hears us call her name. It’s easy to dodge the single beam of her father’s flashlight. Our wailing, desperate calls repulse her. We aren’t really calling for her, she thinks. She runs parallel to the road, watching the lights of other cars, until the Cadillac is far behind her. When our cries stop, she approaches a dim, high shape—a rock ledge—and climbs it. Her shirt is wet and heavy and she flings it off as the rain becomes a mist. She lies down, waiting to be lifted so she can swim through the new-washed air, but she grows impatient and restless. In motel pools, she’s met children headed for Texas, Mexico, and Oregon. Near dawn, feeling chilled, Elise walks toward the highway. Her pale, bare torso reflects light from oncoming cars. A door opens, a voice beckons. She turns to see the sun rising over the vast, empty desert, less promising now than in the embracing dark of night.
Breathless, I grip the edge of the mattress and open my eyes. Autumn light slants through my west-facing windows and plays gently on my knickknacks and framed pictures of the dead.