The rusty sedan grinds to a halt. Water and mud and muck pours from the gaps in the doors. Mary’s emotions wash over her like the dark water just feet away. She falls to her knees. The detective beside her is on her in an instant. Tears fall hot against his hand.
“Is this it?” he asks.
Mary says nothing. Her lungs are too busy trying to catch up with her heart, and her lips are drowned in tears. Her stomach cramps. It’s the same feeling she had when she was little; the night she knew it was all over. At some point convinced herself the feeling was the flu and not grief. Obviously she was wrong. Just like she was wrong about the car.
She had hoped this car was found somewhere else, in a parking lot far away, perhaps. The paint on the hood faded by the sun. A few decades worth of dust stuck the dash. And they were there, too. Her parents. And –
The detective rubs Mary’s back and catches eyes briefly with the tow truck driver, who seems more concerned with who’s going to pay him than who’s in the car. The detective rolls his eyes.
“Mary,” he says calmly, “I need you to confirm. Is this the car?”
Mary draws a deep breath and lets it out slow, each bubble of air popping like a car tire running over speed bumps on a highway. She moves her mouth to speak, but only air comes out. Just stale, warm, empty air. It was the car they were looking for. Finally. She nods slowly.
“Okay,” the detective says as he stands, wiping some dirt off his pants. He twirls his finger in the air like he was giving a helicopter the all-clear. “Let’s move.”
The crew swarms the car like bees on butter. One of them tapes off the scene. Another with a camera snaps away like film is free. Yet another grabs a crowbar and begins the jimmy the rusted passenger door.
“If you want, one of my men can drive you back to the house,” the detective says, breaking Mary’s gaze on the car for a moment. “I can give you a full briefing this evening.”
She thinks on it for a moment and turns back to the car. “No,” she says coldly as she wipes the tears and snot and dirt from her upper lip. “It’s been a long Thanksgiving and I’m ready for it to be over.”
The detective nods and stands silently at her side. He knows her story. It was Thanksgiving, 1963, and Mary had asked to stay the night with her grandparents after dinner. Her mother, old but beautiful, protested, but her dad gave in. He had to be back in the morning to help with some repairs around the house anyway. What would it hurt? That night it snowed a heavy, early winter snow, and continued to snow for the next two days. It took the crews about a month to give up the search for her mother and father and –
“We’ve got something,” one of the crewmen yells. Mary and the detective both tear toward the wreck. Her heart pounds with the beat of her boots against the lakeside mud. A feeling of dread and excitement builds in her gut. The dread she understood, but the excitement? With it came guilt.
“What do ya got,” the detective says through panted breath. The crewman looks to him and then to Mary, giving her a slight head jerk before returning to the detective. Mary is doubled over, trying to catch her breath. She’s a few decades past her running prime. The detective shakes his head. “She’s fine.”
“Well,” the crewman starts while looking back into the car, “from what we can tell, there are two bodies in total. We have two skulls in the front and – ”
“Three,” Mary interjects, trying to peak her head around the crewman. “There should be three skulls.”
The crewman looks to his partner across the car who shakes his head. “The doors and windows were intact,” the second man says. “There’s no way the third body left the car if there was one.”
His simple words cut through Mary like lightning. She grabs her chest. That feeling, the cramping she felt in her stomach had made its way to her heart. She wheezes with every breath. The detective catches her as she doubles over and helps her to her knees again. He looks back at the crewman who nods at him. Yes, he was sure there were only two skulls and not three.
“Mary, Mary,” the detective says, pulling her head to his chest. “Honey, I – ”
Mary cries harder. The detective knew this heartache. He had been married to her for years. She carried this moment, the cars and the bodies in it, with her always. If she wanted the torment of the unknown to end, he wanted it for her doubly. He wanted to cry, too, but he couldn’t. This was her time. He’ll cry later.
“From what we can tell, there was no foul play.” The detective nodded lightly. “But, it won’t be conclusive until we –”
“Yes, I know,” the detective snapped. He stroked Mary’s hair. She was calm except for the occasional sniffle.
“I thought it was going to be over,” Mary finally said, her voice muffled against the detective’s shirt. “I thought this was it.”
“Me too, darling. Me, too.”
She pulls back from the detective’s chest and wipes her face, her eyeliner lightly smudged at the corners. He face read like a gravestone, but her eyes spoke differently. She turned her gaze back to the car where the crewmen were sifting and shuffling things in and out.
“If mom and dad are here,” she said almost emotionless as she turns back to the detective, “then where the hell is Amelia?”