The Middle of Somewhere
Author:Sonja Yoerg

The trail up Lyell Canyon required little concentration. The base of the canyon was broad and flat, with golden meadows on either side of a winding river. The trail didn’t do anything fancy, starting on the west side of the riverbank and continuing along for nine miles. After that, the map told her, the river narrowed to a rushing creek, and the trail climbed steeply to Donahue Pass. But for now, it was either easy going or monotonous, depending on how one looked at it. River on the left, forest on the right, and Potter Point and Amelia Earhart Peak dead ahead. The sky was clear, and the warming sun lifted the dew off the grass. A walk in the park.

Which was why Dante’s silence worried her.

He was thinking hard about something, something serious enough to overwhelm his usual compulsion to talk. Normally she would welcome the quiet, content with the company of her own thoughts. But now her only thoughts were what Dante was contemplating as he took one step after another behind her. There was no point in asking him before he was ready, only a matter of how far up the canyon they would travel before he let her in.

It turned out to be six miles. She told him she was ready for a snack. She left the trail and set her pack down a few feet from the river’s edge. He joined her and accepted the energy bar she offered. As she unwrapped hers, she scanned the water for trout. Within a few seconds, she spied a fish whose wriggling disrupted its camouflage against the mottled olive green riverbed. It darted under the shadow of rock and vanished.

“Liz,” Dante said from behind her. “I think I made a mistake.” She turned. His eyes were dark and a knot had formed between his eyebrows. “I shouldn’t have come. I should have stayed home.”

“The blisters are bad, huh?” she said, knowing blisters weren’t the issue.

“Yes, but that’s not it.”

Her stomach twisted. All the frustration she had been swallowing over the last three days rose to the back of her throat, acrid. “It’s hard! This hike is really hard. I tried to be realistic with you about it. I warned you.” The chastising tone of her voice made her wince. She coiled the wrapper of the energy bar around her finger, unfurled it and coiled it again.

“You’re not understanding me. I didn’t come because I was sure I could do it, and I’m not thinking about leaving because I can’t.”

She bit her lower lip. It wasn’t about the hike. Of course not. She just wanted it to be. “Why did you want to come then?”

He picked up her hand and held it between his. “Because I thought I would lose you if I didn’t.” His voice dropped. “I thought you knew that.”

She did. She didn’t.

She wasn’t certain what she knew. She was angry with him, but was that fair? He’d acted out of desperation, fueled by fear and love. Why else would he have insisted on coming? It was so obvious she almost laughed at the audacity of her stubborn denial.

He squeezed her hand. “Say something. Please.”

This was the moment in which she should explain everything. Valerie’s voice spoke in her head, telling her not to be such a pussy and spit it out. Liz could tell him about the pregnancy and how confused and scared she had been, and how sharing the news with him (clearly the right thing to do in retrospect) had been impossible because she was certain he’d want to have the baby. He was Catholic and had a moral streak as wide as Lyell Canyon. She, on the other hand, maintained she had nothing against religion but was holding out for one that revered the periodic table. Unfortunately, as much as humor helped her cope with the mistakes she’d made, it appeared useless in preventing them. If only she could graft a simplifying moral structure into her brain using the technology she designed for artificial limbs.

Telling Dante she’d been pregnant would lead to confessing to the abortion. During her interior rehearsals, this was where she forgot her lines. That confession, however worded, would inevitably lead to owning up to her ambivalence about living with him. Except for fleeting moments when she forgot her own painful history and she was simply happy, she hadn’t found level footing, the graceful certainty she’d done the right thing by moving in.

If she somehow managed to admit to the abortion (highly unlikely), and if Dante was still listening (inconceivable), she would have no choice but to explain why her actions had nothing to do with him. He would be relieved, and possibly encouraged, because it meant they’d have a chance after all—assuming he suffered an episode of amnesia regarding the abortion. But his relief would be misguided. And to explain why, she would have to voice something she had never told anyone, not even Valerie. When he heard that story, he would leave and never come back.

Which, from the look of things, might happen anyway.

She took her hand away on the pretense of pushing her bangs from her eyes.