Her sweatshirt was white and hooded. Mark picked it up and it was impossibly light. Along the back of it a branch was stuck, and as he lifted it, a scattering of sand fell off and hit the beach. On the inside was a naked footprint, pressed to the loose fabric in grass and mud. Both of the sleeves were frayed at the edges and there were wide holes worn into the breast from a pin or button. Janie’s name was written in thick black marker along the tag.
The rest of her things were next to it. Brown plaid shorts, flesh toned bra, plain white underwear. A white and yellow t-shirt. Her pink backpack was discarded next to a burst of wood violets, and its color made it seem a brilliant flower of its own. It was open, and though she’d emptied most of it in the car, there was still a thick yellow towel and a toothbrush inside.
They gathered it all and ascended the hill, scaled the cemetery fence, and walked back to the car. Janie wasn’t there.
Do we wait, Mark asked, and Rick said no, screw her.
The car doors swung open with a groan and a pop, and every one climbed in but Mark and Bruce. The two of us can look Bruce said and Mark nodded. The car started with a whine and lurched into gear. It moved slowly down the street and was gone.
The sun had broken the plane of the horizon, and the whole sky was rose colored in the dawn with orange and pink clouds stretching long and thin above them. They picked their way through the cemetery stones and went back to the mausoleum where they’d drunk the last of the wine. She wasn’t there.
I’m starting to get worried Mark said and Bruce nodded and the mausoleum had a mouth that was wide and gaping, wrought iron bars like clenched teeth. There was no sign of anything there but the dead, and it was a strange omen contrasted with the yellow rose of the new day.
They cut a wide circle through the cemetery and the songs of birds were wild in the trees above them. They called her name and their voices were swallowed and lost. Janie, they said. They moved faster and left the graveyard. They passed houses and the houses were dark with doors shut and windows drawn. Janie they said, and there was no answer. They walked along Main Street and it was empty. A police car turned a corner and came towards them, but then turned again before reaching them. If something bad happened Mark started and Bruce said nothing.
They followed Main Street back towards the house. It was a long walk and the sun hit the windows of the houses beside them and the whole world was brilliant. Janie they said, now half hearted. Main Street curved to the south just before it descended a steep hill into downtown, and there on the north side of the street was a wide park with a playground, and they saw her.
She was laid out on her back in the grass next to a park bench. Jesus Mark said.
When they got close she turned her head to them and rose. In the reflected light of the sun they could not see her suddenly, and they were blind. She went to them and spoke:
When I was little my father took me to a marina. It was Lake Michigan and all I remember was the smell of dead fish and gasoline and beer and the smoke from his cigar. We walked down a long dock toward the big boats and I don’t remember why we were there, but we came to the edge of the dock and I stood there and all before me was the lake. It was grey and it stretched out over the horizon and I imagined that it was all that there was. There was nothing but me and the water and it went on forever. We stood there for a long time and when we went back there was a fisherman with an enormous fish on a hook. The fish had sharp teeth and its eyes were empty and my father wanted me to touch it but I wouldn’t. He was passionate about nothing, but he insisted that I touch it and when I refused, he took my hand up with force and I felt its belly. The scales were cold and the skin gave in to my touch. I looked at my father and the fisherman and they were smiling and all I could think of were fish teeth and dead eyes.
When the end of all things comes it will come with little fanfare, and we will only know it with our final breath. We will be hung from the iron rafters of office buildings. We will pass without imprint. We will be sated in salary and bankroll and we will force our heads back on our pillows and curse the day and we will reminisce. We will remember walking five miles at four in the morning to make love in the dirt, and we will remember the people we used to be. We will remember the night breaking and we will remember teeth and skin. We will pray to spirits and lights on the horizon, and we will pray that we were good.