Elizabeth lost a bracelet on the path beside the river. It was not an heirloom, not expensive at all; still, she did like it, the small yellow perfect beads on the loose elastic band. Before going back to grade papers in the late afternoon, she sauntered along the high river bank and ate her apple. The river below was obscured by the thick growth and fully-leaved trees; birds chirped in the branches of the trees and the brush on the steep slope. The vegetation smelled humid and ripe. Its greenness layered and deepened into inviting black. Ahead of her was a prospect with a railed platform projecting out toward the river, and she liked to stop here because, though she was afraid of heights, here the railing protected her while jutting out over the nearly vertical decline. The river had, over the millennia, carved out its valley to please itself. Some time ago she had seen a young gray rabbit in the underbrush and thrown her apple core to him. Today, the morning had been overcast, but it warmed and cleared into a perfect, mild June afternoon. This is Eden, she thought. She raised her arm and pitched the apple core as far as she could for the hungry creatures in the underbrush. Her bracelet slipped off and flew in the air and over the edge, down the hill, toward the river.
The bank descended at forty-five degrees and she was afraid to go down the slope to the box elder tree, where she thought she had heard the bracelet as it fell, trisk-tlop. Joe was already home from work, and she called him from her office and asked him to wear shoes that wouldn’t slip on the muddy bank, to bring a flashlight and a broom to lean on as a staff.
“I’m not going anywhere I need to use that,” he said.
“And bring my cell phone, which I left in my other purse.”
“In case I need to call 9-1-1.”
“It’ll be all right. I just want a quick search. Just five minutes. You probably won’t find it.”
“I’ll be there.”
He arrived wearing his favorite khaki shorts. She pointed in the general direction of the box elder tree.
His eyes took in the river, the sun, the edge of the steep bank. He dragged his hand through his hair. She was afraid, too. He stared at the ground and winced. “I don’t want to walk into a patch of poison ivy.”
She let her breath out in relief. “Oh, is that all.”
He bent a waist-high stalk of green. “Look at the thorns on this. My father called this bull thistle.”
“See, it’s got thorns all along the stalk.” The hooks of the thorns grew out of the stalk at one-inch intervals.
A panic seized her. “It’s not worth it.”
“Let me try.” He moved easily down the sloping fifteen feet toward the box elder tree. “I’m a monkey,” he boasted. He shone the flashlight, sweeping the ground systematically back and forth as if he were reading the weeds and fallen leaves.
“I think it’s more toward the right, toward the tree.”
“Yeah, but this is where the light is.” He referred to the old joke about searching under the street lamp for lost keys when the keys had fallen to the side and into the dark. “Honestly, over there, the ground drops abruptly, goes down a whole new level.” He shook his head. He continued surveying the ground nearer the tree, carefully.
She remembered a boy from her childhood who climbed the roof and fell. He died, after lingering in a coma for a few days. All the schoolchildren were surprised because they expected Danny–reckless, loud, always running–to recover. Danny wore shorts to the baseball game when her parents took a group of kids. He was calm as a grownup that time. “Enough,” she said. “Okay. It’s not important.” She swallowed her hot breath. What if Joe slipped? She should not have phoned him. She was wrong, this was stupid, this was dangerous, he was the universe to her.
“A little longer.” Joe looked up at her from under the shadow of the tree. His face was dappled by the shadows. In the near distance, insects wove in and out of the glittering, striped air. Farther away, the traffic whined along on the streets. “If it fell over there. . . .” He turned toward the edge of the ridge.
“It probably rolled off the ledge. You’ve looked long enough.” She was herself dizzy, as if on the verge of falling, and her heart pounded. She wanted him to stop searching, she wanted him to climb up, so they could resume their watching Sherlock Homes movies on television, their bickering about money and their daughter’s grades and whether it had been five years or seven since their friends in Alaska adopted a child from Peru. The daily scrapes of life. “It’s okay.”
“Yeah.” He turned up to her. Birds chirped loudly at their invasion. “The trick is going to be climbing back up. I’m looking for handholds.” He grabbed at a tall stalk, tested if it would hold, pulled at it with one hand and took a step; then he pulled at another stalk. He did this again and again.
She crouched down and extended her hand to him and pulled him up for the last step. His hand felt warm and dry. She stood in front of him and kissed him lightly on the lips. “Thanks for looking.” She pointed toward the cement platform and they strolled toward it. The warmth of the late afternoon sun seeped into her shoulders. She leaned her elbows on the railing and steepled her hands, sighing in satisfaction. “Isn’t this pretty?” On the platform, in this clearing, they could see the river flowing straight, its surface flashing and skittering over all the lost things at the bottom. She gazed to the right, but could not see to where the dam controlled its flow. She looked to the left and toward the downtown where the fireworks celebrated the Fourth of July. In a couple hours the sun would set and the darkness would be complete. The river went on forever, no end in sight. Joe’s face was lit by the slanting sun as it declined, dazzling at this moment.