The Memory Keeper, p.2Lisa Stowe
Cody was at the end of her seven hour drive from western Washington. There was a tiny bubble of excitement deep inside, almost too ephemeral to acknowledge. She climbed out of the car and stretched, surveying the town. The mountains crowded in, bending to watch Wallace and she doubted anyone with claustrophobia could live here. To the west, tall columns supported a surprisingly graceful arc of highway, coursing over a town refusing to join the present. She had never seen a road that so physically dominated a place, with cars flying overhead like migrating birds. Wallace itself looked like it had stopped moving some time in the 1800’s, bypassed by the modern world above the gorge it rested in.
She locked the car and shoved the keys into her jeans pocket, along with her wallet. The buildings were snugged up to the very edge of the sidewalk where she stood, their false fronts adding to the image of rough frontier days. As did the man walking toward her, with his too long hair, well used hat, and heavy coat. Cody stepped back against the side of her car but he touched the brim of his hat with two fingers as he passed. The old world gesture was comforting, as if she’d just been granted permission to be there.
A cool breeze, scented with coming rain, eddied around Cody. On the canyon walls above town, swathes of brilliant fall gold swept through the trees. They looked like evergreens but she had never heard of ones that changed color. Whatever the trees were, they glowed through the gray day like welcoming candlelight.
Cody stood on the curb, overwhelmed by her reasons for being there. She was twenty three. It wasn’t like she was a teenager running away from home. Yet she couldn’t stifle the guilt. When May combined silence with a profound sadness in her eyes, Cody knew she had once again broken her mother’s heart. And May had been very silent when Cody left, using her most powerful tool, perfected over the years. Still, after braving all that to get here, Cody had no idea what to do first, as if she still needed May to make decisions for her.
Now that Wallace had become a place of reality and not a goal, she feared she’d made a mistake. Had she been stupid to think she could come to a town and find the history of one man, now dead? What could she do, stop people to ask if they’d known a man named Charles? If it had taken him years to find her, how could she learn more about him in her allotted two week vacation? Her earlier ideas evaporated as she stood in the street by her car. What was it she had planned so easily while driving? She rubbed her thumb across her fingernails, struggling to recall the mental list she’d made. Dusk dropped rapidly down the sides of the mountains and the air grew chilly. Her stomach rumbled loudly.
She ran her hands through her hair to make sure no curls were exposing themselves, and crossed the street to a glass fronted deli. Tomorrow would be a better time to start her search anyway. The decision to postpone talking to strangers relieved her, since she didn’t know what she hoped to find. She’d planned to look for people with stories to tell, but maybe she could simply figure out where her grandfather had lived and take pictures of the places he had been. Maybe that would be enough.
Cody pushed through the glass deli door and took her place in line behind a dark haired man in khakis and denim shirt and the most exotic woman Cody had ever seen. Tall, lean, and graceful, with long, shining black hair and high cheekbones that etched her cultural history on her face, she should have been gracing a magazine cover. Instead, she was a ragbag mixture of layered tie-dyed handkerchief skirts and a man’s plaid coat several sizes too big.
“Oh you and your logic. You see this?" The woman held up her necklace, a leather thong supporting what appeared to be a hooked piece of claw, three or four inches long. The man did not pull back or even look at the necklace, but watched the woman calmly. Even so Cody backed away from potential conflict.
The woman held the menacing piece of jewelry across her palm as if a sacrifice as she continued. “This is a claw from a grizzly bear. It’s been in my family for generations. When there were still grizzlies here. Before all your mining destroyed their habitat.”
“Oh come on, Rivers,” the man said. “Mining can’t be blamed for the scarcity of grizzlies. Talk to hunters and loggers.”
The woman lowered the thong with its claw and shoved her hair back, exposing a long black feather hanging from a silver post in one ear. “No matter. I still want you to promise to never open another mine.”
“Right,” the man said, lifting the claw and inspecting it before lowering it back to her chest and touching it lightly with his fingertips. “Look at this from my point of view.”
“Why should I?” she asked, untying a leather bag that hung around her slender waist.
“I’m buying,” the man said, pushing away the money she pulled out. “Look at my point of view so you won’t be as narrow minded as you accuse me of being.”
“Oh, I don’t think you’re narrow minded,” she said, patting his cheek. “Stubborn maybe. But surely you realize what a Judas job you have? You’re a mine engineer. You’ve seen what an environmental ghost town Burke is. And now you’re helping to open another mine.”
“Pay me more than I’m making now.”
“I’m serious Jim. You need to listen to me.”
“I know,” he said. “That’s why I’m having dinner with you.”
“Here’s your order, Rivers,” said a waif-like, multi-pierced young woman behind the deli counter.
The man took the bag, and the pair left, with the girl behind the counter sighing heavily as the door shut.
“She’s, like, so smart. She helped me write an essay on the impacts of environmentalists chaining themselves to trees to prevent logging.”
“Oh?” Cody said, clueless about what a proper response should be.
“Oh yeah. She’s chained herself to, like, lots of stuff. So what can I get for you?”
Cody placed an order for turkey and havarti on sourdough, and picked up a bag of chips to go with it, knowing her mother would make a comment about plump people eating chips. She ignored the guilt and waited, standing stiffly, unsure how to be still and fit in a strange place.
The door was pushed open and a young man in the gray-green uniform of a forest ranger came in with the freshness of cold, damp air. His curly red hair and freckles rivaled hers and she cringed. Had he been told when he was little that freckles were the result of walking too close behind cows, like her mother had told her? Had boys sat behind him on the school bus spitting in his hair and snickering that people with red hair came from the Land of the Weird? Her shoulders bowed slightly under the weight of past humiliation.
“Hey gorgeous,” he said to the girl behind the counter. “I’ve got a huge order here." He handed over a piece of paper torn from a green stenographer’s notebook.
The girl looked at the paper and laughed. “Geez, Kelly. You guys, like, starving or what?”
“We’ve been helping Search and Rescue rappel a climber off Desolation since this morning.” He winked at the girl. “We’ve worked up an appetite.”
“I’ve got an order ahead of you but it won’t take long. Do you, like, want to hang around or you want me to call the station when your stuff’s ready?”
“I’ll hang around.”
He turned back to Cody and she resisted the urge to step away, managing a tentative smile. She was more used to casual dismissal than eye contact or conversation.
“Haven’t seen you here before. Visiting?" His hazel eyes were framed by deep laugh lines.
Nodding, a blush heated Cody’s cheeks and she hoped her limited response would end the polite conversation. But then she remembered her grandfather’s weathered face and her goal. If she wanted to find out about him, she’d have to talk.
“My grandfather grew up here.” She rubbed her fingernails. “I want to see a few of the places he told me stories about, maybe find someone who knew him.”
“Yeah? What was his name?” He leaned against the deli counter and put his hands in his pockets, as if settling in for a long visit.
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” he said. “But I’ve never been good with names. You should try the museum. Or maybe talk to my sister. She knows a lot about the history of this place. She’s the mayor.”
“There have been, like, Naylor’s here for generations, right Kelly?" The girl behind the counter gestured toward the windows with a spatula and mayonnaise splatted to the counter.
“From the beginning,” he said. “My grandfather thought I should be mayor, but I can’t get into politics. Kendra, my sister, loves it though. Tell you what. Give me your name and where you’re staying and I’ll see if she has time to meet with you. She’s kind of a pain, but she’d be a good resource.”
He pulled a battered steno pad from a back pocket and flipped through pages covered in sprawling handwriting until he found an empty space. Next came an obviously chewed on pencil from the same pocket.
“Cody Marsh,” she blurted out, flustered by his friendliness. “I’m not sure what room I’m in yet, but I’m staying at the Maggie’s Rest Motel.”
“Here’s your order, Cody.” A white paper bag appeared on the top of the deli counter.
Kelly reached it down, handing it to Cody. “I’ll tell my sister. Good luck on that whole grandfather thing.”
Cody thanked him and his attention returned to the girl behind the counter leaving her relieved as his cheerful energy found a new focus.
“Did you hear about that wild man, like, living up above town somewhere?” the girl asked.
“Yeah, hikers have reported seeing someone,” Kelly said as Cody opened the door, moving toward escape. “Who knows, maybe it’s Bigfoot.”
Outside, Cody sat in the Subaru staring at her tightly clasped fingers. Why was it always so hard to be around people? She always messed it up. Through all her school years, she had followed others and failed the social skills. And here she was failing again.
The familiarity of her car and the security its enclosed space offered soothed her. Kelly had smiled at her hadn’t he? He’d even offered assistance. Maybe she’d done okay after all. Her knuckles cracked as worry eased from her hands, and she picked up the directions to the motel, scanning them before pulling out onto Bank Street. Many of the businesses she passed were either closed for good, or closed for the non-tourist season. The town seemed half-alive or hibernating, as if waiting for the next silver boom to open mines and bring people back. Whatever the reason, Cody needed the tranquility.
The motel was a single story rambling building that had the look of something forgotten and left out in the rain. The roof sprouted growths of moss, and algae dusted the weathered boards of the siding. Cody wondered if she’d made a mistake, until she saw the inside was neat and clean, though the carpet was wearing thin between the door and the desk. The furniture had that settled, comfortable look of pieces that hadn’t moved in generations and the walls were rough cut boards decorated with old sepia photos.
The older woman at the desk told her the place was practically empty, and blamed the time of year, with dampness and chill coming. She continued on the theme of bad weather as Cody signed in, and then settled back into an armchair with a tabloid paper. Cody picked up the key and escaped to what would be her sanctuary for two weeks, a room with a name on the door rather than a number. The Maggie’s Rest clung to its origins as a brothel, and she unlocked the door to ‘Sparrow’s’ room.
The bed sagged noticeably as Cody sat on it. She leaned against the pile of pillows and looked out the window at the parking lot. Beyond it, she could see the mountains climbing in steep folds up and away, disappearing into thick gray clouds. The first day at home that she had spent with her grandfather, he had gazed up into the heights of the Cascade Mountains as they walked an old logging road together.
“This reminds me of where I grew up,” he had said. “The way this place sits right down in the ravines. Bet there was lots of mines here in the old days.”
“All over,” Cody said, taking personal pride in his recognition of the surrounding beauty. “Mainly silver and copper, some garnets.”
“Just like Wallace. Some copper, a little gold, but mostly silver and zinc. Hard living, mining. Mind you, my father, your great grandfather, was a railroad man, not a miner. Probably rode the rails when he left us.”
Tears pricked at the corners of Cody’s hazel eyes. He tossed out words about family and history as if they were unimportant, and she caught them in the air, grabbing them as the precious gems they were. Family. Blood and generations and connections she hadn’t known she had. A foundation, a place to be from, people of her own.
“He left? Your dad?” Cody asked, trying to palm wetness from her cheeks without his noticing. “Like mine did, just taking off?”
“I suppose it was like that. He and my mother were always scrapping. Of course, she wasn’t an easy woman to live with. My son…well, he wasn’t easy to live with, either. Maybe I can make up for you not having a father around. I know what that was like.”
Cody turned from the memories as she watched darkness seep down between trees to cover Wallace with night. There had been a sameness there binding them with more than just words. Her grandfather had been her connection to family, but with him gone, that tenuous link seemed stretched too thin to hold her. He died before she had been able to meet any of the relatives he had talked about, and she didn’t think she would be able to seek out strangers without him as a buffer.
After eating her sandwich and relishing each chip, Cody ran hot water into the bath and took the new Dana Stabenow mystery with her, reading while she soaked away the grime of travel and stress of being alone in a strange place. Steam rose around her and putting the book aside, she sank to her chin glad to be short enough to submerge. She thought of the red haired forest ranger and the deli girl, and realized she envied their easy camaraderie. It was something she had never experienced, being, as her mother often explained in kinder moments, invisible to men.
She had two full weeks of solitude away from the demands of May. There was guilty pleasure in that and she closed her eyes, letting warm water soothe away all the little cuts and digs her mother’s words had created over the past few days. May’s silent treatment the last day had made it clear she felt Cody should stay at home. But rare defiance had helped Cody down the road. Her grandfather would have been proud of her. And on top of that, she’d managed to talk to the forest ranger without mangling it up too badly.
Maybe she could do this after all.
The Memory Keeper by Lisa Stowe / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on40 votes