The Middle of Somewhere
Author:Sonja Yoerg

“That’s a detergent popular in Utah. I believe you mean ‘oxymoron.’”

“Yes, a moron. Because only a moron would design such a vacation!”

She leaned toward him and met his gaze. “Is this you giving this your best shot? Because I’m distinctly underwhelmed. I didn’t come here to play bocce. I didn’t come here to drink beer, although I’ll be having one in a minute. And, to be completely frank with you, I didn’t come here to be your cheerleader, your butler or your mother.” She stood. “Do what you want. I’m leaving at seven thirty tomorrow.” She grabbed a beer and walked away.

She went to bed alone. As exhausted as she was, she didn’t fall asleep for a long time. Someone setting up camp in a neighboring site repeatedly shone their flashlights on her tent. Then they spent ages talking loudly on their phones. Several times she thought about getting up and confronting them, but the freezing temperature kept her inside. Besides, she’d had enough confrontation for one day.

Dante woke her when he unzipped the tent and wriggled into his sleeping bag. He didn’t say anything, nor did she. She checked her watch—it was one fifteen—but she was past caring.

She awoke at dawn and crawled over Dante to get out. He was a champion sleeper. He fell asleep the second he closed his eyes and slept through earthquakes, parties, fireworks, thunderstorms and, most impressively, the frantic high-pitched barking of their neighbor’s dog. Usually she thought it indicated he had a clear conscience. Today she thought it indicated he was lazy.

When she retrieved the cans from the bear locker and placed them on the table, she saw Dante had left out his socks—the relatively dry ones. They had absorbed the dew and were primed to maximize blister potential. She shook her head and gathered what she needed to make coffee. Not long afterward, Dante surprised her by emerging from the tent of his own volition. He was no beacon of joy, but at least she didn’t have to collapse the tent on him.

They left the campground and picked up the trail at the bottom of a gentle slope, Liz in the lead and Dante trailing behind. At the bridge spanning the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, an older couple was poring over a map and sharing an apple. They exchanged greetings but Liz didn’t stop to chat. She was chilled and wanted to keep moving. Today they were finally going to leave the developed part of Yosemite, and she was eager.

“You don’t have to walk so fast,” Dante called after her.

She slowed a little. “I’m not walking fast. I’m just not hungover.”

He caught up to her with a hobbling step. “I’m not hungover either. I’m disabled.”

“Wet socks plus new boots equals unhappy feet. Isn’t the moleskin helping?”

“I didn’t have time to put it on. You were in such a hurry.”

She whipped around and stared at him. “So it’s my fault? Dante, how have you survived thirty-two years?”

“By driving when I need to go ten miles, and occasionally taking public transportation.”

She picked up her pace. “If you have reception, try calling a cab.”

Complaining, Liz believed, was a matter of opportunity and practice, and Dante had had plenty of both. As the youngest of four children, and the only boy, he was routinely indulged. Had he contained an ounce of malice, he would have become a despot. His sweet nature and abundant charm guaranteed that when he did grouse about the fundamental unfairness of life, he would be forgiven. Because he was an optimist, he did not complain routinely. That, and because he never had it that bad.

Liz was the only child of an egocentric mother and an absentee father, and had lacked an audience for her grievances. Her practical nature also made her disinclined to complain. A problem could either be fixed (usually by her) or it couldn’t, and confusing the two was a waste of time. She instead directed her efforts at improving what she could—hence her job providing limbs for people who needed them—rather than railing at an obviously flawed universe. Find a problem that matters, fix it and shut the hell up about the rest. Growing up, she kept her own counsel, eschewing the gossip and social maneuvering that drove other girls’ relationships, and had few friends because of it. She never intended to be awkward, or to hide. It was simply who she was and how she was raised.

Eventually, as her world widened, her habit of not expressing her hopes, disappointments and desires tripped her up. Because a lie or, more accurately, the absence of truth, was akin to grit in an oyster. Once it had been covered with a silky crystalline coating, again and again, it didn’t feel the same. No one could see it—it’s not as though someone could pry her open—and the currents of time kept moving past her. But Liz could feel pearls of the lies and subverted desires inside her, lodged in her soul. They presented a problem she didn’t know how to fix.