The Search Party
The lady joins the search party, not knowing she is the person they are looking for. She heard rumors of a girl kidnapped and many of the volunteers have the girl’s face on their t-shirts. Nobody really knew what she was when she existed, except her husband, whom the police have in custody. She always assumed some other woman had gone missing, worthy of attention, worthy of being searched for.
The search has been going for three days—since the morning the girl vanished—declared kidnapped by the porcelain dentures and prophets on the local news. The lady has been missing two weeks. She dyed her hair, bronzed her skin, popped some green contacts, and said prayers that the girl will be found alive and well.
The search continues through thick brush, but instead of bread crumbs, they are guided by condoms and cigarette butts and beer bottles. Broken glass litters foliage and poison oak. Teenagers have desecrated nature in these woods for generations. The woman remembers the UFO, though she hasn’t mentioned the abduction to anybody since she was sent away. Nobody ever heard from the boy who went missing after making love to her mouth that evening. The psychiatrists discounted her sighting, despite the inexplicable mid-winter sunburn on her face, neck, and hands.
How much semen can these woods hold? Is there something gleaming beneath the graffiti stones where old roaches are hidden? Could it be some secret fabric of anarchy where the atavistic ponder old stars and spooning breakfasting souls, without frontal lobe clarity? The woman keeps her thoughts to herself, listening to the insistent chants of the searchers:
“Abigail! . . . Abigail! . . . Abigail!”
The woman is at the back of the pack. They really are wild smelly dogs: these women in jeans with their armpit hair hanging out of their dungarees. She knows the markings of the forest. She tracks what she is searching for, and is able to smuggle a moment to smoke a roach. It burns her fingers and she lingers in that spot behind the boulder where she witnessed those spinning lights decades earlier.
The woman jogs to catch up with the herd. She heard them talking about how beautiful the girl is. The woman knows that the media cares most about the gorgeous children who go missing. Nobody gives a damn for the ugly, except their parents and the police. The woman knows she is no looker—but she searches for that purpose to return—though she knows not where it is.
Beer bottles, poison oak, and wasps. These are the obstacles the searchers encounter as they journey deeper into the debauchery of teenage mindset. A man with hair on his ears slices his big toe doing a Big Foot impression. An old woman sprains her ankle on the roots of an Angel Oak twenty times her age. A young mother sustains a face plant in a patch of poison ivy.
Somebody spots a tiny pink sneaker and they all stop to examine their footing and an officer instructs the group not to go any further for fear of contaminating a potential crime scene. They hold their breaths, as if death and a naked body are waiting around the next bend of bark.
A teenager discovers a bloody sock and a shredded Barbie t-shirt. The search party is retreating. Happiness is fleeting. A woman sobs and sneezes, wiping snot into the back pockets of her wrinkled corduroys. The missing woman is distraught. She falls behind and hits another roach. Smoke in decrepit lungs, she listens to a shrill scream which summons her inhalation for a terrible ten seconds, then the wings of frightened birds beating from naked branches.
The woman burns her fingernail, but she does not mind. She swaggers back to the group, hovering around a lifeless angel fallen from the trees: the missing girl. The officers wave the search party away, cursing their inability to control an expansive crime scene. The missing woman does not leave until the police push her. They look her in the face and the woman waits for some recognition, but nobody cares about a missing old hag when an angel has fallen from the sky.
The woman wanders deeper into the woods. She finds a stone and rests her head on the cold surface. After awhile, innocuous sounds of the forest give way to a nefarious melody as the howls and hoots of hungry animals trickle toward wrinkled ears. The nocturnal night seeps into enlarged pores. She is so close she can hear the detectives and crime scene investigators chatting, their flashlights making love to the branches and then fading into oblivion.
The missing woman remains. She wakes to ants marching across her hand. She shakes them off and notices her flesh has been gnawed. Then she notices the other hand—red as a cherry, yet without markings. The burning on her face is painful in the cool dawn breeze which ripples through the graffiti-desecrated forest. There is a condom stuck to her jeans, but this does not bother her.
She is youthful, reborn. The woman climbs an oak and watches the men as they collect evidence. They talk on cell phones and smoke cigarettes and take measurements. They stop showing up after a few days and the woman returns to civilization, her body odor the breadcrumb of the forest.
She bathes in a polluted lake. She attends the funeral of the little girl, standing in the shade of a eucalyptus, catching glances from searchers who do not recognize her. The missing woman’s face is stapled on hundreds of telephone poles and according to the nymphs who read the Teleprompters on the local news, her husband has confessed to his beatings. Like a bird, her wings take it in stride, leaving the nest, bleeding into some other species.
The woman, exhausted from searching for herself, returns to her home. She smashes a basement window with a brick. Nobody calls the police. She looks at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Nobody misses an average looking woman. Nobody knows the depths of the forest and the burn of a sinking sky.
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