Death by Landscape

  1. Now that the boys are grown up and Rob is dead, Lois has moved to a condominium apartment in one of Toronto’s newer waterfront developments. She is relieved not to have to worry about the lawn, or about the ivy pushing its muscular little suckers into the brickwork, or the squirrels gnawing their way into the attic and eating the insulation off the wiring, or about strange noises. This building has a security system, and the only plant life is in pots in the solarium.

    Lois is glad she’s been able to find an apartment big enough for her pictures. They are more crowded together than they were in the house, but this arrangement gives the walls a European look: blocks of pictures, above and beside one another, rather than one over the chesterfield, one over the fireplace, one in the front hall, in the old acceptable manner of sprinkling art around so it does not get too intrusive. This way has more of an impact. You know it’s not supposed to be furniture.

    None of the pictures is very large, which doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. They are paintings, or sketches and drawings, by artists who were not nearly as well known when Lois began to buy them as they are now. Their work later turned up on stamps, or as silkscreen reproductions hung in the principals’ offices of high schools, or as jigsaw puzzles, or on beautifully printed calendars sent out by corporations as Christmas gifts to their less important clients. These artists painted after the first war, and in the Thirties and Forties; they painted landscapes. Lois has two Tom Thompsons, three A. Y. Jacksons, a Lawren Harris. She has an Arthur Lismer, she has a J.E.H. MacDonald. She has a David Milne. They are pictures of convoluted tree trunks on an island of pink wave-smoothed stone, with more islands behind; of a lake with rough, bright, sparsely wooded cliffs; of a vivid river shore with a tangle of bush and two beached canoes, one red, one gray; of a yellow autumn woods with the ice blue gleam of a pond half-seen through the interlaced branches.

    It was Lois who’d chosen them. Rob had no interest in art, although he could see the necessity of having something on the walls. He left all the decorating decisions to her, while providing the money, of course. Because of this collection of hers, Lois’s friends—especially the men—have given her the reputation of having a good nose for art investments.

    But this is not why she bought the pictures, way back then. She bought them because she wanted them. She wanted something that was in them although she could not have said at the time what it was. It was not peace: She does not find them peaceful in the least. Looking at them fills her with a wordless unease. Despite the fact that there are no people in them or even animals, it’s as if there is something, or someone, looking back out.

    ***

    When she was fourteen, Lois went on a canoe trip. She’d only been on overnights before. This was to be a long one, into the trackless wilderness, as Cappie put it. It was Lois’s first canoe trip, and her last.

    Cappie was the head of the summer camp to which Lois had been sent ever since she was nine. Camp Manitou, it was called; it was one of the better ones, for girls, though not the best. Girls of her age whose parents could afford it were routinely packed off to such camps, which bore a generic resemblance to one another. They favored Indian names and had hearty, energetic leaders, who were called Cappie or Skip or Scottie. At these camps you learned to swim well and sail, and paddle a canoe, and perhaps ride a horse or play tennis. When you weren’t doing these things you could do Arts and Crafts, and turn out dingy, lumpish clay ashtrays for your mother—mothers smoked more then—or bracelets made of colored braided string.

    Cheerfulness was required at all times, even at breakfast. Loud shouting and the banging of spoons on the tables were allowed, and even encouraged, at ritual intervals. Chocolate bars were rationed, to control tooth decay and pimples. At night, after supper, in the dining hall or outside around a mosquito-infested campfire ring for special treats, there were sing-songs. Lois can still remember all the words to “My Darling Clementine,” and to “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” with acting-out gestures: a rippling of the hands for “ocean,” two hands together under the cheeks for “lies.” She will never be able to forget them, which is a sad thought.

    Lois thinks she can recognize women who went to these camps and were good at it. They have a hardness to their handshakes, even now; a way of standing, legs planted firmly and farther apart than usual; a way of sizing you up, to see if you’d be any good in a canoe—the front, not the back. They themselves would be in the back. They would call it the stern.

    She knows that such camps still exist, although Camp Manitou does not. They are one of the few things that haven’t changed much. They now offer copper enameling, and functionless pieces of stained glass baked in electric ovens, though judging from the productions of her friends’ grandchildren the artistic standards have not improved.

    To Lois, encountering it in the first year after the war, Camp Manitou seemed ancient. Its log-sided buildings with the white cement in between the half-logs, its flagpole ringed with whitewashed stones, its weathered gray dock jutting out into Lake Prospect, with its woven rope bumpers and its rusty rings for tying up, its prim round flowerbed of petunias near the office door, must surely have been there always. In truth, it dated only from the first decade of the century; it had been founded by Cappie’s parents, who’d thought of camping as bracing to the character, like cold showers, and had been passed along to her as an inheritance and an obligation.

    Lois realized later that it must have been a struggle for Cappie to keep Camp Manitou going during the Depression and then the war, when money did not flow freely. If it had been a camp for the very rich, instead of the merely well-off, there would have been fewer problems. But there must have been enough Old Girls, ones with daughters, to keep the thing in operation, though not entirely shipshape: Furniture was battered, painted trim was peeling, roofs leaked. There were dim photographs of these Old Girls dotted around the dining hall, wearing ample woolen bathing suits and showing their fat, dimpled legs, or standing, arms twined, in odd tennis outfits with baggy skirts.

    In the dining hall, over the stone fireplace that was never used, there was a huge molting stuffed moose head, which looked somehow carnivorous. It was a sort of mascot; its name was Monty Manitou. The older campers spread the story that it was haunted and came to life in the dark, when the feeble and undependable lights had been turned off or, due to yet another generator failure, had gone out. Lois was afraid of it at first, but not after she got used to it.

    Cappie was the same: You had to get used to her. Possibly she was forty, or thirty-five, or fifty. She had fawn-colored hair that looked as if it was cut with a bowl. Her head jutted forward, jigging like a chicken’s as she strode around the camp, clutching notebooks and checking things off in them. She was like Lois’s minister in church: Both of them smiled a lot and were anxious because they wanted things to go well; they both had the same overwashed skins and stringy necks. But all this disappeared when Cappie was leading a sing-song or otherwise leading. Then she was happy, sure of herself, her plain face almost luminous. She wanted to cause joy. At these times she was loved, at others merely trusted.

    There were many things Lois didn’t like about Camp Manitou, at first. She hated the noisy chaos and spoon banging of the dining hall, the rowdy sing-songs at which you were expected to yell in order to show that you were enjoying yourself. Hers was not a household that encouraged yelling. She hated the necessity of having to write dutiful letters to her parents claiming she was having fun. She could not complain, because camp cost so much money.

    She didn’t much like having to undress in a roomful of other girls, even in the dim light, although nobody paid any attention, or sleeping in a cabin with seven other girls, some of whom snored because they had adenoids or colds, some of whom had nightmares, or wet their beds and cried about it. Bottom bunks made her feel closed in, and she was afraid of falling out of top ones; she was afraid of heights. She got home sick, and suspected her parents of having a better time when she wasn’t there than when she was, although her mother wrote to her every week saying how much they missed her. All this was when she was nine. By the time she was thirteen she liked it. She was an old hand by then.

    ***

    Lucy was her best friend at camp. Lois had other friends in the winter, when there was school and itchy woolen clothing and darkness in the aftemoons, but Lucy was her summer friend.

    She turned up the second year, when Lois was ten and a Bluejay. (Chickadees, Bluejays, Ravens, and Kingfishers—these were the names Camp Manitou assigned to the different age groups, a sort of totemic clan system. In those days, thinks Lois, it was birds for girls, animals for boys—wolves and so forth—though some animals and birds were suitable and some were not: never vultures, for instance; never skunks, or rats.)

    Lois helped Lucy to unpack her tin trunk and place the folded clothes on the wooden shelves, and to make up her bed. She put her in the top bunk right above her, where she could keep an eye on her. Already she knew that Lucy was an exception to a good many rules; already she felt proprietorial.

    Lucy was from the United States, where comic books came from, and the movies. She wasn’t from New York or Hollywood or Buffalo, the only American cities Lois knew of, but from Chicago. Her house was on the lakeshore and had gates to it, and grounds. They had a maid, all of the time. Lois’s family only had a cleaning lady twice a week.

    The only reason Lucy was being sent to this camp (she cast a look of minor scorn around the cabin, diminishing it and also offending Lois, while at the same time daunting her) was that her mother had been a camper here. Her mother had been a Canadian once but had married her father, who had a patch over one eye, like a pirate. She showed Lois the picture of him in her wallet. He got the patch in the war. “Shrapnel,” said Lucy, offhandedly. Lois, who was unsure about shrapnel, was so impressed she could only grunt. Her own two-eyed, unwounded father was tame by comparison.

    “My father plays golf,” she ventured at last.

    Everyone plays golf,” said Lucy. “My mother plays golf.”

    Lois’s mother did not. Lois took Lucy to see the outhouses and the swimming dock and the dining hall with Monty Manitou’s baleful head, knowing in advance they would not measure up.

    This was a bad beginning; but Lucy was good natured, and accepted Camp Manitou with the same casual shrug with which she seemed to accept everything. She would make the best of it, without letting Lois forget that this was what she was doing.

    However, there were things Lois knew that Lucy did not. Lucy scratched the tops off all her mosquito bites and had to be taken to the infirmary to be daubed with Ozonol. She took her T-shirt off while sailing, and although the counselor spotted her after a while and made her put it back on, she burned spectacularly, bright red, with the X of her bathing-suit straps standing out in alarming white; she let Lois peel the sheets of whispery thin burned skin off her shoulders. When they sang “Alouette” around the campfire, she did not know any of the French words. The difference was that Lucy did not care about the things she didn’t know, whereas Lois did.

    During the next winter, and subsequent winters, Lucy and Lois wrote to each other. They were both only children, at a time when this was thought to be a disadvantage, so in their letters they pretended to be sisters or even twins. Lois had to strain a little over this, because Lucy was so blond, with translucent skin and large blue eyes like a doll’s, and Lois was nothing out of the ordinary, just a tallish, thinnish, brownish person with freckles. They signed their letters LL, with the L’s entwined together like the monograms on a towel. (Lois and Lucy, thinks Lois. How our names date us. Lois Lane, Superman’s girlfriend, enterprising female reporter; I Love Lucy. Now we are obsolete, and it’s little Jennifers, little Emilys, little Alexandras and Carolines and Tiffanys.)

    They were more effusive in their letters than they ever were in person. They bordered their pages with X’s and O’s, but when they met again in the summers it was always a shock. They had changed so much, or Lucy had. It was like watching someone grow up in jolts. At first it would be hard to think up things to say.

    But Lucy always had a surprise or two, something to show, some marvel to reveal. The first year she had a picture of herself in a tutu, her hair in a ballerina’s knot on the top of her head; she pirouetted around the swimming dock, to show Lois how it was done, and almost fell off. The next year she had given that up and was taking horseback riding. (Camp Manitou did not have horses.) The next year her mother and father had been divorced, and she had a new stepfather, one with both eyes, and a new house, although the maid was the same.

    The next year, when they had graduated from Bluejays and entered Ravens, she got her period, right in the first week of camp. The two of them snitched some matches from their counselor, who smoked illegally, and made a small fire out behind the furthest outhouse, at dusk, using their flashlights. They could set all kinds of fires by now; they had learned how in Campcraft. On this fire they burned one of Lucy’s used sanitary napkins. Lois is not sure why they did this or whose idea it was. But she can remember the feeling of deep satisfaction it gave her as the white fluff singed and the blood sizzled, as if some wordless ritual had been fulfilled.

    They did not get caught, but then they rarely got caught at any of their camp transgressions. Lucy had such large eyes, and was such an accomplished liar.

    ***

    This year Lucy is different again: slower, more languorous. She is no longer interested in sneaking around after dark, purloining cigarettes from the counselor, dealing in black market candy bars. She is pensive, and hard to wake in the mornings. She doesn’t like her stepfather, but she doesn’t want to live with her real father either, who has a new wife. She thinks her mother may be having an affair with a doctor; she doesn’t know for sure, but she’s seen them smooching in his car, out in the driveway, when her stepfather wasn’t there. It serves him right. She hates her private school. She has a boyfriend, who is sixteen and works as a gardener’s assistant. This is how she met him: in the garden. She describes to Lois what it is like when he kisses her: rubbery at first, but then your knees go limp. She has been forbidden to see him and threatened with boarding school. She wants to run away from home.

    Lois has little to offer in return. Her own life is placid and satisfactory, but there is nothing much that can be said about happiness. “You’re so lucky,” Lucy tells her, a little smugly. She might as well say boring, because this is how it makes Lois feel.

    Lucy is apathetic about the canoe trip, so Lois has to disguise her own excitement. The evening before they are to leave, she slouches into the campfire ring as if coerced and sits down with a sigh of endurance, just as Lucy does.

    Every canoe trip that went out of camp was given a special send-off by Cappie and the section leader and counselors, with the whole section in attendance. Cappie painted three streaks of red across each of her cheeks with a lipstick. They looked like three-fingered claw marks. She put a blue circle on her forehead with fountain-pen ink, tied a twisted bandanna around her head and stuck a row of frazzle-ended feathers around it, and wrapped herself in a red and black Hudson’s Bay blanket. The counselors, also in blankets but with only two streaks of red, beat on tom-toms made of round wooden cheeseboxes with leather stretched over the top and nailed in place. Cappie was Chief Cappeosota. They all had to say “How!” when she walked into the circle and stood there with one hand raised.

    Looking back on this, Lois finds it disquieting. She knows too much about Indians. She knows, for instance, that they should not even be called Indians, and that they have enough worries without other people taking their names and dressing up as them. It has all been a form of stealing.

    But she remembers too that she was once ignorant of this. Once she loved the campfire, the flickering of light on the ring of faces, the sound of the fake tom-toms, heavy and fast like a scared heartbeat; she loved Cappie in a red blanket and feathers, solemn, as a Chief should be, raising her hand and saying, “Greetings, my Ravens.” It was not funny, it was not making fun. She wanted to be an Indian. She wanted to be adventurous and pure, and aboriginal

    ***

    “You go on big water,” says Cappie. This is her idea—all their ideas—of how Indians talk. “You go where no man has ever trod. You go many moons.” This is not true. They are only going for a week, not many moons. The canoe route is clearly marked, they have gone over it on a map, and there are prepared campsites with names that are used year after year. But when Cappie says this—and despite the way Lucy rolls up her eyes—Lois can feel the water stretching out, with the shores twisting away on either side, immense and a little frightening.

    “You bring back much wampum,” says Cappie. “Do good in war, my braves, and capture many scalps.” This is another of her pretenses: that they are boys, and bloodthirsty. But such a game cannot be played by substituting the word squaw. It would not work at all.

    Each of them has to stand up and step forward and have a red line drawn across her cheeks by Cappie. She tells them they must follow in the paths of their ancestors (who most certainly, thinks Lois, looking out the window of her apartment and remembering the family stash of daguerreotypes and sepia-colored portraits on her mother’s dressing table—the stiff-shirted, black-coated, grim-faced men and the beflounced women with their severe hair and their corsetted respectability—would never have considered heading off onto an open lake, in a canoe, just for fun).

    At the end of the ceremony they all stood and held hands around the circle and sang taps. This did not sound very Indian, thinks Lois. It sounded like a bugle call at a military post, in a movie. But Cappie was never one to be much concerned with consistency, or with archaeology.

    ***

    After breakfast the next morning they set out from the main dock, in four canoes, three in each. The lipstick stripes have not come off completely and still show faintly pink, like healing burns. They wear their white denim sailing hats, because of the sun, and thin-striped T-shirts, and pale baggy shorts with the cuffs rolled up. The middle one kneels, propping her rear end against the rolled sleeping bags. The counselors going with them are Pat and Kip. Kip is no-nonsense; Pat is easier to wheedle or fool.

    There are white puffy clouds and a small breeze. Glints come from the little waves. Lois is in the bow of Kip’s canoe. She still can’t do a J-stroke very well, and she will have to be in the bow or the middle for the whole trip. Lucy is behind her; her own J-stroke is even worse. She splashes Lois with her paddle, quite a big splash.

    “I’ll get you back,” says Lois.

    “There was a stable fly on your shoulder,” Lucy says.

    Lois turns to look at her, to see if she’s grinning. They’re in the habit of splashing each other. Back there, the camp has vanished behind the first long point of rock and rough trees. Lois feels as if an invisible rope has broken. They’re floating free, on their own, cut loose. Beneath the canoe the lake goes down, deeper and colder than it was a minute before.

    “No horsing around in the canoe,” says Kip. She’s rolled her T-shirt sleeves up to the shoulder; her arms are brown and sinewy, her jaw determined, her stroke perfect. She looks as if she knows exactly what she is doing.

    The four canoes keep close together. They sing, raucously and with defiance; they sing “The Quarter Master’s Store” and “Clementine” and “Alouette.” It is more like bellowing than singing.

    After that the wind grows stronger, blowing slantwise against the bows, and they have to put all their energy into shoving themselves through the water.

    ***

    Was there anything important, anything that would provide some sort of reason or clue to what happened next? Lois can remember everything, every detail; but it does her no good.

    They stopped at noon for a swim and lunch, and went on in the afternoon. At last they reached Little Birch, which was the first campsite for overnight. Lois and Lucy made the fire while the others pitched the heavy canvas tents. The fireplace was already there, flat stones piled into a U shape. A burned tin can and a beer bottle had been left in it. Their fire went out, and they had to restart it. “Hustle your bustle,” said Kip. “We’re starving.”

    The sun went down, and in the pink sunset light they brushed their teeth and spat the toothpaste froth into the lake. Kip and Pat put all the food that wasn’t in cans into a packsack and slung it into a tree, in case of bears.

    Lois and Lucy weren’t sleeping in a tent. They’d begged to be allowed to sleep out; that way they could talk without the others hearing. If it rained, they told Kip, they promised not to crawl dripping into the tent over everyone’s legs: They would get under the canoes. So they were out on the point.

    Lois tried to get comfortable inside her sleeping bag, which smelled of musty storage and of earlier campers—a stale, salty sweetness. She curled herself up, with her sweater rolled up under her head for a pillow and her flashlight inside her sleeping bag so it wouldn’t roll away. The muscles of her sore arms were making small pings, like rubber bands breaking.

    Beside her Lucy was rustling around. Lois could see the glimmering oval of her white face.

    “I’ve got a rock poking into my back,” said Lucy.

    “So do I,” said Lois. “You want to go into the tent?” She herself didn’t, but it was right to ask.

    “No,” said Lucy. She subsided into her sleeping bag. After a moment she said, “It would be nice not to go back.”

    “To camp?” said Lois.

    “To Chicago,” said Lucy. “I hate it there.”

    “What about your boyfriend?” said Lois. Lucy didn’t answer. She was either asleep or pretending to be.

    There was a moon, and a movement of the trees. In the sky there were stars, layers of stars that went down and down. Kip said that when the stars were bright like that instead of hazy, it meant bad weather later on. Out on the lake there were two loons, calling to each other in their insane, mournful voices. At the time it did not sound like grief. It was just background.

    The lake in the morning was flat calm. They skimmed along over the glassy surface, leaving V-shaped trails behind them; it felt like flying. As the sun rose higher it got hot, almost too hot. There were stable flies in the canoes, landing on a bare arm or leg for a quick sting. Lois hoped for wind.

    They stopped for lunch at the next of the named campsites, Lookout Point. It was called this because, although the site itself was down near the water on a flat shelf of rock, there was a sheer cliff nearby and a trail that led up to the top. The top was the lookout, although what you were supposed to see from there was not clear. Kip said it was just a view.

    Lois and Lucy decided to make the climb anyway. They didn’t want to hang around waiting for lunch. It wasn’t their turn to cook, though they hadn’t avoided much by not doing it, because cooking lunch was no big deal. It was just unwrapping the cheese and getting out the bread and peanut butter, though Pat and Kip always had to do their woodsy act and boil up a billy tin for their own tea.

    They told Kip where they were going. You had to tell Kip where you were going, even if it was only a little way into the woods to get dry twigs for kindling. You could never go anywhere without a buddy.

    “Sure,” said Kip, who was crouching over the fire, feeding driftwood into it. “Fifteen minutes to lunch.”

    “Where are they off to?” said Pat. She was bringing their billy tin of water from the lake.

    “Lookout,” said Kip.

    “Be careful,” said Pat. She said it as an afterthought, because it was what she always said.

    “They’re old hands,” Kip said.

    ***

    Lois looks at her watch: It’s ten to twelve. She is the watch-minder; Lucy is careless of time. They walk up the path, which is dry earth and rocks, big rounded pinky-gray boulders or split-open ones with jagged edges. Spindly balsam and spruce trees grow to either side; the lake is blue fragments to the left. The sun is right overhead; there are no shadows anywhere. The heat comes up at them as well as down. The forest is dry and crackly.

    It isn’t far, but it’s a steep climb and they’re sweating when they reach the top. They wipe their faces with their bare arms, sit gingerly down on a scorching-hot rock, five feet from the edge but too close for Lois. It’s a lookout all right, a sheer drop to the lake and a long view over the water, back the way they’ve come. It’s amazing to Lois that they’ve traveled so far, over all that water, with nothing to propel them but their own arms. It makes her feel strong. There are all kinds of things she is capable of doing.

    “It would be quite a dive off here,” says Lucy.

    “You’d have to be nuts,” says Lois.

    “Why?” says Lucy. “It’s really deep. It goes straight down.” She stands up and takes a step nearer the edge. Lois gets a stab in her midriff, the kind she gets when a car goes too fast over a bump. “Don’t,” she says.

    “Don’t what?” says Lucy, glancing around at her mischievously. She knows how Lois feels about heights. But she turns back. “I really have to pee,” she says.

    “You have toilet paper?” says Lois, who is never without it. She digs in her shorts pocket.

    “Thanks,” says Lucy.

    They are both adept at peeing in the woods: doing it fast so the mosquitoes don’t get you, the underwear pulled up between the knees, the squat with the feet apart so you don’t wet your legs, facing downhill; the exposed feeling of your bum, as if someone is looking at you from behind. The etiquette when you’re with someone else is not to look. Lois stands up and starts to walk back down the path, to be out of sight.

    “Wait for me?” says Lucy.

    Lois climbed down, over and around the boulders, until she could not see Lucy; she waited. She could hear the voices of the others, talking and laughing, down near the shore. One voice was yelling, “Ants! Ants!” Someone must have sat on an anthill. Off to the side, in the woods, a raven was croaking, a hoarse single note.

    She looked at her watch: It was noon. This is when she heard the shout.

    She has gone over and over it in her mind since, so many times that the first, real shout has been obliterated, like a footprint trampled by other footprints. But she is sure (she is almost positive, she is nearly certain) that it was not a shout of fear. Not a scream. More like a cry of surprise, cut off too soon. Short, like a dog’s bark.

    “Lucy?” Lois said. Then she called. “Lucy!” By now she was clambering back up, over the stones of the path. Lucy was not up there. Or she was not in sight.

    “Stop fooling around,” Lois said. “It’s lunchtime.” But Lucy did not rise from behind a rock or step out, smiling, from behind a tree. The sunlight was all around; the rocks looked white.

    “This isn’t funny!” Lois said, and it wasn’t. Panic was rising in her, the panic of a small child who does not know where the bigger ones are hidden. She could hear her own heart. She looked quickly around; she lay down on the ground and looked over the edge of the cliff. It made her feel cold. There was nothing.

    She went back down the path, stumbling; she was breathing too quickly; she was too frightened to cry. She felt terrible, guilty and dismayed, as if she had done something very bad by mistake, something that could never be repaired. “Lucy’s gone,” she told Kip.

    Kip looked up from her fire, annoyed. The water in the billy tin was boiling. “What do you mean, ‘Gone’?” she said. “Where did she go?”

    “I don’t know,” said Lois. “She’s just gone.”

    No one had heard the shout; but then, no one had heard Lois calling either. They had been talking among themselves, by the water. Kip and Pat went up to the lookout and searched and called and blew their whistles. Nothing answered.

    Then they came back down, and Lois had to tell exactly what had happened. The other girls all sat in a circle and listened to her. Nobody said anything. They all looked frightened, especially Pat and Kip. They were the leaders. You did not just lose a camper like this, for no reason at all.

    “Why did you leave her alone?” said Kip.

    “I was just down the path,” said Lois. “I told you. She had to go to the bathroom.” She did not say pee in front of people older than herself. Kip looked disgusted.

    “Maybe she just walked off into the woods and got turned around,” said one of the girls.

    “Maybe she’s doing it on purpose,” said another.

    Nobody believed either of these theories.

    They took the canoes and searched around the base of the cliff and peered down into the water. But there had been no sound of falling rock; there had been no splash. There was no clue, nothing at all. Lucy had simply vanished.

    That was the end of the canoe trip. It took them the same two days to go back that it had taken coming in, even though they were short a paddler. They did not sing. After that the police went, in a motorboat, with dogs; they were the Mounties and the dogs were German shepherds, trained to follow trails in the woods. But it had rained since, and they could find nothing. Lois is sitting in Cappie’s office. Her face is bloated with crying, she’s seen that in the mirror. By now she feels numbed; she feels as if she has drowned. She can’t stay here. It has been too much of a shock. Tomorrow her parents are coming to take her away. Several of the other girls who were on the canoe trip are being collected in the same way. The others will have to stay, because their parents are in Europe or cannot be reached.

    ***

    Cappie is grim. They’ve tried to hush it up, but of course everyone in camp knows. Soon the papers will know too. You can’t keep it quiet, but what can be said? What can be said that makes any sense? “Girl vanishes in broad daylight, without a trace.” It can’t be believed; other things, worse things, will be suspected. Negligence, at the very least. But they have always taken such care. Bad luck will gather around Camp Manitou like a fog; parents will avoid it in favor of other, luckier places. Lois can see Cappie thinking all this, even through her numbness. It’s what anyone would think.

    Lois sits on the hard wooden chair in Cappie’s office, beside the old wooden desk over which hangs the thumbtacked bulletin board of normal camp routine, and gazes at Cappie through her puffy eyelids. Cappie is now smiling what is supposed to be a reassuring smile. Her manner is too casual: She’s after something. Lois has seen this look on Cappie’s face when she’s been sniffing out contraband chocolate bars, hunting down those rumored to have snuck out of their cabins at night.

    “Tell me again,” says Cappie, “from the beginning.”

    Lois has told her story so many times by now, to Pat and Kip, to Cappie, to the police, that she knows it word for word. She knows it, but she no longer believes it. It has become a story. “I told you,” she says. “She wanted to go to the bathroom. I gave her my toilet paper. I went down the path, I waited for her. I heard this kind of shout…”

    “Yes,” says Cappie, smiling confidingly, “but before that. What did you say to each other?”

    Lois thinks. Nobody has asked her this before. “She said you could dive off there. She said it went straight down.”

    “And what did you say?”

    “I said you’d have to be nuts.”

    “Were you mad at Lucy?” says Cappie, in an encouraging voice.

    “No,” says Lois. “Why would I be mad at Lucy? I wasn’t ever mad at Lucy.” She feels like crying again. The times when she has, in fact, been mad at Lucy have been erased already. Lucy was always perfect.

    “Sometimes we’re angry when we don’t know we’re angry,” says Cappie, as if to herself. “Sometimes we get really mad and we don’t even know it. Sometimes we might do a thing without meaning to, or without knowing what will happen. We lose our tempers.”

    Lois is only thirteen, but it doesn’t take her long to figure out that Cappie is not including herself in any of this. By we she means Lois. She is accusing Lois of pushing Lucy off the cliff. The unfairness of this hits her like a slap. “I didn’t!” she says.

    “Didn’t what?” says Cappie softly. “Didn’t what, Lois?”

    Lois does the worst thing. She begins to cry. Cappie gives her a look like a pounce. She’s got what she wanted.

    ***

    Later, when she was grown up, Lois was able to understand what this interview had been about. She could see Cappie’s desperation, her need for a story, a real story with a reason in it; anything but the senseless vacancy Lucy had left for her to deal with. She wanted Lois to supply the reason, to be the reason. It wasn’t even for the newspapers or the parents, because she could never make such an accusation without proof. It was for herself: something to explain the loss of Camp Manitou and of all she had worked for, the years of entertaining spoiled children and buttering up parents and making a fool of herself with feathers stuck in her hair. Camp Manitou was, in fact, lost. It did not survive.

    Lois worked all this out, twenty years later. But it was far too late. It was too late even ten minutes afterward, when she’d left Cappie’s office and was walking slowly back to her cabin to pack. Lucy’s clothes were still there, folded on the shelves, as if waiting. She felt the other girls in the cabin watching her with speculation in their eyes. Could she have done it? She must have done it. For the rest of her life, she has caught people watching her in this way.

    Maybe they weren’t thinking this. Maybe they were merely sorry for her. But she felt she had been tried and sentenced, and this is what has stayed with her: the knowledge that she has been singled out, condemned for something that was not her fault.

    ***

    Lois sits in the living room of her apartment, drinking a cup of tea. Through the knee-to-ceiling window she has a wide view of Lake Ontario, with its skin of wrinkled blue-gray light, and of the willows of Toronto Island shaken by a wind that is silent at this distance and on this side of the glass. When there isn’t too much pollution she can see the far shore, the foreign shore, though today it is obscured.

    Possibly she should go out, go downstairs, do some shopping; there isn’t much in the refrigerator. The boys say she doesn’t get out enough. But she isn’t hungry, and moving, stirring from this space, is increasingly an effort.

    She can hardly remember, now, having her two boys in the hospital, nursing them as babies; she can hardly remember getting married, or what Rob looked like. Even at the time she never felt she was paying full attention. She was tired a lot, as if she was living not one life but two: her own, and another, shadowy life that hovered around her and would not let itself be realized, the life of what would have happened if Lucy had not stepped sideways and disappeared from time.

    She would never go up north, to Rob’s family cottage or to any place with wild lakes and wild trees and the calls of loons. She would never go anywhere near. Still, it was as if she was always listening for another voice, the voice of a person who should have been there but was not. An echo.

    While Rob was alive, while the boys were growing up, she could pretend she didn’t hear it, this empty space in sound. But now there is nothing much left to distract her.

    She turns away from the window and looks at her pictures. There is the pinkish island, in the lake, with the intertwisted trees. It’s the same landscape they paddled through, that distant summer. She’s seen travelogues of this country, aerial photographs; it looks different from above, bigger, more hopeless: lake after lake, random blue puddles in dark green bush, the trees like bristles. How could you ever find anything there, once it was lost? Maybe if they cut it all down, drained it all away, they might find Lucy’s bones, sometime, wherever they are hidden. A few bones, some buttons, the buckle from her shorts.

    But a dead person is a body; a body occupies space, it exists somewhere. You can see it; you put it in a box and bury it in the ground, and then it’s in a box in the ground. But Lucy is not in a box or in the ground. Because she is nowhere definite, she could be anywhere.

    And these paintings are not landscape paintings. Because there aren’t any landscapes up there, not in the old, tidy European sense, with a gentle hill, a curving river, a cottage, a mountain in the background, a golden evening sky. Instead there’s a tangle, a receding maze, in which you can become lost almost as soon as you step off the path. There are no backgrounds in any of these paintings, no vistas; only a great deal of foreground that goes back and back, endlessly, involving you in its twists and turns of tree and branch and rock. No matter how far back in you go, there will be more. And the trees themselves are hardly trees; they are currents of energy, charged with violent color.

    Who knows how many trees there were on the cliff just before Lucy disappeared? Who counted? Maybe there was one more, afterward. Lois sits in her chair and does not move. Her hand with the cup is raised halfway to her mouth. She hears something, almost hears it: a shout of recognition or of joy.

    She looks at the paintings, she looks into them. Every one of them is a picture of Lucy. You can’t see her exactly, but she’s there, in behind the pink stone island or the one behind that. In the picture of the cliff she is hidden by the clutch of fallen rocks toward the bottom; in the one of the river shore she is crouching beneath the overturned canoe. In the yellow autumn woods she’s behind the tree that cannot be seen because of the other trees, over beside the blue sliver of pond; but if you walked into the picture and found the tree, it would be the wrong one, because the right one would be farther on.

    Everyone has to be somewhere, and this is where Lucy is. She is in Lois’s apartment, in the holes that open inward on the wall, not like windows but like doors. She is here. She is entirely alive.

Originally published in Harper's, August 1990

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