"Wait a minute,” Joe said, eying the handkerchief, “how do we know it’s his?”
“Are you kidding?” Casey said, “Its covered in American flags and,” she sniffed the fabric, “it smells like liquor.”
“So a liquor soaked rag dropped by a stray dog couldn’t possibly belong to anyone else?”
“Well,” Casey frowned at the fabric, turning it this way and that as though it were a precious artifact rather than something for the catching of snot, “it just seems like something he would have.”
“And what about this dog? Where did it come from?”
“You’re right, it could lead us back,”
Joe laughed, “Are you insane?”
“Oh shut up Joe, at least let her try,” Mali said.
Casey knelt next to the dog, scratching its mangy coat with one hand and holding out the handkerchief to him with the other.
“Where did you get this?” she asked, “Good boy, now where’d you get it?”
The dog took the worn scrap of fabric in its mouth and started off at a trot back the way it had come. It was slow, his gait hindered by an obvious limp, but his motions were practiced and it wasn’t long before he’d gone a good distance.
“Fucking unbelievable,” Joe remarked and took off with the others after the mutt.
Mali had started off with the others but Parker caught her by the arm.
“Wait,” he said, half stammering, “Just wait a second.”
“What? We have to keep up,”
“You’ll catch up just hang on. I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to do this so just wait.”
Mali looked down at Parker’s hand that still gripped her and back into his eyes. She’d thought to shrug him off, to make him wait on whatever trivial thing was rolling around in his mind but his eyes had stayed her. They were full and wide, opened like surprised mouths into two oh’s. She had never seen eyes look like them, haunted and deep as an old well. Pennies would never hit bottom, she though and so she waited.
“I don’t really know how to say this, well, I mean that no one would, or does, really know how. You know like, um, when things are tough for me I think about God,” Parker sighed and licked his lips.
“No, that’s not true. Ok, here, I want to say this and I don’t want you to speak until I’m done. I don’t think that at this point it really matters anymore, but its important to me that you don’t speak until I’ve said everything.”
Mali nodded, mouth parted by wonder, and hardly breathed. She’d been so angry with him before, easily writing him off and putting him aside. Shelved books don’t pull themselves from the eaves, she thought, and it frightened her to see him fluttering from amongst the number of thoughts she’d buried him in.
“I love you, so much so that I cannot go on without telling you that and telling you this. I didn’t come on this trip to become more spiritual or to learn to tell stories. As much as I love the comfort that religion gives me, it is nothing compared to what you do to me. At night, I watch you sleep. Oh gosh that sounds terrible but, your calm calms me. The way your eyes flutter when you dream is matched by my heart. Oh please don’t make that face I swear I’m not trying to be creepy. I just can’t help it. I never expected to feel this way, and in a lot of ways I promised never to feel this way again with anyone.”
“I’m sorry, Parker, but—“ Mali started but Parker was shaking his head, his hands outstretched slightly. Just wait.
“It is because of all this that I have to tell you that I love you, and I’m leaving. I came on this trip in order to run away from a woman I don’t love anymore and, oh Jesus,” he said and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his palms. He shuddered as he let out a long breath and when his hands came down the water in the well of his eyes was creeping over its brim, “and a daughter who is barely old enough to know me at all. I thought that by coming out here with you guys I could start a new life without the sin of my past, only to find that sin would follow me anywhere. I betrayed a family I lustfully helped to create in order to save my own soul at the expense of theirs.
“I’m so sorry, my love,” he let go of her arm and took a wicker figure from his pocket. He held it out to her but, when she made no move to take it, he dropped it at her feet. “I made that at burning man, a man smoking peyote told me it would bring luck and fortune to anyone who held it. It brought my you in my dreams every night, I’m hoping it will do the same for you.”
Parker turned and, sweaty hands pressed into his pockets, left Mali numb and bewildered with a wicker man at her feet.
“Oh my motherfucking God in heaven,” she whispered and started to run after the others on shaky legs.