The Middle of Somewhere
Author:Sonja Yoerg

“I wanted to do this hike alone. I wasn’t leaving you.”

He shook his head. “But you’ve been distant for a while. Like you’re making plans without me.”

“I was. I was planning this trip. And then you started having an issue with it.”

“Only because it seemed so . . . so, I don’t know, necessary to you.”

“And your problem with that is what? I’m too independent?”

He frowned deeply. She could see the answer was “yes.” She felt sorry for him, because her “independence” was, in part, a product of all the things he didn’t know about her. She kept truths from him because he wouldn’t love her otherwise, and she wanted his love. Her secrets were wrapped in a cloak of self-sufficiency she could both hide behind and hold up as a virtue. Independence was a flag American women waved proudly, and Liz knew Dante was drawn to this in her. His mother was a highly emotional woman who could do little more than breathe on her own, and his entire family had suffered because of it.

“Too independent? Of course not,” he said.

“Look, Dante, I was actually fine with you coming along if you really wanted to. And if you respected the way I wanted it to be.” Not entirely true, but true enough to state with conviction.

He regarded her with skepticism. “I think you were testing me. And I failed.”

“Now you’re feeling sorry for yourself. Why couldn’t you just have let me go? It could have been that simple.”

“Simple for you, Liz. Not so simple for me. Not when I don’t understand what’s going on with us!” He took a couple of steps back, turned away from her and threw his hands in the air. “Shit!”

She pulled a bottle from the outside pocket of her pack, unscrewed the lid and drank. She watched as Dante opened his pack and began unloading it. She knew what was happening but said nothing. They’d pretty much covered it, at least what they were willing to say. Dante lifted out his bear can and placed it next to the pack. He leaned on it with one hand and dropped his chin to his chest.

“You were right about the boots. They destroyed my feet. I probably wouldn’t be able to continue anyway.”

“I’m sorry about your feet. And everything else.” The truth, in its entirety.

“Let’s go through all the gear. I don’t want you to be missing anything you need.”

They emptied the backpacks and bear cans and spread everything out on the grass. It reminded Liz, and probably Dante, of a similar array on their dining table the night before they left for the mountains.

She repacked her bear can with enough food to last until Red’s Meadow, where she would pick up the first of two resupply buckets they had shipped. Red’s was four days away. The second resupply would be waiting at Muir Trail Ranch, fifty miles farther south. The tent and cooking gear went on her pile as well, in addition to the rudimentary medical kit and the Ziploc bag containing an assortment of safety items: nylon cord, an extra tent stake, a flare, waterproof matches, zip ties, replacement shock cord for the tent pole, and a patch kit for the tent. Her pack would gain a few pounds; two can live almost as lightly as one.

She placed the water filter among his belongings. He gave her a questioning look.

“Trying to save a pound. I’m going to use the Aquamira.” The purification tablets were backup. They killed everything they needed to, but not immediately. And if the source water contained sediment, it would stay cloudy.

“There aren’t enough.”

“I’ll get more at Red’s.”

“I thought you preferred the filter.”

She shrugged. Dante bent his head in apology. The choices she would have made at home in preparation for a solo trip were different from the ones she faced now. She’d have brought a smaller tent, for starters. The one she’d purchased when she thought she’d be alone was narrow and low to the ground, shaped like a chrysalis.

The process of divvying up their gear and supplies was what she imagined happened when cohabiting couples broke up: her stuff from before, his stuff from before and, the sticky part, the stuff they had bought together in the buoyant hope they’d never see this day. But instead of books, serving dishes and throw pillows, these were tools of survival. She picked up the compass—a dial set in a rectangle of clear, hard plastic—and closed her fingers over it. She squeezed and the sharp corners dug into her palm.

Dante contemplated his pile of clothing. “Why don’t you take my gloves? They’re warmer than yours.” His eyes asked her to confirm they still shared a life. Mis cosas son tus cosas.

“They’re too big. I’d fumble with everything.” She handed him the car keys. “You might not catch the shuttle to the Valley in time.”

He stared at the keys as if they were runes. “I’ll figure something out.”