THE GRAND CANYON
Scarlett Thomas has been my best friend for as long as I can remember. That’s why I knew when she called me at Sisterhood Camp, during the worst week of my life, that something was wrong even before she said it. Just by her voice on the other end of the line. I knew.
“It’s Michael,” she said quietly. Her words crackled over distance. “Michael Sherwood.”
“What about him?” The camp director, a woman named Ruth with short hair and Birkenstocks, shifted impatiently beside me. At Sisterhood Camp, we were supposed to be Isolated from the Pressures of Society in order to Improve Ourselves as Women. We weren’t supposed to get phone calls. Especially not at midnight on a Tuesday, rousing you out of your creaky camp bed and through the woods to a room too bright and a phone that weighed heavily in your hand.
Scarlett sighed. Something was up. “What about him?” I repeated. The camp director rolled her eyes this time, thinking, I was sure, that this was no emergency.
“He’s dead.” Scarlett’s voice was flat, even, as if she were reciting multiplication tables. I could hear clinking and splashing in the background.
“Dead?” I said. The camp director looked up, suddenly concerned, and I turned away. “How?”
“A motorcycle accident. This afternoon. He got hit by a car on Shortcrest.” More splashing, and suddenly I realized she was washing dishes. Scarlett, always capable, would do house-work during a nuclear holocaust.
“He’s dead,” I repeated, and the room seemed very small suddenly, cramped, and as the camp director put her arm around me I shook her off, stepping away. I pictured Scarlett at the sink in cutoffs and a T-shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, phone cocked between her ear and shoulder. “Oh, my God.”
“I know, ” Scarlett said, and there was a great gurgling noise as water whooshed down her sink. She wasn’t crying. “I know.”
We sat there on the line for what seemed like the longest time, the buzzing in the background the only sound. I wanted to crawl through the phone right then, popping out on the other side in her kitchen, beside her. Michael Sherwood, a boy we’d grown up with, a boy one of us had loved. Gone.
“Halley?” she said softly, suddenly.
“Can you come home?”
I looked out the window at the dark and the lake beyond, the moon shimmering off of it. It was the end of August, the end of summer. School started in one week; we’d be juniors this year.
“Halley?” she said again, and I knew it was hard for her to even ask. She’d never been the one who needed me.
“Hold on,” I said to her in that bright room, the night it all began. “I’m on my way.”
Michael Alex Sherwood died at 8:55 P.M. on August thirteenth. He was turning left onto Morrisville Avenue from Shortcrest Drive when a businessman in a BMW hit him dead on, knocking him off the motorcycle he’d only had since June and sending him flying twenty feet. The paper said he died on impact, the bike a total loss. It wasn’t his fault. Michael Sherwood was sixteen years old.
He was also the only boy Scarlett had ever truly loved. We’d known him since we were kids, almost as long as we’d known each other. Lakeview, our neighborhood, sprawled across several streets and cul-de-sacs, bracketed only by wooden posts and hand-carved signs, lined in yellow paint: Welcome to Lakeview—A Neighborhood of Friends. One year some high-school students had gone around and crossed out the rs in Friends, leaving us a Neighborhood of Fiends, something my father found absolutely hysterical. It tickled him so much, my mother often wondered aloud if he’d done it himself.
The other distinguishing characteristic of Lakeview was the new airport three miles away, which meant a constant stream of airplanes taking off and landing. My father loved this, too; he spent most evenings out on the back porch, looking up excitedly at the sky as the distant rumblings got louder and louder, closer and closer, until the white nose of a plane would burst out overhead, lights blinking, seeming powerful and loud enough to sweep us all along with it. It drove our neighbor Mr. Kramer to high blood pressure, but my father reveled in it. To me, it was something normal. I hardly stirred, even when I slept, as the glass in my windows shook with the house.
The first time I saw Scarlett was the day she and her mother, Marion, moved in. I was eleven. I was sitting by my window, watching the movers, when I saw a girl just my age, with red hair and blue tennis shoes. She was sitting on the front steps of her new house, watching them cart furniture in, her elbows propped on her knees, chin in her hands, wearing heart-shaped sunglasses with white plastic frames. And she completely ignored me as I came up her front walk, stood in the thrown shade of the awning, and waited for her to say something. I’d never been good at friendships; I was too quiet, too mousy, and tended to choose bossy, mean girls who pushed me around and sent me home crying to my mother. Lakeview, A Neighborhood of Fiends, was full of little fiendettes on pink bicycles with Barbie carrying cases in their white, flower-appliquéd baskets. I’d never had a best friend.
So I walked up to this new girl, her sunglasses sending my own reflection back at me: white T-shirt, blue shorts, scuffed Keds with pink socks. And I waited for her to laugh at me or send me away or maybe just ignore me like all the bigger girls did.
“Scarlett?” a woman’s voice came from inside the screen door, sounding tired and flustered. “What did I do with my checkbook?”
The girl on the steps turned her head. “On the kitchen counter,” she called out in a clear voice. “In the box with the realtor’s stuff.”
“The box with—” The voice came back, uneven, as if its owner was moving around. “—the realtor’s stuff, hmmm, honey I don’t think it’s here. Oh, wait. Yes. Here it is!” The woman sounded triumphant, as if she’d discovered the North-west Passage, which we’d just learned about at the end of the school year.
The girl turned back and looked at me, kind of shaking her head. I remember thinking for the first time how she seemed old for her age, older than me. And I got that familiar fiendette pink-bicycle feeling.
“Hey,” she said to me suddenly, just as I was planning to turn back and head home. “My name’s Scarlett.”
“I’m Halley,” I said, trying to sound as bold as she had. I’d never had a friend with an unusual name; all the girls in my classes were Lisas and Tammys, Carolines and Kimberlys. “I live over there.” I pointed across the street, right to my bedroom window.