“Lowry Pressly’s “Lisa Hall Smiles” grabbed me off the top and held me in its fierce grip until the very end. I’m still jangly from the experience of reading it. What a beautifully written, graceful, ever-searching, haunting and absolutely mesmerizing story. The details, the language, the relentless momentum, the mystery, the horror, the tenderness and the humour … what can I say? Congratulations on a spectacular achievement.”
—Miriam Toews, Thomas Morton Memorial Prize Judge, 2015
The first foot is found on August 20, 2007, on the shores of Jedediah Island, and it is Lisa Hall who finds it. A size 12 Adidas running shoe with a white sock lolling out like a tongue on an otherwise virgin stretch of sand and stone. When she peers inside Lisa recognizes the sodden cross-section of a human ankle, even though it looks more like wet sand than anything. Later she will tell a reporter for the Richmond News that what surprised her most was not the finding of the foot, but rather her instant recognition of what it was.
Lisa holds the shoe in her lap as the launch skips across the sound, headed back to the mainland. She tries but cannot remember the name of the man piloting the boat. Gulls soar in long arcs in the sky over islands.
Lisa Hall came from Modesto, California, where her father owned a sheetrock hanging business that her mother operated, and where one day, under the belief that a fully-lived life meant saying yes to everything, no matter how repugnant, she watched a video that ruined her forever. She was fourteen years old.
Lisa spent the next nine years running away from home, returning sometimes with bruises on her face or tracks on her arms, a smattering of senseless tattoos, though never in tears, never an inkling of remorse. She always came home more defiant than when she had left, or at least that’s how it seemed to her parents. That’s how it seemed to Lisa, too, though she could not for the life of her understand why that might be.
One day the car Lisa’s mother was driving hit a transfer truck head-on and Lisa’s mother died on the side of the road beside a boy no one had ever heard of, who carried no identification and whose body was never claimed. Lisa was mowing the grass when her father brought the news. She took it in stride, finishing the yard both front and back. Her life had by now acquired a kind of inertia, a feeling of brokenness and inevitability so deep that it was almost holy, so that though everything surprised her, even the inconsequential expressions of strangers, very little really got to her. Like a body in free fall, she understood that she had some control over her life, but that it did not matter much. Lisa tried to explain this to father when she left him for what she knew would be the last time, but it came out all wrong.
Thank you, she said.
After the funeral, where a priest she had never seen before made a vague but impassioned speech on the subject of mystery and punishment, Lisa left Modesto for Richmond, British Columbia because she had read somewhere that city boasted the two largest Buddhist temples in the Western Hemisphere, and because once, in women’s shelter in Northwest Texas, she had seen Richard Gere interview the Dali Lama on television. Lisa’s father gave her two thousand twenty-seven dollars for the trip and a bag full of his clothes and some clothes that had belonged to her mother.
The police identify the model of shoe Lisa found as one sold only in India, a sneaker of distinctively low quality. It makes the national news. Lisa is interviewed. She sees herself on TV.
The phones in the local police detachment ring ceaselessly for more than a week and then fall silent altogether for three days. Calls come in from all over British Columbia and Washington State, Oregon and Alberta, as far away as Nebraska, from people who want to report a missing person, friends or family, most of them male, most of them Indian, all of whom had had disappeared. It is the opinion of one sergeant that many, if not most, call more than once.
A second foot is found less than a week later, also a size 12 running shoe, though Reebok this time, not Adidas, on the shores of Gabriola Island, a sparsely inhabited islet north of Jedediah that is home to nearly 100 petroglyphs dating from around 1,000 B.C. to as recently as 1929. It is a right foot this time.
When she arrives in Richmond, Lisa takes a taxi directly to the Ling Yen Mountain Temple, a perfect replica of one somewhere in China done in lustrous gold, red and green. Gradually it dawns on Lisa that most of the temple’s monks are white—they have the ruddy skin and sincere features of Midwesterners and the sight of them all together in the main hall praying in silence strikes Lisa Hall like a gong whose ringing tone is profound disappointment. She finds the temple of the International Buddhist Society to be more to her liking, more authentic, though in the end she abandons it, too, once she discovers that success in the practice of meditation comes only at a terrible cost: whenever she stills her mind she sees once again the horrible video, though to say that she sees it does not adequately capture the breadth of Lisa Hall’s experience, the way that whenever her mind goes quiet she revisits with all of her senses, all at once, in an overwhelming spiritual onomatopoeia, the horrible thing she had previous only seen. In any event, she is not as sad to leave her second temple as she had been to leave the first, for the discovery of the foot had given her a sense of belonging to something greater than herself in a way that Buddhism never could.
Lisa finds a detached apartment for two hundred dollars a month in back of a Chinese widower’s house and gets a job cleaning exhibits at one of Richmond’s two First Nations museums, where she dusts exquisitely carved canoes once used for war and for fishing. She polishes the bent boxes, the many shamanic masks, intricately carved wooden clubs and tall, wooden totems, Gitxsan and Kwakwaka’wakw poles. Just like that Lisa’s life, at least between the hours of eight and four thirty, overflows with privileged moments. Significance, she thinks, as she stands on the top rung of a ladder seven feet in the air and rubs the beak of a god with an oiled rag. Over and over that word. And Kwakwaka’wakw, practicing, though for what she did not know. Kwakwaka’wakw.
Of all the museum’s employees, there are only two who do not look at Lisa Hall with disdain or malevolent suspicion: a middle-aged woman named Carol, whom Lisa cannot help but hate because of her undeniable likeness to the girlfriend of a man who assaulted her a few years back, in Redding, California, and a Lingít named Daryll, whose skin, it seems to Lisa, is the same tone and texture of the totem poles and clubs she now shines for a living. From her first day she finds herself uncontrollably attracted to Daryll, to the bones of the wiry body she pictures under his loose clothes, shirts and pants always a size or two too big, belts of braided rope and ribbon.
After a while she and Daryll begin to eat their lunches together, apart from the others in a storeroom full of undisplayed exhibits. During one of these meals she tells Daryll why she had left the first temple and he remarks the irony, which Lisa does not appreciate.
There’s a difference between a religion and a museum, she says, though when pressed she cannot put her finger on the distinction. Words like “wound” and “perfection,” “migration” and “Gitxsan” do not even begin to capture the depth of the confusion Daryll that has stirred up in her heart.
One night Daryll suggests that they stay in the museum after hours, and they do. They go up onto the roof where they smoke cigarettes and drink rum out of break room coffee cups as the sun sets into the harbour. Lisa shows Daryll the constellations she remembers from a high school astronomy class, she even makes some up—the hunter, the hourglass and the plow—though Daryll does not seem to notice. He is enjoying himself and the cool, thick air of spring.
I haven’t had sex in more than a year, Lisa says, partly to Daryll, partly to the horizon, partly to the rum she had drunk.
Kwakwaka’wakw, whispers Lisa from force of habit.
It is six months before another foot is found, this one also washed up or deposited on the shores of an island off the coast of mainland British Columbia, a place called Valdes, some fifty kilometres from where the others were found and where evidence of human habitation goes back at least eight thousand years. It is another right foot, presumably a man’s, in a Nike basketball shoe, size 11.
In June, Lisa is fired from the museum for accidentally breaking a Tlingit amulet carved in the form of a land otter with a woman on its back, which she had been inspecting closely. By the end of the week, however, she finds another job at a breakfast place by the wharf frequented by fishermen and the occasional tourist where Daryll’s brother Dwight is the manager. One Sunday the three of them, Lisa, Daryll and Dwight, who could almost be his brother’s twin though he is nine years older, drive up Route 99 in Dwight’s pickup to Lion’s Bay, where there is a nudist beach. Because of how long it takes Dwight and Lisa to close up the diner, and because of heavy traffic in Vancouver—two American football teams had come to play in the False Creek stadium—they do not arrive until late afternoon, by which time the beach is empty, if anyone had ever been there in the first place. A thin stretch of sand by the highway, grey water and rocks.
Dwight parks on the far side of the road and the two brothers get undressed right there on the shoulder, throwing their clothes in the bed of the truck. Lisa watches them without moving a finger toward the buttons of her shirt or jeans, still as a statue. She marvels at the color of their flesh, the same burnished tone that she had been so drawn to on Daryll’s face and hands, the hewn look of their muscles, their identical brother’s cocks. Perhaps Dwight is a little plumper, probably because he eats the diner’s food, Lisa reasons, and compared to his brother, at least, it looks like Daryll trims his pubis. The brothers hardly seem to notice her as each takes a handle of a metal ice chest. They lift it from the truck bed and carry it across the highway, toward the beach without a word to Lisa. She watches them go, watches the backs of the two naked brothers walking toward the spuming sea, the shining cooler suspended between them. The sea, the shore, all of it is like a fire that threatens to engulf her, rising toward the sky.
On June 16, 2008 a left foot in a men’s size 11 Nike is discovered on Westham Island. The Chief of Police in Delta, the nearest town to Westham, orders a DNA test even though everybody knows about the other size 11 Nike that had been found on Valdes Island, no more than thirty kilometres to the north and west as the crow flies. And, to the surprise of no one, the tests confirm that the fourth foot is indeed the pair of the third. It is suggested in the Delta Optimist that perhaps the cave tunnel to Valdes is involved. The Optimist devotes a whole column to describing the cave whose mouth opens in the center of that island, its extension beneath the bay in the direction of Westham, the rockfalls and flooding that have prevented anyone from exploring the passage in its entirety. Few take this suggestion seriously, though among those who do is a retired fisherman and net mender living on Valdes named Clyde Begat. When he read about the fourth severed foot discovered on the shores of the Salish Sea he descended that very day into the cave and set about clearing the tunnel of obstructions. At present he has spent nearly two thousand consecutive days underground breaking and rearranging the stone, state and federal holidays excluded.
One morning in July, Clyde Begat, who had come into Richmond for a meeting of the Nuxalk Nation in the hopes of raising money or labour to assist him in clearing the tunnel, comes to the diner for breakfast and sits at one of Lisa Hall’s tables, though she did not know him. He is just another Indian to her, a kind and tired looking man who tips exactly eighteen percent, down to the penny. That night she lies in bed with Daryll and dreams of maps without geography and ghosts who never lived, and the next morning she reads in the paper that four feet—that is, three others than the one she had held in her lap—had already been found on shores not far from where she now lived.
Lisa and Daryll go to the movies, mostly horror and adventure. They share meals at the houses of Daryll’s friends where they eat bland, palatable food made with tenderness and expectation. For the first time since she was a teenager, Lisa Hall goes out on proper dates.
She begins to talk a lot about what she calls the reverse side of presence, which for her is not absence but something else. Whatever it is, Daryll does not feel like helping her understand it.
It sounds like you’re talking about the wind, he tells her.
The next foot is discovered on August 1st by a woman who wishes to remain anonymous. She stumbles across it on the mainland of Washington State, near the mouth of the Pysht River on the very site where in 1900 a Klallam village, ceded to the natives in the Point No Point Treaty of 1855, was razed while the villagers were out netting ducks. That the foot is found here is significant to both Clyde Begat and Lisa Hall—who had, unbeknownst to one another, of course, each begun to scour all the area papers they could get their hands on for news of severed feet—because they both know the story of how when the Klallam villagers returned with their haul of coot, mallard and bufflehead they found a blank space where their village had been, of how the youth were confused and assumed that they had made some sort of mistake and that their homes were elsewhere, while the elderly acted as if all their lives they had been expecting their homes to vanish just as soon as they were out of sight. After DNA testing, the foot inside the Size 10 Asics running shoe is determined by the Clallam County authorities to be of human origin.
Lisa spends New Year’s Eve with Daryll and Dwight and their extended family, which, as it turns out, means half the neighbourhood, at a potlatch held in a large Quonset hut behind the house of Daryll’s uncle, who cleared out his earth-moving equipment for the party. Lisa is happy to discover that she is the only white person there, among Snuneymuxw, Klallam and Lingíts, all of whom welcome her warmly, each taking time to explain the origins of the tradition, the ancient ceremony of gifts in which powerful men once challenged one another to see who could give away or to destroy the most worldly goods. They tell her how the potlatch was forced underground by strict bans in Canada and the United States but continued in secret, under threat of imprisonment or worse, and how they had all been taught in school that it was a useless custom, wasteful, unproductive and therefore uncivilized. Lisa gets the feeling that each smiling face opening itself to her in an expression of graciousness says, it’s your fault, but we will not blame you for it. She panics when she realizes that she brought nothing to give, she blames herself even though she had not known—that is until Daryll hands her a pint of gin from inside his coat. She hates gin, but she takes a sip from the bottle anyway to show her gratitude and then trades it to one of Daryll’s cousins for a plastic bag filled with seashells and a copper bracelet from the man’s own arm. She puts the band around her ankle where she hopes it might pass unseen. For a time, she remembers Christmases in Modesto.
If you do not give more than you receive tonight, Daryll tells her, then you have failed, but what Lisa hears is that not everyone will succeed. Someone has to lose.
As the night wears on everyone gets very drunk, even the shrunken grandmothers, who appear to take a youthful, transgressive delight in playing Glen Miller and Artie Shaw on the turntable that the uncle brought in for the party. At midnight Lisa kisses Daryll, who tastes like gin and cigarettes, which to her becomes the taste of the sea. She kisses the man beside him, who turns out to be his brother Dwight. She dances to the old jazz like an excited child.
Daryll introduces Lisa to his cousin, Hazel Sampson, the sole living speaker of the Klallam language left on earth. The two women stand against the wall for an hour and watch the dancers, Hazel holding tightly onto Lisa’s hand. Lisa feels like she is living in someone else’s happy memory. Gifts and dancing and cheap, sweet wine. The old woman’s squeezing bony fingers.
A voice whispers in her ear in a language Lisa Hall does not recognize. She turns and sees Dwight, his face glowing from drink and dance. He says some words in English now and she follows him out the back door of the Quonset hut. They walk a few dozen yards up the slope of a hill covered in tall cedars and fat Douglas firs where he asks her to sit beside him and she does. The smell of the trees is everywhere. On the walk up the hill that smell had made Lisa’s head swim, but now, all of a sudden, she feels perfectly sober, and her sobriety is like a flash of unwanted insight. Through the trees they can still see the Quonset hut below, the outskirts of the city, the lights of cars moving slowly through the black spaces of streets. After a while Dwight speaks again.
Do you know what Daryll gave me?
He gave me you.
You’re a liar, Lisa says calmly, her eyes following two cars moving close together down a wide street in the middle distance. That didn’t sound like Daryll, and yet the sight of the town below seemed to contradict her. Everything down there was so self-evident, so undeniable.
He did, Dwight says, he told me he was leaving in the morning and wanted to give me something before he left, not just me—us—those were his words. He said he didn’t want you to be alone while he was gone.
There is a period in which neither one says anything. Lisa finds herself agreeing with what Dwight said—she does not think it wise to be alone while Daryll is gone, either—and she hates herself for it.
Is he really leaving? she asks, looking now at her white shoes, scuffed black from dancing and speckled now with mud.
Lisa insists that they take all their clothes off. Dwight wants to do it standing up, but she says, No, so Dwight lies down on his side and props his head on the pile of his carefully folded clothes.
No, she says again. The other way.
As soon as he is inside her Lisa’s intoxication comes washing back over her like a warm, delicious tide. The muffled music from the party continues below, briefly louder now and then when someone opens the back door. Thank you god, she says out loud, though she doesn’t believe in god and had only meant to say it to herself. But then Dwight says it too, he shouts as if his life had just been spared. Lisa is embarrassed for him, but she tries not to let on.
They stay on the hill for a while, listening to the same side of Glen Miller play over and over and the who? who? of a Snowy Owl hidden somewhere in the night. They smell the fragrance of man and woman, sweat and sex and mud and the sweet scent of the firs, and they watch the tops of the trees nodding to one another in the moonlight. When they come down the hill they find one of the frail old women on her hands and knees, vomiting wine in the light of the open door. Lisa hears the owl again.
That morning what appear to be human bones inside a rubber boot are found floating just off shore at a dog park near the Vancouver Maritime Museum.
It turned out that Dwight had told her the truth about his brother, and that night when she got back to the party, Daryll was already gone. She sat on a metal folding chair in a corner and wept. Some women came to comfort her, including Hazel Sampson, though perhaps because of the late hour and how much they had drunk they old ladies ended up draping themselves over Lisa in the golden light and shadow.
It would be another week before she could get Dwight to tell her that Daryll had left for Los Angeles, where he planned to live with an uncle who had gotten rich, by their standards at least, working as a bounty hunter. Dwight invites Lisa to come live with him in Steveston Harbour, on the old seining boat he kept there, and not long after she takes him up on the offer, though she makes it clear to him with a hateful frequency that she is still in love with his brother, and always would be.
When he comes back, Dwight says, you can go to him.
When he comes back, I can go to him.
There is a lull until October, when a foot in a size 8½ Nike is found on a beach outside Richmond. By now Lisa Hall has almost forgotten the mystery that had once so captivated her, though she still has all the newspaper clippings, horded in a little bentwood box Daryll made for her.
In a press conference picked up by the international news media as a lark, the Mayor of Richmond implores the citizens of North America to join him in searching for the feet that had not been found—those other feet have to be somewhere, he says, there is no alternative—though it is unclear whether anyone takes him seriously other than the citizens of Inuvik, whose name, which means the place of man, comes from an old story about a hunter who died and came back to life as a pair of dancing feet, as well as a few small towns in Guerrero, Mexico, where it must be admitted that thousands heed the mayor’s call. Lisa and Dwight are watching the little TV in the cabin of Dwight’s boat when they see the Mayor hold up the size 8½ Nike like a state record fish or a sacred banner.
On November 16, not long after the mayor’s press conference, a right foot belonging to a juvenile of indeterminate sex is found with neither shoe nor sock on the same muddy beach outside Richmond. The foot shows no signs of decomposition. The fisherman who found it tells the paper that the little foot was in such perfect condition that he almost expected to see a body connected to it, like maybe there was a body there he was just going crazy. He tells anyone who will listen how cold it looked.
News of the child’s foot hits Lisa hard. For three weeks she hardly speaks and refuses to leave the boat. She sings a song to herself that is the rocking motion of the sea and which Dwight mistakes for moaning.
Dwight is forced to replace her at the diner. He constantly reassures Lisa that a manager’s salary is more than sufficient for two and that in any case she always has a job at the diner if she ever wants to go back. At Lisa’s request he brings her all the newspapers he can find, those from Richmond and Vancouver and Seattle, as well as the papers from the smaller islands he finds at the ferryport. Also books about anatomy, human evolution, anything to do with the foot.
One day Dwight suggests that they unmoor and go cruise the islands to see if they can find any feet, and he sees Lisa’s face brighten instantly. Like I flicked a light switch, he says to himself, shaving in the mirror of his boat’s tiny head, overflowing with joy.
They explore the Straits of Georgia, Rosario and Juan de Fuca, the Puget and Desolation Sounds, and though they come across no severed feet they do find a kind of abandoned gladness. They draw toward one another in a shared sense of escape and immensity as they discover for themselves the wild isles of Dwight’s ancestral fishing grounds, places he had never been with names he has trouble pronouncing. They follow unknowingly in the footsteps of the continent’s first settlers and their lovemaking is freer and more satisfying than ever.
On these excursions Dwight teaches Lisa about the unpredictable ocean currents in the straits, how he figures they could carry a foot as far as a thousand miles, how a human body can remain intact for as much as thirty years in the ocean, longer than Lisa has been alive. He tells her how immigrants comprise sixty percent of Richmond’s population, more than any other place in Canada. The most popular radio program is “Overseas Chinese Voice.” They listen to it sometimes on the boat between islands. On Lasqueti, Lisa clears a blanket of moss from a boulder and uncovers a picture of the sun carved into the stone. A migrating colony of heron. The skull of a bear, the skeleton of a rotted canoe.
Lisa is delighted to learn that, unlike his brother, Dwight appears to be highly knowledgeable on the subject of the Lingít religion. Though he cannot describe any specific beliefs or practices, he tells many stories, tales of fish that turned to women, a congress of bears, a man who could see now like a hawk, now like a mouse, now like a tree, now like a worm. In a moment of inspiration by Phillips Arm he tells her how all song has its origin in the shushing of the wind through the northern pines, and how the sound of sandbanks sloughing into the tide was once the germ of human speech.
Most of these stories he invents because he can see that they please her, and if Lisa could have told the difference between truth and lie she would not have cared. For her, the telling of the tale takes on the significance of ritual, revelation, divine justice and forgiveness all at once. One day Dwight offers to write it all down for her, so Lisa can read the stories while he is away at work and she looks as if she has just tasted something bitter.
Do you want to ruin everything? she asks.
No, he says.
On Boxing Day some teenagers camping on Sasamat Lake come across a size 12 Cougar brand boot with blue felt lining and the remains of a left foot inside. The foot is identified as belonging to a man named Stefan Zahorujko who had been missing since 1987. This discovery casts into doubt two leading theories, one that the feet belonged to men and women who committed suicide by jumping off the region’s many bridges and whose feet had gotten stuck in the muddy bottom only to resurface many years later after the rest of the body had decomposed and detached; the other theory held that the feet belonged to men, women and children killed in a recent Asian Tsunami. Lisa had been convinced that something more mystical than all that had been at work, but now she does not know what to think.
She spends New Year’s with Dwight on his boat, two miles out into the open ocean. As the sun starts to sink into the horizon Lisa takes of her clothes and dives from the bow into the gilded train of that star’s reflection, like a golden river parting the sea in which Lisa now swims away from the rocking boat. Right away Dwight begins to worry that she does not intend to turn back. After a while he is sure of it, and his panic gives way to acceptance and then to sadness, finally to the huge vacuous music of the wind in the rigging.
When Lisa returns, Dwight helps her up the ladder and onto the deck. Her chest is heaving. Dwight wraps her in a towel. It is the most beautiful moment of his life. There is someone here who is shivering, he says to himself with a sense of certainty that makes him feel huge, out of all proportion with the world, with even the endless sea, a giant.
I didn’t know you were such a swimmer, he says, just to say something, and she tells him that she practices around the moored boat while he is away at work.
Dawn at sea after a sleepless night. The cries of gulls, the smell of the spray, the soothing thrum of an engine.
An eleventh foot is found on the shores of False Creek, Vancouver, floating next to the Plaza of Nations Arena. On the same day a twelfth foot with painted toes is discovered in a plastic garbage bag under a canal bridge in Seattle. It is the first the first one found with lower leg attached.
In April word comes that Daryll has died. When Dwight tells Lisa she tries to drown herself by grabbing a large block pulley and jumping overboard. Dwight dives in after her—he is astounded by the strength of her fingers. After that nobody will tell Lisa what happened to Daryll, so she fears the worst. One night she dreams that what she had seen in that horrible video had happened to Daryll—she watched it happen to him, those unspeakable things—a terrible dream from which she is rescued by Dwight, shaking her by the arms. What is it? he asks. You were calling my name.
The California uncle smuggles Daryll’s body across the border in the luggage hold of a Greyhound bus, wrapped in clothes and stuffed in an extra-long duffel bag. The extended family gathers in the parking lot of the bus terminal to meet them, Lisa barefoot and in a black T-shirt, Dwight wearing a black cowboy hat too big for his head that he spotted by the roadside on the way to the terminal. He thought it would cheer her up, though now he worries that it might harbour head lice or chiggers. A bus pulls in and Lisa’s heart leaps for every man who gets down until a short man with long grey hair and a sweatshirt emblazoned with the word HOLLYWOOD steps out and beckons the family to follow him alongside the bus.
Dwight helps him pull the heavy blue duffel out of the bus’s luggage hold and set it on the asphalt amid the crowd of other families, other passengers with other bags. Songs of welcome, cries of gulls who have mistaken this place for water. The uncle shakes hands with the men and the women who have come to meet him, leaving Dwight by the silver bus holding on to a corner of the long bag concealing his brother’s body.
Dwight, the uncle, and four other men carry the sagging duffel like pallbearers across the parking lot. Gulls lift and settle down. Lisa and the rest trail behind. She can see that Dwight is crying, but that he is also smiling: his teeth the colour of distant clouds over open water. They slide the bag into the open bed of Dwight’s truck and the uncle slams shut the tailgate.
They drive straight to the cemetery, Lisa and Dwight in the cab of his truck, the uncle and two of his brothers in the bed with the body. Lisa watches them in the rear view mirror and can see the men yelling against the wind. They two brothers, holding on to their hats, shout to the uncle whose long hair whips about his weathered face. Questions about the women in Los Angeles, the weather in Hollywood, and so on.
There is a short, improvised ceremony. A few of Daryll’s aunts speak words in their native tongue or tongues, Lisa cannot tell. To her, the words all sound like those Dwight whispered in her ear the night before Daryll left. She remembers the word Kwakwaka’wakw, but cannot call to mind the thing it names. Daryll’s parents hold on to one another during the service and then, after they had taken turns throwing dirt on the coffin, they walk off on their own in the direction of a nearby line of trees. Dwight and the uncle in the HOLLYWOOD sweatshirt finish the shovelling. Lisa watches them and she watches the woods where the parents have gone and she watches the empty sky, which is the heavy color of the sea, trying all the while to say to herself the words she had just heard and hearing them changed with every repetition, eventually hearing them all turn into Kwakwaka’wakw, to stone, timeless, senseless, and for the first time in her life Lisa Hall feels as if she is saying exactly what she means.
That night they hold a wake in the Quonset hut. No one brings anything to drink, and Lisa resents the whole family tree for this, though only for a second. She is always feeling ways she does not want to feel.
Lisa notices one of the grandmothers sitting in a chair by the door, the same woman she had seen vomiting at the New Year’s party, curled into herself, and it occurs to Lisa that inside that woman is a powerful center of gravity, an inner core that pulls at the world around her, tugging the surface of things away from the things themselves, if only by a millimeter, while also threatening to collapse the fragile frame of the old woman, who appears to maintain her hunched posture and stave off implosion only by an extraordinary strength of will, a wild centrifugal force of spirit.
Inspired, Lisa goes over to the record player and puts on the Glen Miller Orchestra. The family turns and looks at her as if spotting for the first time an interloper, who had also been the one responsible for Daryll’s death, her and not some mystery they all refused to share. Even Dwight sneers, Dwight who loves her more than his boat, more than his dead brother. She has seen that look before, in Redding, in Flagstaff, in Modesto on her father’s doorstep, and she now knows that she will have to leave, that she will never be at home.
She tells Dwight that she is going to get some air and she leaves the hut, stopping on her way out to return the copper bracelet to the man who had given it to her, or someone who very much resembles him.
On May 4, a men’s size 10 Reebok basketball shoe is found in a freshwater pool on Cortes Island. Inside are what the British Columbia Coroner’s Office describes as “possible human remains.”
The next few years are both blurred and discontinuous. For Lisa Hall everything seems to run together with a confused indifference, like a map left out in the rain. She buys an atlas and travels by bus and hitches to towns either in or near native lands, stopping sometimes for as little as a few hours, sometimes for as much as nine months or a year before moving on to the next site that calls to her from the atlas’s index, place names like Window Rock, Pays Plat and Zuni, words that are also promises and places that are inevitably desolate, towns without hope where she wanders the streets as she had in her youth, striking up conversations with anyone she finds, though with the significant difference that she is no longer so afraid all the time. She tells herself that the story of her life is both simple and straightforward, though it remains nonetheless incomprehensible. That nothing bad can happen that has not already come to pass, she tells anyone who will listen.
In Neshoba, Mississippi, Lisa meets a teenage girl who dreamt one night about an empty plain covered in strange kind of grass and woke the next morning speaking fluent Natchez, a language thought to have been extinct. The girl, who has been interviewed many times before by journalists, linguists and priests, asks Lisa why she uses neither tape recorder nor note pad. I have a great memory, she tells the girl, though what she had meant to say was that she was very bad at forgetting.
It is widely assumed that local children are responsible for the nearly two-dozen shoes found in 2014 with the feet of animals inside. Sneakers tied together by the laces and slung over power lines begin to take on strange meanings for residents of the region. An incomprehensible understanding creeps in like a fog from the Pacific.
Meanwhile, Lisa Hall is two thousand miles away, in Isabel, South Dakota, where one night a man with no family in the world named John Sampson picks her up at a country music bar frequented by oil hands, hard men from all over. Sampson is a local, however, a Cheyenne by heritage, he thinks, though he isn’t sure. When Lisa asks him if he is any kin to Hazel Sampson he says that he does not think so but that it is possible, as they dance the two-step, a dance neither of them knows how to do.
When he asks her to move in Lisa feels a tremendous sense of relief. She is weary of her drifting and had been hoping for something like this to happen, though she would have also been satisfied with a pen pal or a class on watercolour painting. John treats her well, though he is gone most of the time, and within a year and a half Lisa gives birth to a son that they name John, after his father. Lisa is surprised by her natural affinity for motherhood, she senses that the boy’s tiny mouth and her left nipple—only the left, for some reason—are as magnets, forever tugging toward one another, away from all else, no matter how distant in space or in time. She tells the child that she would do anything for him, though she knows better than anyone that she is nearly powerless.
One day she tells John Sampson that the boy ought to meet his grandfather and John, an orphan from the age of eight, agrees, though he cannot go with her, nor can he offer his truck, since to take days off, he says, is as good as to give over your spot to the next dude in a line that stretches from Isabel to Florida and back again. He gave her all the money he had and held her for a long time before she boarded the bus without a hope in his heart of seeing her or his son ever again.
What a world, Lisa says to the sleeping child as the bus rocks along through desert and painted mountains, not long ago I saw a body arrive on a bus just like this one, and now I am taking my own child back to California to meet his grandfather. She looks into the boy’s sleeping face and thinks for the first time in a long while about the feet washed up on the shores of the Salish Sea, the human foot she had carried in her lap, the expanse of the Pacific, the silent dawn out on the open ocean, beyond any sight of land. I would do anything for you, she whispers.
Another right foot is discovered on December 5, 2014 inside a boy’s size 6 Ozark hiking boot on the tidal flats of Tacoma, Washington, more than 150 miles south of the Salish Sea. The boot is in remarkable condition, from which the authorities are able to determine that the foot can be no more than ten or eleven years old. The schoolteacher who finds it, and who also insists on anonymity, tells reporters that even though at first he did not look inside the boot, he had known immediately that there was a foot secreted within. When pressed further he says that sometimes you just know.
Lisa takes a taxi to her house but finds someone else living there, a couple in their early thirties who invite her in out of the rain and explain in their kitchen over iced tea that they have never heard of her father. They bought the house from a woman by the name of Bridgewater.
Can I have a look around?
We’d rather you didn’t, says the young man.
I’m sure you understand, says his wife.
Can I use your phone at least?
Of course, says the woman who takes the child from Lisa’s arms.
Lisa calls John’s apartment knowing that he will be out on some rig or another. She hopes to leave a message and tell him that she will be returning sooner than she had planned, but after only two rings someone else picks up. A woman’s voice.
Who is this?
Who is this?
This is Lisa Hall, says Lisa. Who is this?
This is John Sampson.
After a pause she says it again. The tone of the woman’s voice makes it sounds like an accusation, but also a plea. Lisa asks if she can call back and leave a message for John and the woman says something Lisa does not understand and hangs up. Lisa calls back and after what feels like an eternity the machine picks up. This is John Sampson, leave a message, says a man’s voice that both sounds like John and doesn’t. His phone is very far away, she reasons, lots of line for that voice to travel. Still, she does not know what to say. Then, after a moment of silence, without thinking, as if she is merely the conduit through which the words flow, she retells one of Dwight’s stories, the one about the man who could see the world like a hawk, and a worm, and a tree, and when she hangs up the phone she turns she sees the man and the woman holding her child. She can tell they are afraid of her. Lisa Hall smiles.
On the first day of January, 2015 a foot is discovered on the banks of the Frasier River, not far from Westham Island, a woman’s left foot in a sneaker of indeterminate color surrounded by the iridescent orbs of Salmon eggs, like beautiful beads unstrung among foot-long dew worms.
Lisa gets as far as Seattle before her money runs out. She considers hitching, but worries about the child, and in the end decides to stay in Seattle until she can scrounge fare for the bus.
It is an extraordinary thing to stand on any corner in America with a baby in your arms and not a penny to your name. Lisa feels like a ghost or an angel on the sidewalks of the city’s business district. In a park called Pioneer Square, Lisa sees a boy holding a cardboard sign with the very words she had heard Richard Gere say to the Dali Lama so many years ago in Northwest Texas: Your Helplessness is Your Strength. It does not strike her as any great coincidence, but her feet hurt, so she decides to take a seat on the bench beside him. After a while, she strikes up a conversation. The boy’s name is Dill and he also comes from California, a suburb of San Diego that he swears has no name. They talk for a while. They laugh together at a child chasing pigeons and when they have finished Lisa feels as if she has known Dill all her life.
When it gets dark Dill takes Lisa and the child for dinner at a nearby Au Bon Pain, and afterward they walk along the freeway to where the Dill lives, a squatter’s camp called The Jungle on the steep slope of a hill overlooking the city. Dill carries the child for a time and Lisa feels the weight of the previous decade lift from her shoulders, though she knows that any alleviation is only temporary, that it always comes crashing back down. But she does not care. She waves at the oncoming traffic.
On the edge of The Jungle, Lisa, Dill and the child sit on a rock littered with cigarette butts and magazines ruined by the rain. They watch the lights of the city below, the skyline of Seattle live and silent as a coral reef. The child cries from time to time when he is hungry or cold and when he does Lisa feeds him without thought or effort. It seems like Dill has not stopped talking since dinner, not even pausing to breathe, but then suddenly he stops, and the silence—which is to say the sounds of cooking fires and fights behind her and the hum of the city down below—threatens to engulf Lisa Hall, so she tells Dill her story. He is amazed by the part about the museum, though the rest seems to bore him. He gestures behind them toward the camp of tattered tents and cardboard lean-tos erected next to mounds of stinking, sodden cardboard.
Everybody here has a story exactly like that, he says, and then he points at the city below as if, it seems to Lisa, to say, them too, though she knows that is not possible. Dill yells down at the city for a few minutes and then they go back to his tent to sleep under some filthy blankets.
Hello, he calls. Hello! Hello!
It does not take Lisa long to feel crowded and oppressed by the stench of Dill’s unwashed body, so she takes some of the blankets and the child in her arms and goes out to the rock overlooking the city. She lies on her back with her son sleeping still as a stone upon her chest. The air above is immense, the world without limit. I am the only one here, she thinks, and a shiver of joy that is equal parts fear and elation runs through her body. Some rustling in the undergrowth below. I am alone in the world, Lisa says. In the hours before dawn Lisa Hall falls asleep with a smirk on her face.
On June 13, 2015, a human foot is found in a white New Balance sneaker by the Pier 86 grain terminal in Seattle.
Two days later, a red and gold size 11 Nike is discovered on a beach in the East Redonda Ecological Reserve surrounded by the prints and droppings of a Great Blue Heron.
On the twelfth of December, a man out looking for arrowheads on the shores of the Salish Sea comes across a size 10 Reebok and knows.
Lowry Pressly is a writer of fiction, essays, and criticism. His work has appeared, among other places, in The Point, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Jurist. He recently completed a novel, Nachtmusik. Lowry is from Statesville, North Carolina, though he currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.