Cynthia’s trailer is at the very back of the park, like a wild animal waiting for you to look away so it can disappear into the trees. One of its wheels is missing, replaced by a pile of crumbling bricks too high to keep it level with the ground. The windchime hanging from the screen door careens to the left. As I near the wreck, a dog barks, and a massive old Rottweiler comes roaring around the corner, white saliva flying from its lips. It runs to the end of its chain and stops with a jerk, canine warnings sounding fury against the
I start back before it can get too close to me, but it’s a damn good guard dog, and I can’t get within twenty feet of the trailer. I sort of circle around, trying to get to the back side, but it scampers around the other way and keeps on glaring at me.
I’ve never liked dogs. I’ve never been fond of any sort of pet animal. Flashbacks to third grade and my neighbor Mrs. Faris’ Dalmatian shoot through my head as I slowly start backing up, and I glance around myself for some sort of stick to defend myself with.
“Shawny!” A hoarse voice snaps at the dog and it turns in surprise. A skinny woman with a blond poof of hair is leaning out of the trailer, the hand holding her cigarette latched on to the screen door. “Stop botherin’ the poor kid.”
I take a hesitant step forward and Shawny growls again. “Hey!” the woman shouts again. She takes a giant step down from the door and marches over to the dog. “I told ya to stop barking, you little shit,” she says as she grabs its collar. Shawny lets out a grumbly whine and falls silent.
I adjust my jacket and mutter thanks. “Are you Miss Redmond?”
The woman nods uncertainly, eyeing my tie. I was told she doesn’t care for people in suits, and it reflects on her face. “You’re the one I’m expecting?”
I nod again. “Yes, I’m here about—“ My words are cut off as she grabs my wrist and starts hauling me back towards the trailer. Shawny barks in indignation as Cynthia drags me within inches of his face, and my testicles retract in fear. Cynthia doesn’t seem to notice her dog and pushes me through the front door.
She takes a milk-bone or something from a box on the counter and throws it out into the yard. Shawny bounds after it and she slams the door behind us. “Not a good idea to go talkin’ outside,” she mutters. She takes one last drag on the cigarette and stubs it out. “You never know who’s listening. Sorry about my dog,” she adds. “He don’t like strangers.”
“I noticed.” Hesitantly, I take a seat at the kitchen table and pull my suitcase onto my lap. This place gives me the creeps—the lights are out, and the splintered blinds only let in a dim, milky glow. Everything is filthy: the Formica counter, the twenty or so bottles of murky liquid gathering dust on the table, the rows of…stuff…hanging from the ceiling. Broken glass, fabric scraps, bits of plants, bones. I think I can make out a frog’s corpse among the clutter above me.
It feels like years since I’ve been in a place like this. For the most part I can’t wait to get this over with and get back to the hotel, but there’s a small corner of me that missed the sharp scents of chlorine and candle wax. I pick at a dried splatter on the tabletop and wonder if these smells will ever lose their meaning.
Cynthia is standing in the kitchen as if she had forgotten what she went in there to do. She scratches at her hair and examines her shirt. “I kinda just woke up,” she apologizes. She gestures at her pink jogging shorts, her dirty wifebeater. “I’m not exactly dressed for company.”
“Company?” A fat man emerges from the bedroom, a greasy paper plate folded up in one hand. He stops and eyes me suspiciously. “Who’s this?” he asks.
Cynthia moves past him, into the bedroom. I can see her digging through the dresser, rummaging for clean clothes. “He’s the one I told you about. Carol sent him to me. I guess he has some questions for us.” She finally chooses a few items and ducks behind an old paper screen.
“Questions?” The fat man narrows his eyes at me. “What the hell is he askin’ questions for?”
“How the hell should I know?” Cynthia retorts. Blue jeans are thrown over the screen’s frame and fabric rustles out of sight. She stands up on tiptoe to look at me. “This is my husband, Paul Haywood. Go ahead and talk. Whatever you have to ask, he can hear it.” She ducks out of sight again and the jeans go with her.
Paul opens the fridge and pulls out a can of beer. I can see what looks like jars of algae next to the Bud Light. I pop the latch on my suitcase and clear my throat.
“I’m here to ask about
Those words seem to hit pause in the little trailer: Paul freezes, half in and out of the fridge; Cynthia has stopped rustling behind the screen. Even the clink of Shawny’s chain outside is gone.
Slowly, Cynthia steps out from behind the screen. Her white t-shirt is still bunched up around her waist, and she pulls at it absently, her eyes fixed on me. “
L.A.?” she says warily.
Paul stands up and the fridge swings shut. “What’s
L.A. matter to you?”
I pull a photo from the smaller of the suitcase compartments. Me and Lindsay, at the Dodgers Stadium. Her blond hair pokes out from under her hat, casting shadows across her grin. “My sister was there. I can’t get hold of her.”
Two large, sweaty hands grab my collar and I am hoisted up from my seat. “Who are you?” Paul hisses. His breath smells like rotten pizza and stale beer.
“Paul, let him go,” Cynthia says. Her voice is nervous, but dominating. She sits down across from me as Paul retreats. “Now, what’s your name, honey?”
“Dave. Dave Ashford.” I return to my seat and set the picture down in front of her.
Cynthia nods and tilts her head to look at the picture. “And your sister?”
“Lindsay.” I drop the rest of the case’s contents on the desk: Hair clippings. Vacation photos. One of Lindsay’s old bracelets. “I talked to her about two days before they sealed everything off. She was going to come visit me in
but the airport was shut down the next day.”
Cynthia gestures something to Paul and he retreats to somewhere in the trailer. “And you’re sure she didn’t get out before then.”
“I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t be here.”
“I guess.” Cynthia grimaces. “So you want me to find her.”