by Susan Pomeroy
[This is a piece of pure fiction begun
in August, long before the fires that ravaged Southern
California last autumn. Although Daykeeper hasn't featured fiction
before, given our global and environmental concerns, it seems
appropriate to run this piece now. The story is written in installments,
which we'll publish regularly.]
The afternoon was a kaleidescope of anxiety, hurried
and furtive communications, half-laid plans filled with contingencies.
I didn't know how Joshua was going to join
us; I just had to trust that he would. I wasn't sure exactly
how we would get out of town; I just had to do my best. And
Josh had said to tell no one... but there was no way I'd leave Katia's
best friend Marie, or her mom, who was my closest friend Raymie.
That part turned out to be easy. When I pulled up in her
driveway in the van, she ran out and jumped in. "Hurry,
go north and turn left on Arbuckle. I can hear them coming up
the other side of the block," panted Raymie.
That's the thing about a close friend. She knew exactly
what we were doing. And I knew exactly who "they" were. No long
Raymie sat up front we me. The kids sat on the floor in
back, in between the seats, with old blankets at the ready to
pull over themselves if we were stopped. Raymie and I decided
that we'd say that we were going to pick up her mother, who
lived ten miles out of town and was ill (so ill that she's passed
away two years ago). And Raymie, who'd been divorced for years
and was no stranger to men's desires, would flash her cleavage
and use all her wiles to distract if necessary.
It wasn't. Three hours and many circuitous detours later,
we were bumping up a dirt road thickly shaded with pines. We
drove deeper and deeper into the afternoon's shadow. For the
first time in months, the
air felt cool and smelled piney and almost fresh, almost clean, with
only a faint hint of smoke. "Pull off the road here, under the
trees," said Raymie. The engine stopped. The kids were quiet. A
tiny breeze rustled through the trees.
"OK," I said. "Here's the situation. We're waiting for
Josh to join us. He said, tonight. Don't ask me exactly how or
when, because I don't know. Meanwhile, we can't let ourselves
be found and evacuated. That means staying quiet, staying low.
I think we should scout around a little bit, but carefully, quietly,
and on foot. About a mile up the road is the old girl scout camp,
Camp Aretipa—remember it Katia, and Marie?—and I think we should
walk up there while it's still light and see if it looks like
anyone is living there. We also need to see if there's water
in the stream, maybe at the old swimming hole. That's where your
Dad said to meet him, anyway. But he'll find us, wherever we
are up here."
The kids were solemn and quiet—for all of three minutes
before Raymie and I had to shush them.
"Raymie, take Ben. I'll go with the girls."
to protest, but stopped at my look. I could see that he worked
it out for himself: it was safer to split up, and safer to have
an adult in each group.
The camp looked abandoned from the road, but there was a fairly new padlock
on the rusty old gate which made me reluctant to investigate further.
There was a foot or so of water in the swimming hole, and it tricked
down in quiet rill from further up the canyon. This was good. Were
we going to camp here? Live here? I couldn't imagine. I didn't
even want to think about it. We sat in the van munching carrot
sticks and potato chips as it got dark, then tried to stretch out.
The girls took the back seats, Ben curled up on the floor, and
Raymie and I tilted the front seats back as far as they would go,
which was not far enough. It was one of the longest nights of my
life: cold, uncomfortable, nerve-wracking. And no Josh. If something
happened to him, what would I do, me and Raymie, out here with
three kids and no equipment, no food?
What if someone else were staying at the camp, what if they didn't
want to share, and turned us in? What if the sheriffs came up here
to enforce the evacuation? By six a.m. I had slept little and felt
crazed with anxiety.
I pulled the collar of my jacket higher and tried to turn over. That's
when I heard something banging hard on the window of the van, right
by my left ear.
To be continued...