Joe Schreiber

Chasing the dead



The Grand Wailea Resort rises up on Maui's south shore, a gleaming oasis in a muscular row of similar high-end hotels, though the Wailea is obviously the official winter palace of the American ruling class. From her balcony, overlooking the palms and the big bright blueberry colada of the Pacific, Sue Young can just barely make out the volcano rising on the northeastern part of the island. Much closer is the resort's own volcano, this one made of chicken wire and plaster, with its own gushing renal system of waterslides twirling down the sides into a network of interconnecting tunnels, manufactured river currents, and grotto bars. The air smells like cocoa butter and sea salt, alive with the sounds of children's feet spanking the cement around the pool as their parents sit nursing whiskey hangovers with blender drinks and a side of pineapple. In this flyspeck of the world, Sue has discovered, even your fifteen-minute oil change comes with a pineapple wedge.

Far beyond the palm trees and the private beach, where the ocean goes from pale blue to a deeper green, Sue can see a pelican chasing its shadow across the surface, skimming low enough that the tips of its wings leave little Vs in the water. Tonight there will be whales breaching in the middle distance, their tails clearly visible from shore. She and Veda watched them last night, rising and then vanishing massively against the setting sun. She studies the pelican for some uncertain span of time, and then turns back to the suite, where Veda lies in bed, her blanket tucked in her mouth, deep in the throes of her afternoon nap.

One year, Sue thinks, gazing at her daughter. One year to the day. My God.

She looks at the unopened bottle of vodka brought up by room service, only an hour before. After years of sobriety, she's not particularly surprised to find herself craving liquor again. The pills they give her don't work and she doesn't like the lingering numbness in her neck and shoulders as they wear off, so alcohol it shall be. No doubt the results will be as dreary as they are predictable, but these days-most days-she can't find it in herself to care.

She looks out the window again. The pelican is gone.

The last twelve months have been the longest of her life, as if that endless night one year ago has done permanent damage to her sense of temporal perception, stretching the minutes and hours until they become transparent, meaningless. Certainly there has been enough collateral damage, psychological and otherwise, though it's hard to count the cost in any kind of physical way. Even with a year's perspective, all Sue knows is that certain infinitesimal mental faculties, her ability to make the smallest decisions-like whether to get out of bed in the morning-seem to have been dealt a crippling blow.

At first it was easy: Therewere no decisions to be made-only regiments of lawyers, cops, officials, men and women in suits and uniforms whisking her from one room to another, patiently asking her questions, questions, questions. There were tape recorders and cameras and polygraphs, locked rooms and white walls and clean, polished tables. Most of the people at that phase were civil enough, but even in her posttraumatic state Sue recognized that the veneer of friendship masked a stunned incredulity, a horror so vast and uncomprehending that they themselves could barely contend with it.



As the story leaked and then gushed its way all over the world, the media had reacted accordingly to her story of the night before-of what she'd told them about Isaac Hamilton and the Engineer and the towns and the route that connected them-with universal revulsion and disdain. There had been panels and committee meetings and more judges and lawyers than Sue had ever thought existed, and even now her own attorney, the steadfast David Feldman, is doing his damnedest to keep the state from taking Veda away from her. As far as Sue understands it, the only thing keeping her from a psych ward or prison is the fact that nobody could actually prove that she killed anyone. Yet her story-repeated endlessly, in an unwavering litany of the facts as they'd seared themselves into her skull that night-continues to infuriate legions of local, state, and federal law enforcement officials, who insist, at the very least, that Sue Young be committed to an institution for long-term psychiatric care.

'They can't make it stick, Sue,' David told her in their last conversation, a week ago. 'There are still too many things that have gone unexplained, too much that they can't pin on you. That may change tomorrow, or the next day-this is going to go on for a long, long time-but in the meantime you need to do whatever you can for you and Veda.'

David,Sue wanted to ask but didn't,what do you think really happened that night? Do you believe me? Do you believe me at all?

Better not to ask; better not to know. In actuality Sue does have some small clue about whether or not he believes her, but the truth is, she doesn't want to think about that now.

And so here she is, exactly one year later, half a world away, seeking solace in the fabled blue depths of the Pacific. Sue is staring at her daughter, breathing deeply in the center of the queen-size bed they've shared since arriving on the island Sunday.

She reaches for the vodka bottle and the water glass on the room service tray, unscrews the bottle's cap, and pours herself three fingers, bringing it to her lips. She can almost taste the sting of the alcohol when, from the corner of her eye, she sees Veda roll over in bed, still clutching her blanket tightly to her chest. Veda's lips move, and Sue recognizes the word 'Mama,' whispered clearly enough. The little girl's arms go out from the depths of sleep, grasping for a parent who isn't there.

Sue puts the glass down without drinking from it and gets on the bed. Lying down next to Veda, she pulls her daughter close and kisses her sleeping, dreaming eyelids. The girl stirs but doesn't awaken. Sue has no doubt that someday in the future, she will have to tell her daughter what happened that night, and there will be consequences…for there are always consequences when the truth comes out, and sometimes the truth costs you everything.

But that day is not today, nor tomorrow, nor will it be next week or next month or next year. For now, regardless of whatever else happens, Sue Young is going to hold her daughter in her arms and offer up a prayer (yes, a prayer, and any ambulance driver who tells you they don't pray is either lying or heartless, or both) of humbled thanks, to whatever god may be listening.

'We made it, baby,' she whispers in her daughter's ear, not loud enough to wake her. She's crying now, a single tear running over the bridge of her nose. 'We're home.'

Yet even as she lies here with tears in her eyes, she cannot help but think again of David Feldman's comment to her a week ago, just before she left Boston, the only remark he's made to her that indicated he might actually believe she's telling the truth.

There's one thing that's been bothering me for a while, Sue. This metal box by the statue that was supposed to contain Hamilton's heart. You said you saw it crushed between the Expedition and the stone base of the statue. You know they sorted this smashed box out of the wreckage? But they supposedly couldn't find evidence of anything in there. It was empty.

Sue looks over at the clock on the nightstand. It is two thirty in the afternoon, Hawaii-Aleutian Time; in New England it is well past dusk on the longest night of the year.

It was empty.

'No,' she says, the word escaping her in a whisper. 'It's nothing.'

But she closes her eyes and thinks again of what Phillip told her, so long ago, how the past is never done

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