THURSDAY: Lost and Found

BY LINDA HILLMAN

Copyright is held by the author.

I’M SO angry. I. Will. Kill. Him. Michael knows how much I detest the cold and snow. But the sun was peeking through the clouds and snowflakes so fat you could catch on your tongue were falling to earth. “Come walk with me Margie,” he said, “the mountains are calling us!” And so against my better judgement, I did — and now I sit here on this rocky outcrop wishing I were anywhere else. It is a beautiful vista but anger taints my view. All I wanted to do was stay home by the fire, read my book — a new Stephen King I might add — and maybe sip on an afternoon glass of Chardonnay. Instead I don multiple layers of clothing and head out into the hills. At first it was lovely, the air was fresh and crisp and I could feel my cheeks turn to roses even as my nostrils slammed shut and my lips began to peel.

Mitten in mitten we climbed to Michael’s favourite outlook where we found the tops of summer picnic benches peeking just above the deep snow. Michael dug in his backpack and pulled out two granola bars, some trail mix and a vacuum sealed water bottle that I reached for eagerly. Little birds (sparrows, chickadees or nuthatches, I never can tell them apart), stood by expectantly. I tossed some seeds and they were on it. I relaxed into the moment and was glad that Michael had forced me out of the house where I had been couch bound for days.

But I had to pee and dreaded the thought. It was at least a mile or more back to the gift shop that sells pie and offers warm bathrooms. No outhouses up here so it would mean hiking off the trail and trying to divest my bottom layer of clothes in a manner where I could squat and not pee in them. No easy feat. Michael laughed when I tried to explain the dilemma.

Girls he said.

Dignity, I mumbled.

I got it done, and thankfully my parka pockets were full of tissues among other treasures like gum, comb, cell phone and Burt’s Bees. But when I turned around my spatial dyslexia kicked in. Usually I make clear notes in my head to keep track of myself (or my car which has been lost in parking lots more times than I can count). I have learned to imprint memory clues like “car is facing the Food and Fashion section of Walmart near cart return.” But today, with bladder bursting I had paid no attention. To make matters worse, I had traversed downwards as Michael had taught me and had avoided the fast melting snow as much as I could, instead stepping on rocks and exposed gravel to avoid a tumble on the steep hill; I bruise easily.

I followed the few tracks I could find, hoping they were mine, but they ended fast, the ground mostly gravel, thanks to the sheltering canopy of thick branches and evergreens. Embarrassed, I looked at my cell phone, but as expected there was no signal; all I had was my voice. “Michael” I called — I didn’t shout, afraid that would incite me to panic. No response. “Michael — MICHAEL!” Panic set in anyway. I had ridiculously walked about five minutes into the bush (hopefully ensuring no other hikers would pass by as I struggled with my clothing). I now felt certain that I had walked back the wrong way — the view just wasn’t right, but seriously — I couldn’t be more than five minutes the other way, right? Or would that double and be 10 minutes? And how far was that from a voice perspective anyway?

I saw two trails at different levels of the hill. Both were narrow single file types so a decision need to be made; follow one of them or stop and wait for Michael to find me. Or keep yelling. I chose yelling, with instructions: “Michael, come and find me. Now!” I mean, how far away could he be?

***

It has been over two hours according to my phone. I turn it on and off, saving the battery power in case I decide to start walking and find a signal. Michael always told me to stay put and that he would find me. But by now, maybe I should walk one of the trails? Surely someone will pass by? I debate turning on my phone so searchers might be able to track the signal, but I fear that the battery will run out and if I’m still here at dark — it has a light. OK, that doesn’t bear thinking about. So save the power. The sun has moved and I follow it, trying to stay warm. I decide I will someday invent a solar power phone with a heater app for this very reason. Actually I am sure they probably already exist if you are a super spy or a wealthy mountain climber. I am trying not to cry, but I feel like I’m going to lose that battle soon enough. I chew cherry flavoured gum and pretend it is real fruit. I visualize walking in my front door, shedding these ridiculous clothes and pouring myself a glass of wine, I think a Cabernet after this, and then I will head straight to the fireplace while Michael prepares me a hot bath — scented with something that will bring down my anger. I hear a loud rustle and feel a moment of thrill followed by an instance of terror. Bears live here. I let my eyes move toward the sound, then turn my head — perhaps a little to quick — startling both me and a curious squirrel.

I’m going to kill him. Michael, not the squirrel. Then I hear another, louder rustle and, hallelujah, voices!

“Margie Dayton! Are you there Margie Dayton? Margie Dayton?”

What the holy crap —a search party? “I’m here,” I shout, “Do you hear me!”. There’s a long pause, I pray I wasn’t dreaming, “Hello?”

“Margie — we hear you — don’t move and keep calling!”

Are they kidding? I start singing like the birds. “I’m here, I’m here!” Finally, I see brightly covered bodies heading my way. I am so happy; so full of happiness and pent up fear that I take three steps towards my saviours and faint dead away.

I open my eyes to a red blur with a North Face label holding a water bottle to my lips. When my eyes finally focus I am greeted with a handsome rugged smile, “You’re OK now Margie, come on, we’ll take you to Michael.” This gorgeous man and another red-coated fellow each grab an arm and pull me up to my wobbly legs. I feel ridiculous knowing I have only been lost for two hours (while on a bathroom break none-the-less) but with the cold, stress and adrenalin, I feel like I am being rescued from Everest. I try to relay this along with my gratitude when it sinks in; Michael isn’t with them

“Where is Mich—”

“He’s not far from where you left him,” Gorgeous tells me. “He took a spill looking for you; pretty good one — or bad I guess. We left him with Barnes. Our buddy went down to get a rescue team to help him.”

Tears give way. Here I was feeling so sorry for myself, plotting my husband’s death scenario and there he was, looking for me, injured because of me — rescue level injuries even. What if these nice proper hikers hadn’t come along when they did? How long would I have stayed on that ledge trying to hang on to the diminishing sun, blaming Michael instead of worrying about him? For some reason, that made me feel even sorrier for myself.

They told me I’d gone less than a mile the wrong way and apparently, had I chosen the correct path and direction, would have soon connected with the main path and been able to see down to the parking lot. This made me instantly think of the gift shop’s cherry pie and coffee. When I finally saw Michael plumped up awkwardly against a log, being comforted by a giant dog of some sort, I lost it. I ran to him, threw my arms around him kissing his face. The big dog thought this was wonderful and joined in. Then I noticed the blood seeping through a wad of tissues on his forehead (Michael’s, not the dog’s) and saw his stunned wince of pain as I leaned on his bent arm and damaged leg. “I’m so sorry Michael. I shouldn’t have —”

“No, I’m sorry Margie,” he gasped in obvious pain. “I was so scared that you had slipped.” More gasps. “I wasn’t paying attention . . .” I leaned in kissed him again not caring that it probably hurt like hell. What did it matter; I was still going to kill him anyway.

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