Back when the hills and the parks were being set on fire every night, she found a wallet out by the creek. It was her habit then to make the forty-minute bike ride to a stretch of water where she was able to swim undisturbed. Ignoring the signs that announced the area closed at dusk she simply squeezed around the barrier and continued on. Occasionally she might hear a group of boys pushing through some far off thicket, but they never materialized. She’d press her body against a slick rock and wait all the same. Mostly she saw deer, sometimes wounded.
The wallet was covered in a sticky black residue so she used her shirtsleeve as a glove while she looked inside. It belonged to a woman. Broken glass, beer cans, and various brands of cigarettes littered the trampled dirt where she’d picked it up, but she resisted putting two and two together. She wasn’t long in the water that night. Even from that distance there was the thick smell of smoke and a bright spot lining the horizon that she might have mistaken for the sun if the hour were different. There were said to be scattered police and volunteers searching for the persons responsible. The fire, the boys, the missing woman, they all felt like ripples around her that she couldn’t quite map out. Too many unknowns.
In bed that night there were the familiar sounds from the nearby freeway. The noise of traffic like infinitely breaking waves and the repeated commands of a cop car intercom for some anonymous driver to pull over, pull over lulled her into a sleep where she imagined the worst. Images of a dead woman, bruised woman, burning woman, cut up woman, strangled woman, mutilated woman crowded her mind, spread and grew until her dreams were just piles and piles of shit out of luck women.
The next morning at the police station the receptionist thanked her for turning it in. Good citizen was offered up as a kind of reward. She wanted to make sure someone would look into it, that the woman would be tracked down. She mentioned the beer cans and the glass again. Outside the building on the sidewalk there was a crude message painted on a board positioned above a dark opening: caution, hole. Circling it, she stepped into the street. There were no guarantees.