Today's Reading

You have to go.

Out comes the high-tech windbreaker. A pair of socks. That's it.

What else. Think. These things will keep you alive.

The plane's canopy cover flaps in a low tree branch. Roll it up. Tie it to the bag. The first aid kit is lodged behind a rotten tree stump. The plastic case has cracked, but the contents are still intact: iodine, rubbing alcohol, bandages, scissors, painkillers, antihistamines, tweezers, sewing kit, tape.

My eye snags on the cabin. My phone. You have to go back in. There is food there. Water. I won't last two days without those things. There is smoke coming from the engine, black and thick. In. In. In.

The plastic bag. Right where I left it, tucked behind the front passenger seat. Four Luna bars, a bag of mixed nuts, an unopened bottle of water. The can of Diet Coke. I feel momentarily giddy. My hand searches the floor and finds the sharp cut of glass. I pull it out and look at the smashed face of my phone. I try to switch it on but the spidered screen stays black. Broken. Fuckfuckfuck. I take it with me anyway. My eyes water from the smoke. Focus. Focus. I reach behind the back seat. A fleece blanket, a roll of duct tape, a coil of rope. I reach again. The thin metal body of a lighter. Everything in the bag. The light is dimming. I have to go.

Out. Out. Out. My animal brain is screaming at me, but wait. What is the plan? Stay alive. I climb on top of the wreckage, avoiding the razor edges, the pain in my shoulder, and the blown-off face of the man I had so recently touched. 'Look'. Snow-capped mountains thrusting their way into an epic stretch of blue sky. Below, green hills roll out in gentle waves, each fringed with trees and specked with wildflowers. On and on the vast lands stretch, out to the farthest point on the horizon. There is no sign of another human, except for a path. A steep slope but relatively even, and free of the sudden sheer cliff edges peppering the other routes. There, nestled into the crook of the valley below, I see a thin strip of mirrored glass. There is water below. The plan. The path is the plan.

Out. Out. Out. I jump free of the wreckage.


I heft the bag back onto my shoulders, screaming at the pain, and slip my arms through the handles and use the long strap to buckle it securely around my waist. The engine's hiss has finally fallen silent but the smoke still comes. I cast one last look around the clearing and see the shattered glass and bits of broken plastic and the pile of belongings that I have cast aside.

There is nothing left here now, nothing to salvage.

The sun is setting. You have to go.


MAGGIE

It was still early in the morning, the sky outside a dark pink not yet paled to blue. I had NPR on low in the background, a mug of coffee was slowly going cold on the counter, and Barney was threading himself around my ankles, hoping for a second breakfast. The floorboards creaked underfoot as they always did. I glanced at the recipe card, not that I needed to check it. I'd been making the same loaf for years and knew it by heart, but the recipe was written in Charles's strong, sure hand, and I liked to keep it near me when I was making it. It was part of the ritual.

The dough was warm and soft as I pulled it away from me and folded it back, feeling it stretch and tighten beneath my hands. I shouldn't be kneading dough—it exacerbates the arthritis that had settled in my knuckles after years of typing—but I made a loaf of bread at the start of every week, even though most weeks now it ended up stale and moldy by Friday.

The doorbell rang. I ignored it. If I stopped, it wouldn't turn out, and besides, my hair was a bird's nest and I was still wearing my dressing gown and the L. L. Bean slippers Charles had given me six years earlier. It was probably the mailman. He'd stick a note under the door about a package and be on his way.

The doorbell rang again. I sighed and wiped my floury hands on a square of kitchen towel. Whoever this is, I thought, it better be good.

When I opened the door and saw Jim standing there in his full chief of police uniform, I thought maybe he'd come for Linda's casserole dish. She'd left it at the house after bringing over a lasagna, and she was always eagle-eyed about her bakeware. But I took one look at his face, and at the nervous little slip of a thing standing behind him all buttoned up in her starched blues, and I knew he wasn't here about the dish.
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