It had been three days since the boys had disappeared, vanished off the river like morning mist, and Maggie Gray was giving up. She stood on the sand at the town rec area wearing her husband’s old red and black hunting coat, her arms wrapped so tightly around herself that it might as well have been a straitjacket. She wondered why people said ‘giving up’ like it was easy, like it was a relief. As if it was a relaxing of effort instead of the lifting up of a burden.
The sun had already gone down behind the ridge on the other side of the river, and everything was turning to shades of gray. The water was smooth, black in the low light. Volunteers were shadows, hauling canoes out of the water, making sounds on the sand like snakes through dry grass.
“We’ll try again in the morning, Maggie. Don’t lose hope.” Hands reached out to touch her, looking to comfort and be comforted. She stood straight, still, eyes on the water. People waited in uncomfortable silence and then moved on.
Hope. She almost spit. Hope was an ice cube, held in warm hands. Hope hurt to grasp and dwindled the longer you tried to keep it. She’d had enough of hope. She was ready to let it go.
The boys were dead. Both her boys. This thought had appeared the first night, when they’d found the canoe. The little, battered Old Town the boys had gotten for Christmas. It had been found miles downstream, at the Little Salmon dam. Cooler and paddles still in it. The cooler had been full of fiddleheads. That was when she’d first had the thought that maybe the boys weren’t just lost. Maybe something bad had happened. The idea had been nothing more than a little sprout then, but now its roots had spread all through her mind and she found it difficult to think anything else past its insistent repetition.
Dead. Both of them. Her boys. Dead.
There was another world on the other side of that thought. She had the idea that once it had worked its way through her entire mind, once it had become real, that the world would somehow tilt even further on its axis. That the sun would fade, grow cold and distant. That the air itself would smell and taste different, like ashes maybe, or camphor. That somehow everything would grow dim.
She hadn’t gotten there yet, hadn’t crossed that Rubicon. She was tired, though. So tired. Of holding herself upright and strong. Standing on the shore of the river every day like she was a beacon, like she could call them out of wherever they were by her presence alone. Standing until her spine felt like a red hot wire and the cramps ran up and down her legs like wolf spiders on old lumber. She was tired of hoping.