Copyright is held by the author.
THE CROWS were shooting over the Columbia like black bullets, wheeling and sawing over the water in their spring mating dance. They’d find mates. I’d lost mine to a heart attack six months ago and the fact I was alone never left me.
I wandered back to town, cheered that the last snow had melted and spring was kissing the Oregon hills. On Third Avenue I bought my groceries and dropped them in the truck, then turned when I heard a screech. A little car was halted in the middle of the street and people were running out of stores. Lying on the asphalt was a child — the Gibson kid I recognized because of her red sneakers and knew because you know everyone in a town of 433 people. A woman got to her ahead of the others and I was right behind.
“She’ll be all right,” the woman said to no one. I’d seen this woman two or three times in the past month, but she was still the foreigner. Matty at the liquor store told me she’d rented the place up on Celilo Road.
“I’m an EMS trained fire fighter,” I said nudging her away.
The kid looked up and said, “I’m okay,” shook her head and tried to get up. “Goldarn drivers,” she muttered.
The driver apologized like crazy and offered help, but none was needed. Axel Vanderpool jogged over in his well-pressed police uniform and suggested the man come with him to explain what had happened.
“You okay?” I asked the stranger.
“I’m fine. Just such a shock, seeing the poor child struck . . .”
The woman was tall and well-built, somewhere on the other side of 40 from the slight lines around her eyes, but what beautiful eyes under her tortoise shell glasses framed by auburn hair. She bent down to retrieve her pocketbook.
“Welcome to Mosier. You’re the new person in town, I think.”
“Yes, new.” She twisted her neck as through shaking off the memory of the accident.
“Let me get you a cup of coffee —”
“No, I’m all right. I must go. I have work.”
“One cup. It’s a shock.”
Adelphia was her name, “A pretty name, and you’re a good match for the name.”
She smiled at that and pushed the glasses up on the bridge of her nose.
“I don’t mean to be forward, taking you away from work, but I don’t know how to say . . . I don’t relate to many people even in this small burg. You’re the first woman —”
“What do you mean?” She had a fine neck. A good haircut. A great smile and her glasses gave her the kind of smart look like she might be a librarian or schoolteacher.
“Why not?” she continued. “A fire fighter is always helping other people.” She sipped her coffee.
“Well, I don’t want to burden you, my life story and all . . . my wife passed away. Six months ago.” I looked at her with eyes that were still distant, as though surveying the river through morning fog. “I felt she betrayed me when she died. When you’re missing someone, the entire world is empty.”
“I recognize the feeling. The world disappears, so the only choice seems to be for you to disappear too. It’s a sign of our times.”
Adelphia was a courteous conversationalist, but she didn’t fill her words with information. Just pleasantries. I took her back to her car and then did the unthinkable. I asked if she’d like to go out for dinner at the Italian place near Hood River. And to my everlasting surprise and pleasure, she agreed.
Adelphia was putty that rejoined the pieces of my life as we saw each other once a week. I reached the mountaintop when she said, “My world was desolate until I met you, Brian. And if each time we meet is the last time, so be it. But thank you.”
“Friends told me grief would end. That I’d find someone new. But people can’t be replaced like car parts.”
“No,” she said slowly. “But we’re all alone, each of us, except for a few moments when a spark is lit, when something connects.”
I brought her home to my place that night and for a few hours my life was whole again. But there was still a vacuum as far as Adelphia was concerned. She refused to tell me where she’d come from, whether there was a family that served as support, an education or skill that kept body and soul together. She was as mute in sharing personal information as the rocks lining the Columbia Gorge.
Then there was nothing. Her cell phone wasn’t answered. Her cabin was empty to my knocks and shouts. The car in the drive told no secrets. I peered into windows and saw no form lying unconscious on the floor. Another day went by and I returned hoping to find she’d come back. There had to be answers to the empty house.
A loud cawing shook me out of my worries and I turned. There was a crow on the gate, carrying eye glasses in his beak. Adelphia’s glasses, and a chill swept through my body. Something had happened. I called the police.
Axel drove up in his squad car. I explained the situation and together we busted down the front door. The house was as empty as if it was ready for the next renter, except Adelphia’s stuff was still there. Not enough wearables to fill a closet clothes pole, a fridge with frozen food, and a laptop computer.
While Axel was looking around, I opened the laptop. Adelphia had no Internet connection and only a Word application. I opened Word and was surprised there were no documents. Nothing. What was this woman doing here? Why was she here? Axel had even fewer answers.
“I’ll write up a report on this, but I don’t know what to write. A person no one knows disappears leaving no trace. Beats me. I’ll take the computer and be back later to do some forensics.” He drove off, leaving me alone.
I took the glasses the crow had dropped, remembering that I should’ve given them to Axel. The lenses were as empty of prescription as a window pane. Who wears glasses that don’t bring anything into focus?
Sitting in my car, reluctant to leave, I felt I’d never see Adelphia alive again. Had she been abducted, killed by an enemy, or did she simply wander off to the bottom of the river? Maybe she was swept up by a squadron of crows. The details were irrelevant. What mattered, selfishly, was that I’d lost my connection to human warmth and a resurrection from my grief. My direction now was as unfocused as Adelphia’s glasses had been.