We shuffle in the grass. Andrea is close to me, much shorter in the dark. There is the smell of wood smoke among the bare trees, it is on the roof of my mouth. We search but there is no rope to see. We get our jeans muddy.
“Trace, can you bring other headlamp?” I hear Chad’s voice.
I am not helping much. I am humming a song instead. I carried it down the Delaware with me and all the way from Brooklyn. It is sitting in my throat and in between every word that I speak. It came to me from a nighttime guitar played between red velvety curtains. It is old and ruinous. It has become all the words that I do not speak.
Tracey appears through the jagged ferns. Her head is another blue beam in the dark. There are two flashlights in her hands one each for Andrea and I. Tracey hands them to us and we begin to search. While I am next to her, I see her fingers drumming over her shorts. The beat she ma kness to razor away.
“Got it!” Mike finds the rope, coiled somewhere near the latrine.
In a few months, there will be an announcement. There will be untold texted photos, congratulations six ways strewn and a day when Tracey will finger the spot where her ring usually sits. She will tell me, as I watch silver snaking through her curls, that she is pretty sure, no certain really, that she left her engagement ring on the sink. She left it in the bowl by the sink.
“That skinny one there,” Chad is saying through his back teeth. “If we string it from there, it’ll be like a pully.”
I imagine Mike pouting.
I feel cold suddenly away from the fire. There is grime and silt between my toes and a sunburnt itch across the bridge of my nose. I remember how we hid in the brush that other night and that we had no flashlight. But there were stones under my feet then too. My jeans were long and tripped me as we scuttled up the stairs to the woods. I remember Beau walking back to the cabin, his shoulder and dark head outlined against the porchlight. Jamie’s rough hand was in mine.
We sat together under the bushes and watched pointed feline ears pad into the space between us and the cabin. The shape stood all on fours just where Beau had been. I did not imagine anyone would believe it. But there we were. I wanted more Cheez-its right then, more peanut butter filled pretzels. I wanted more time to inch closer to Jamie, to cup my hands around his face. But I imagined, if did that, if I dared, he would jump the cat and leave me behind. I felt cold leaves in my hair, hot summer air and we were palm to palm for a long while.
Chad throws the rope now and it catches. It has landed just where he meant it too. We watch it unfurl and loop in the shafts of light as they have been rationed to us. The stars above us, they don’t count for light. They are uncountable.
The food is attached and hoisted. It dangles and a tiny tree bends. It is aloft and spinning. It is unbalanced and heavy. Moisture seeps along the ground and up under the cuffs of my jeans
“Pull it up!”
“That’s as high as it will go!”
Tracey stands beside me now watching. She cannot hear the song I suppress. She will, in the end, be right all along about the ring. It will be waiting for her in the cracked blue bowl by the kitchen sink. It will be nestled with the sponge.
But now, in this June night, she wears no ring. Her bare fingers beckon no panic, illicit no fear or a falling stomach. The song will not leave me tonight, no, neither will the face of the singer. And now with pack high above, I will stride back with others to the tents, perhaps watch a little fire glow. I will fall asleep in a muddy bag with the unfinished house on the tip of my tongue.