Two days after the storm passed, and I’d already found all I thought there was to find:
A bottle of French’s Yellow Mustard;
an electric bill;
and Pauline, near the watering hose, the giant Cottonwood tree laying across her chest like a sleepy baby.
All I found of our granddaughter, Josie, was one of her pink jelly sandals, the stick she’d chewed her lollipop free of, and a strand of yellow hair.
I got caught up on trying to figure out where the front of the house used to be; where was North and South; the way to the Donaldson’s or the Tylers’. I had to wait until it got dark, and thank God the stars came out that night. I made a compass in the dirt with the mustard, went to sleep with my toes pointing south, like they did in our bedroom.
The next day, I took what was left of the mustard and squirted out little “x”s where all our things used to be. An “x” here for the mailbox. One there for the front door. After I’d plotted out enough to see it in my mind, I made other “x”s. One by the Forsythia where Holly lost her first tooth. One on the driveway where Thomas refused to get in the car for his last softball game of the season on account of mean Joe Grimes, who always pitched at his head.
After a while, I just wanted to shuck corn on the back porch. Instead, I dragged a bunch of young stalks in a sheet to the “x” that marked where Holly and me got to fighting about her being pregnant. I dumped the stalks, covered Pauline with the sheet again, and sat there tearing the leaves, trying to get used to her smell. Around nighttime, I found some dried corn ears from last year’s harvest, though nothing of the corn crib. With my pocket knife I shelled two cobs, for the chickens, wherever they were.
When I heard the cars coming down our way, I made a run for Pepper Creek. First, I put Josie’s shoe next to Pauline, so they’d know. For a while, they called something that sounded like my name.
I’d been walking for hours when I found the cooler. I was thinking beer. Warm, but beer. What I come to find is Lynette Colson’s heart bobbing in chilled water. I knew it was hers right away, not like I’d seen it before. But it’d been all over town, the gossip about the transplant.
As I sat there looking at the heart that belonged to Ray Colson’s wife and someone else—and me, now—all I could think about was how beautiful and pink it was. I gathered cool stones from the stream and dropped them in the water. Then I soaked leaves in mud to cover the lid. I tried not to peek too often, and for a while it kept.
Even after it greyed, I couldn’t bring myself to leave it behind. Mostly I walked through the woods, for the comfort of shade and the feeling of being surrounded by tall, strong things.
At sundown, a heifer stumbled upon me, udders weighing her down. I sat on the cooler and gently tugged the teats like my father taught me. As the warm milk puddled on the ground, I imagined my grandbaby Josie stumbling upon a young couple like the heifer found me. They wipe her down with a wet towel that smells of soap, and feed her graham crackers on their porch swing, which is somehow whole.