Dustin Michael

Mental Map

Before the dog bit down, I would have sworn they were some­thing else lying there in the weeds and the scrub — some plas­tic refuse, maybe, some indus­tri­al mate­r­i­al long dis­card­ed here like the rot­ting boards by the curb. These bits of scat­tered lit­ter were too white, too chalky and brit­tle. Too much like stage props or the draw­ings from old car­toons of ceme­tery scenes. But then the dog stopped sniff­ing and bit down on one, there could be no mis­take what they were. Bones.

I am out on a walk through my neigh­bor­hood in the Vanderveen sub­di­vi­sion on the north­ern rim of Columbia, Missouri, with Bizzy, my wife Neesha’s emo­tion­al­ly unsta­ble, brain-dam­aged German shep­herd on a fine March after­noon. It is the first walk around my neigh­bor­hood I have tak­en since September, when I was assault­ed on the side­walk near­by. Bizzy and I had been head­ed in that direc­tion, essen­tial­ly revers­ing the steps I’d tak­en when I fled my attack­ers six months ago, but we hadn’t even made it a hun­dred yards through the low scrub, weeds, and bram­bles before I tripped over some­thing hard stick­ing out of the bur­bling, spongy ground. Bizzy start­ed sniff­ing and paw­ing. A few min­utes lat­er, there’s this par­tial skele­ton all around, and Bizzy’s eat­ing it.

I can tell just by eye­balling that what­ev­er the bones belonged to is mam­malian and kind of big. I pry a nasty lit­tle ver­te­bra out of Bizzy’s big, slob­bery mouth. She takes a step side­ways and clamps down on the slen­der arch of a rib. The whole mess has been picked clean by vul­tures or coy­otes already. It’s been out here awhile, too. All the bones gleam pearly white except for a few light green stains from where the moist earth vom­it­ed them up. The echo of Bizzy’s chomp­ing rebounds off the drab pri­va­cy fences and end­less beige walls of all-weath­er sid­ing up the ridge. An eerie feel­ing set­tles over me. I wrest the rib bone from her maw and tug at her leash.

Ordinarily, nowa­days, I would not have cho­sen to go for a walk through this neigh­bor­hood I’ve called home for two years. However, I checked the weath­er this morn­ing, and it was sup­posed to be sun­ny and warm.  Moreover, I checked the Boone County Sheriff Department’s online list­ing for cur­rent jail inmates and dis­cov­ered my pri­ma­ry attack­er is back in the clink. Suddenly, the world seemed a hap­pi­er, safer place. I grabbed my jack­et out of the clos­et.

Turns out, my pri­ma­ry attack­er — the guy who came down the street on foot with his side­kick, asked me for a cig­a­rette, and pro­ceed­ed to demon­strate one mean upper­cut as soon as he got close — got picked up at the cour­t­house down­town last week for a bur­glary he com­mit­ted some­time dur­ing the last six weeks he’s been out on bond; he gone there for a hear­ing on the case where he beat me up and robbed me. Of the oth­er two defen­dants in that case, one is a juve­nile who has already been tried and cleared in juve­nile court. I told the detec­tive who gave me this infor­ma­tion that I hoped the expe­ri­ence had been a “scared straight” kind of thing for the juve­nile. The detec­tive said the kid was already back in cus­tody for com­mit­ting a string of bur­glar­ies in Vanderveen.

The third guy in my case was the get­away dri­ver who still faces up to five years in prison for his role. He won’t get that, but I’m not so wor­ried about him. He prob­a­bly has more to wor­ry about than mess­ing with me, because it was his car whose tags I mem­o­rized and report­ed. Thus, he was the first one arrest­ed that night, which means he was the one who snitched on his friends and got them both arrest­ed, too. Really, if he’d just found that gas ped­al faster — or, bet­ter yet, not dri­ven up and parked right by a still-con­scious vic­tim — they all three would have got­ten away as free and as clear as this beau­ti­ful, bright, cloud­less day in March when my brain-dam­aged dog and I are tak­ing our­selves a hap­py lit­tle stroll right through what turns out to be a grave.

The oth­er big rea­son I set out into my neigh­bor­hood today is to gath­er infor­ma­tion for a men­tal map. Not to be con­fused with a car­to­graph­ic map, which shows fea­tures like roads and build­ings accu­rate­ly, objec­tive­ly, and pro­por­tion­al­ly, a men­tal map illus­trates struc­tures and path­ways of per­son­al impor­tance, giv­ing lit­tle heed to scale or geo­phys­i­cal coor­di­nates and exclud­ing items alto­geth­er at the men­tal mapmaker’s dis­cre­tion. Mental maps are used by ethno­g­ra­phers and human­is­tic geo­g­ra­phers as tools for under­stand­ing how exis­ten­tial space is expe­ri­enced by indi­vid­u­als and groups. They are rep­re­sen­ta­tions of how peo­ple con­ceive of the space around them.

I am work­ing on my own men­tal map because the way I con­ceive of the space around me has shift­ed since the assault. For six months I have been holed up in the house — Neesha’s house, where I moved two years ago, just before we got engaged. When I’m not sleep­ing, I am usu­al­ly in the spare room in front, which we made into a sort of library, with books piled high in all direc­tions. I sit at the old wood­en desk that once belonged to my great, great grand­fa­ther the Lutheran preach­er and read until my eyes go blur­ry. Then I fix those blur­ry eyes out the big dou­ble win­dow and across the vacant lot, onto the place the attack hap­pened, a lit­tle patch of side­walk on a gen­tle hill against a low plank fence.

After that night, the night of my assault, the bound­aries of my exis­ten­tial space con­tract­ed. I start­ed dou­ble check­ing all the locks and stopped doing a lot of oth­er things. No more run­ning on the wind­ing octo­pus arms of the subdivision’s streets. No more bicy­cling to the remote cor­ners of the devel­op­ment on heavy, cica­da dron­ing nights, throw­ing the bike down in the dusty, bull­dozed lots and duck­ing into the wood and steel skele­tons of the hous­es being built. No more play­ing catch with Neesha out on the cul-de-sac and chas­ing missed catch­es under neigh­bors’ man­i­cured hedges. No more walk­ing Bizzy or the oth­er dog, Bogey, Neesha’s old, dis­grun­tled, American Eskimo polar squir­rel-look­ing-thing. No more tak­ing the trash out after dark. Nothing. It has been six months of lock­ing myself in and star­ing out.

If I had drawn a men­tal map of Vanderveen six months ago, it might have includ­ed a sym­bol for a base­ball by the cul-de-sac, and a sym­bol for a bike over on a far­away hill, and a stick fig­ure run­ning on a curvy road near­by. This new one, though, has only one small tri­an­gle for our house, some hash lines to rep­re­sent weeds in the vacant lot in front of it, and a face with a pair of Xs for eyes on the oth­er side labeled “beat down.”  My men­tal map reminds me of the car­to­graph­ic maps made in Europe dur­ing the Middle Ages, before Marco Polo returned to Venice in 1295 after his 24-year adven­ture in Asia; very lit­tle was then known about the unknown vast­ness to the east, the Silk Road trad­ing route hav­ing been sev­ered for cen­turies, and geo­graph­ic facts had fad­ed into obscu­ri­ty or become dis­tort­ed by leg­end and para­noia. The same thing hap­pened to me with the Vanderveen sub­di­vi­sion in just half a year. On my men­tal map, home and imme­di­ate sur­round­ings are dead cen­ter in dis­tort­ed detail with empti­ness beyond that nar­row scope. There, as the old maps insist, be drag­ons.

Ironically, the peo­ple who planned the Vanderveen sub­di­vi­sion had a thing for the allure of the wild unknown and set about over­lay­ing this Imperialism-era upon the rur­al Midwestern land­scape. Thus, all the streets in Vanderveen bear names of vague­ly trop­i­cal set­tings or crea­tures: Rainforest Parkway, Amazon Drive, Cheetah Drive, Albatross Avenue, Python Court, Wallaby Way, etc., although there are a hand­ful that do not seem to belong in the low­er lat­i­tudes set. Snowy Owl Drive and Arctic Fox Drive, to give just a cou­ple of exam­ples. Not all the zoo­log­i­cal or geo­graph­i­cal street names con­jure pleas­ant images. One time, for instance, Neesha and I made a wrong turn dri­ving and found our­selves on Quick Sand Circle, which has to have tak­en on a new deli­cious lay­er of mean­ing after the hous­ing crash.

Basically, the Vanderveen devel­op­ment project is what human­is­tic geo­g­ra­ph­er Edward Relph refers to as a place­less envi­ron­ment — a sprawl­ing new res­i­den­tial area con­sist­ing of vir­tu­al­ly iden­ti­cal units all laid out by the same archi­tect and built rapid­ly by the same con­struc­tion com­pa­ny — in this case, Wilcoxson Custom Homes LLC — with lit­tle atten­tion paid to the rela­tion­ship between the struc­tures being built on the land and the land’s own his­to­ry, its ani­mals, or its phys­i­cal geog­ra­phy, and with­out con­cern for cre­at­ing or pre­serv­ing dis­tin­guish­ing land­marks. In Vanderveen, earth was piled and lev­eled with dis­re­gard for feed­er streams, drainage areas, sink­holes, and gul­lies, which has cre­at­ed not only pos­si­ble envi­ron­men­tal haz­ards like pol­lu­tion runoff and mass ero­sion, but also an unset­tling same­ness. One can only find a loca­tion in Vanderveen by mem­o­riza­tion, instead of by car­di­nal direc­tion or land­mark recog­ni­tion: left turn, down the hill, then right turn, then left again, stop at the third house. The cher­ry on the whole Vanderveen sun­dae is the nam­ing of streets for non-indig­i­nous species and non-local set­tings. Ground Zero for the post­mod­ern subtopi­an Midwestern envi­ron­ment: the cook­ie-cut­ter res­i­den­tial unit at the Vanderveen inter­sec­tion of Arctic Fox Drive and Rainforest Parkway.

Our house is on Piranha Court, named for the toothy fresh­wa­ter South American fish that can eat a cow in sev­en sec­onds, or some­thing like that. Incidentally, it is a safe bet my three attack­ers have a vague idea where I live because they cased me first, dri­ving by slow­ly, park­ing in a neighbor’s dri­ve­way, watch­ing me care­ful­ly as I wad­dled along in my dumpy sort of way talk­ing obliv­i­ous­ly on the cel­lu­lar phone they would very short­ly pry from my chub­by lit­tle fin­gers. The three of them saw me com­ing, and that’s why Neesha insist­ed I take Bizzy along on this walk.

She’s good theft-deter­rent,” Neesha said, hand­ing me a leash.

Neesha is not alone in this assump­tion. Shortly after I was attacked last September, I was told by at least two of the six or sev­en police­men who assem­bled in my front yard for no oth­er pur­pose, it seems, than to freak out the entire neigh­bor­hood while pro­vid­ing the per­pe­tra­tors with many con­ve­nient avenues of escape, that had I only had a dog with me, none of this would have hap­pened.

Shoulda had your dog,” the respond­ing offi­cer informed me as he flashed a pen light in my face to check me for either con­cus­sion or sobri­ety — I was nev­er sure. “I’da had my dog, it was me.”

I should’ve had your dog, then,” I said. Because while one might think Bizzy would be a for­mi­da­ble pro­tec­tor, it is also pos­si­ble a con­fronta­tion would cause her to depart instant­ly, her alle­giance bro­ken by the appear­ance of a new, stronger alpha, her big dumb eyes meet­ing mine briefly, as if to say, “Your wolf pack is weak. Farewell.” Or maybe it would cause her to lapse men­tal­ly and just tak­en a seat, capit­u­lat­ing to her con­fu­sion, for some­times she looks at me with that search­ing expres­sion my old teach­ers from ele­men­tary school make when they see me a few tables over in a restau­rant: Do I know him? Or — and this is like­ly — a con­fronta­tion on the street might have made Bizzy con­clude that the attack was some sort of game, like, “Everybody Get Him,” in which case I would have been lying there on the pave­ment with two guys swat­ting at me and this dopey German shep­herd gnaw­ing my ankles to shreds.

Yeah, man,” said the respond­ing offi­cer, “next time you take a stroll, you’re gonna wan­na maybe bring a dog. But I can see why you wouldn’ta thunk to. This is a good neigh­bor­hood. You don’t see rob­beries over on this side of Vanderveen.” He ges­tured with his thumb in the gen­er­al direc­tion of Quick Sand Circle.

Neesha appeared next to us on the porch and hand­ed me a Freez Pak from an insu­lat­ed lunch­box. She began press­ing the pads of her fin­gers into the dough­i­ness of my face, try­ing to realign my nose on its axis. I was think­ing about what the offi­cer might have meant by “this side of Vanderveen,” when at that moment, a fourth police cruis­er pulled up and parked so reck­less­ly that it almost took out the mail­box. The offi­cer behind the wheel, a big red-haired dude with a paunch and a face that would have looked tough were it not for all the freck­les, left the police car sit­ting at a rak­ish angle in our dri­ve­way, nose still inch­es from impact and one tire up on the curb, announc­ing word­less­ly to every­one present that Bad Cop had arrived. He walked right over and stuck a fin­ger in my chest.

I can tell just by look­ing at you,” Bad Cop said, “that you’re not telling us some­thing. And I can guar­an­tee this’ll be a lot quick­er and eas­i­er on every­body if you start coop­er­at­ing.”

I adjust­ed the Freez Pak to the oth­er side of my face. Neesha took a break from her clay mod­el­ing nose repair exer­cise.

What?” she said.

Ma’am,” Bad Cop said, “not too long ago, we respond­ed to a call from a lit­tle guy a lot like him,” he jabbed his fin­ger at me again. “You know, non-threat­en­ing, tame lit­tle guy, sim­ple-look­ing kind of face. Anyway, he told us some guys beat him up, took all his mon­ey, all ran­dom like. Well, I start­ed pok­ing around, and sure ‘nuff, he had a gam­bling addic­tion. Beat him­self in the face and made the whole sto­ry up to cov­er it.” Bad Cop crossed his arms and looked at me, as if to say, Well, go ahead.

I don’t have a gam­bling addic­tion,” I said. “We don’t even have any mon­ey.

Could’ve been a drug deal gone bad,” Bad Cop sug­gest­ed.

At that pre­sump­tu­ous remark, I felt tiny bub­bles of moral indig­na­tion begin to sim­mer and rise from my gut. How dare this man assume my three attack­ers were mixed up in drugs just because they were mixed up in vio­lence. For all I knew, they were Robin Hood, Little John, and Friar Tuck, and they had tak­en away my cell phone to give to some­one in need. Plus, did he think I was buy­ing the drugs or sell­ing them? And just what kinds of drugs did he think I was into here? How offend­ed, I won­dered, do I have a right to be?

My wife and I — we’re teach­ers,” I said. “Grad stu­dents.”

Bad Cop looked at Neesha and me, looked at our house, then back at us.

Sure you are,” he said.

For a moment, I thought Bad Cop might be insin­u­at­ing we were run­ning some­thing huge and nefar­i­ous out of our home. A meth lab, or a large-scale mar­i­jua­na grow­ing oper­a­tion like the two dis­cov­ered last year sev­er­al blocks away, over on Snow Leopard Drive and Mamba Drive. Then it occurred to me that Bad Cop had just artic­u­lat­ed an unspo­ken sus­pi­cion about us amongst our Piranha Court neigh­bors, who were all safe­ly nes­tled inside the oth­er sev­en hous­es on the street. Most of them are upper-mid­dle class WASPs who coör­di­nate their out­door Christmas lights with each oth­er in the win­ter and pay out the nose for week­ly land­scap­ing and lawn main­te­nance in the sum­mer. Since I’d moved in two years before, I’d won­dered casu­al­ly whether we were “that house” on the street — the one where the tacky peo­ple live. I won­dered if that’s what they thought we were, with our crab­grass-infest­ed lawn and our crum­bling red land­scap­ing rocks. I won­dered whether we were the un-pow­er-washed mass­es our neigh­bors wor­ried would fur­ther sink their real estate val­ues. But I real­ized, stand­ing there with the re-freez­able lunch­box pack pressed to my swelling face, that Bad Cop had hit the unspo­ken neigh­bor­hood ques­tion on the head:

How is it you peo­ple can afford to live among us?

The answer, of course, is that we can’t. Until I moved in, I lived alone in a ser­vice­able two-bedrooom apart­ment in Forest Village, where I lived beneath a won­der­ful­ly ami­able Zimbabwean guy named Schwipe, and across the hall from a mys­te­ri­ous Korean guy who intro­duced him­self once at the coin laun­dry in the hall­way as Dan but whom I nev­er actu­al­ly saw again. I lived there a year and a half and not once did I have any trou­ble.

As for for Neesha and the Piranha Court house, that’s some­thing else. Neesha’s father had the house built for her in the mid­dle of the hous­ing bub­ble, think­ing it would be a good invest­ment he could cash in when his daugh­ter fin­ished her degree. When that wave broke and rolled away, it left the wash of aban­doned build­ing mate­ri­als scat­tered like bones in the vacant lot across the street, along with Neesha, com­fort­ably set­tled but strand­ed here like a cast­away, her desert island an unmar­ketable home. Her half-Indian her­itage qual­i­fies her as one of the few mem­bers of a minor­i­ty “on this side of Vanderveen,” as Not-So-Bad Cop put it. The oth­er side, the Quick Sand Circle side, we would learn, has a lot of duplex­es and some gov­ern­ment sub­si­dized hous­ing, and that is where our income lev­el sug­gests that we should live, not over on this side of Vanderveen. This side, every­one on our street seems to agree, is for fam­i­lies with mon­ey, not for peo­ple in sub­si­dized hous­ing. And our hous­ing is indeed sub­si­dized, not by Uncle Sam, but by Poppa Kishore, and appar­ent­ly our neigh­bors have some clue about this.

To be hon­est, though, I have some opin­ions about what — and how — the neigh­bors think. The day after I got jumped, Neesha and I went door to door on Piranha Court, spread­ing the word about what had hap­pened the night before, warn­ing our neigh­bors to be cau­tious when walk­ing alone at night, urg­ing them all to be on the look­out for the indi­vid­u­als who attacked me, and for their vehi­cle, although, unbe­knownst to us, they all had been tak­en into cus­tody already and every­thing was cool. We were met with shock, hor­ror, and pos­si­bly even a lit­tle thin­ly veiled blame, espe­cial­ly from the man two hous­es down, who lis­tened to my recita­tion of the attack with the sullen face of some­one who has just been told his home is sud­den­ly worth sev­er­al thou­sand dol­lars less. One thing they all said, in var­i­ous ways, was that this non­sense — this urban crime — was exact­ly the thing they moved out here to avoid. They were fol­low­ing the Wordsworthian creed, seek­ing sim­plic­i­ty and purifi­ca­tion in the coun­try­side: Lines com­posed a few streets above Wallaby Way.

We didn’t hear any­thing last night,” we heard more than one neigh­bor say, “and one of the rea­sons we love it is because it’s always so qui­et out here.”

The neigh­bors put the empha­sis on that term — out here — as if the city of Columbia were a burn­ing build­ing and the Vanderveen sub­di­vi­sion were the park­ing lot out­side where they all stand safe­ly around watch­ing it burn. And the used the roy­al we, as in all of them, the whole street—the whole sub­di­vi­sion, even, or at least, “this side” of it. It was as if they were say­ing, “Make no mis­take, it’s us and them.” With that came a glim­mer of recog­ni­tion, on that September day in the place­less, post­mod­ern, subtopi­an jun­gle. I thought I had iden­ti­fied that dan­ger­ous fear, the one that turns a cor­ner, like that in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, that starts with “The hor­ror! The hor­ror!” and trick­les like runoff along the gut­ter until at last it reach­es the grate in the cul-de-sac and drops: “Exterminate the brutes!”

Still, it is dif­fi­cult to deter­mine exact­ly to whom “them” refers. When Neesha and I heard the neigh­bors use this kind of rhetoric the day we went door to door pro­claim­ing my beat down as a warn­ing for them to raise the neigh­bor­hood alert­ness lev­el, we took it that they meant “them” to be poor peo­ple. “After all,” my neigh­bors seemed to be say­ing, “they must be poor, for why else would they steal?” I won­dered whether or not I should point out that it was just as like­ly my assailants were bored and vio­lent since wail­ing on me seemed to have been their pri­ma­ry objec­tive and tak­ing my phone appeared to have been almost an after­thought, but if by “them” my neigh­bors meant “poor peo­ple,” then the Vanderveen devel­op­ment exper­i­ment fol­lows the mod­el of his­tor­i­cal sub­ur­ban set­tle­ment all the way back to 2000 BC, when the pop­u­la­tion of the Mesopotamian city of Ur over-spilled its walls. Until the Industrial era, though, the dynam­ic was reversed; it was the impov­er­ished cit­i­zens who lived in the sub­urbs and the wealthy near the city cen­ter. Then it flipped dur­ing the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, when wide­spread urban­iza­tion car­ried the poor into down­town dis­tricts, and recent­ly devel­oped trains and auto­mo­biles car­ried the wealthy into the sub­urbs. But it’s been the same bina­ry oppo­si­tion of “us and them” the whole time.

Also, just to clar­i­fy, it was clear after mak­ing the rounds up the street that just because I’d been assault­ed by some of “them” does not mean my wife and I get to be includ­ed in “us.”

I tug Bizzy’s leash and lead her away from the bones, out of the vacant lot in the direc­tion of the spot I labeled “beat down” on my men­tal map. I’m still think­ing about the vacant lot bones. Later, I will draw them in on my men­tal map. I reas­sure myself that they are ani­mal bones, that there is only a slight chance they’re human bones. I try not to pan­ic about this. Surely, I think, some­one would have noticed a human corpse rot­ting in that field, or noticed the cir­cling vul­tures and the raven­ing coy­otes. Someone would have seen.

Bizzy and I reach the side­walk across the street from the “beat down” place. This is where I fled that night — up the slope, into the vacant lot, maybe over the bones, and into the house, on a rag­ing, glo­ri­ous surge of adren­a­line. Often, I have won­dered what would have hap­pened had the white sedan spun around, turned onto Piranha Court, and head­ed me off at the pass. It is a chill­ing thought, to me. Instead, it zoomed down the hill, into the dense, place­less, Vanderveenian heart of dark­ness, into one of the areas of my men­tal map described only with a few sketch­es of trees and a lot of hash marks. Here be drag­ons. Had my attack­ers looked in the rearview mir­ror, they would have seen me dis­ap­pear into what must have looked like an impen­e­tra­ble thick­et of shad­ows behind the out­lines of pri­va­cy fences, walls of beige all-weath­er sid­ing, and a ragged lay­er of char­coal-col­ored shin­gles hang­ing low above the prairie ridges like a long, dirty cloud. Had they lis­tened hard, they might have heard me chant­i­ng the white sedan’s license plate num­ber, a holy mantra over the drums of heart and foot­falls.

Had they spun and cir­cled around, they just might have caught me before I made it to my house. But if they had tried that and been just a tad late, they’d have had a real shell game on their hands try­ing to find me amidst the rows and rows of vir­tu­al­ly iden­ti­cal cook­ie-cut­ter homes cour­tesy of Wilcoxson Construction LLC cir­cling and weav­ing and slid­ing past each oth­er and cul-de-sac­ing and twist­ing back and around for acre after end­less sprawl­ing acre.

Bizzy and I make our way down the street until we are look­ing down at a trick­ling stream that flows along the bases of some of the Vanderveen ridges, nib­bling slow­ly on the bedrock of Mississippian lime­stone and dump­ing its mea­ger spoils into Bear Creek half a mile south. Bizzy stops and sniffs the air, and I speak to her in the dialect I imag­ine she would have if she were human, which is much like that of the Incredible Hulk.

Biz want go in creek?”

Bizzy licks her chops. Probably because she thinks I said “treat.”

We scram­ble down the embank­ment where heavy movers from the Missouri Department of Transportation have piled up large, unearthed boul­ders in order to but­tress the spill­way that runs under the street. We search for toe­holds amidst Skyy vod­ka bot­tle sap­phires and Taco Bell wrap­per Tibetan prayer flags. Bizzy plops into the stream, scat­ter­ing a clus­ter of min­nows, and I take a break from think­ing about the par­tial skele­ton up the hill to won­der whether there’s a street in this sub­di­vi­sion named “Minnow.” I run my fin­ger­tips over the crum­bling lime­stone until — there — I find a clutch of chopped stone stalks ris­ing from the sur­face of the stone. They are crinoids, pri­mor­dial sea lilies, from a time when every­thing west of the Appalachians was at the bot­tom of the sea. Three hun­dred and forty mil­lion years lat­er, some­one spray-paint­ed a pro mar­i­jua­na legal­iza­tion slo­gan on the con­crete rail­ing above, invis­i­ble from the street. I’m thank­ful that Bad Cop isn’t here to see me near it — glad he can’t put me at this scene. Later, on my men­tal map, I will mark this place with sym­bols for fos­sils and pot.

On the way back up the hill, a soaked Bizzy and I stop briefly at the place where I got attacked, but a screen door screech­es open near­by, and a man emerges, faces us, cross­es his arms. He thinks I have stopped here to let my dog crap on his lawn. Somehow, he has heard our approach from inside his house all the way up the slope.

As I tug Bizzy’s leash and step out to cross the street once more, I have to won­der if he real­ly failed to hear me scream­ing on that night six months ago, scream­ing “Help!” as loud­ly as I could, “Help! Please! Help me!” and failed to hear the thuds of fists and shoes rebound­ing off my body as it twitched and scut­tled over the pave­ment, and failed to hear the shouts of my attack­ers, “Shut up, moth­er­fuck­er! Shut up!” and failed as well to hear their tires squeal and their engine roar as they throt­tled down the hill toward the stream and into the night. I won­der how he heard us com­ing today when he failed to hear any of that.

As we climb into the vacant lot again and make our way to the bones, a chill shoots down my spine. The fear has me now. The hor­ror! The hor­ror! and now these are human bones, there can be no doubt. I twist the leash around my wrist and drop to my knees. I am dig­ging on all fours with my fin­gers in the mud, search­ing, search­ing. And Bizzy is sit­ting now, watch­ing, con­fused. Another ver­te­bra, anoth­er rib, anoth­er long white splin­ter, anoth­er flak­ing chip. I do not know whether my neigh­bors can see me or what they would think if they could. I am dig­ging, dig­ging. How long did you lie here, friend? Another ver­te­bra, a long, brit­tle bone about as long as my fore­arm. How many of them were there the night you died? How far did you have to crawl to get here, and how long did you scream when no one came to help?

And then, unmis­tak­able in the dark, slimy mud, a tooth. Another tooth. A jaw­bone. A point­ed, slen­der blade of a jaw­bone. I stand for a long moment. A crow’s caw echoes off the infi­nite rows of char­coal roofs. I tug Bizzy’s leash in the direc­tion of the house. I get us inside and lock the door.

Later, on my men­tal map, I draw the bones in the vacant lot. Beside them, I include the label “deer skele­ton.”

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