After Allen mounted the hides, two bucks and a rabbit, he realized he was flat out of eyes. Connie had taken the truck to work, but these blind glares rattled him, so he walked the mile to the depot and caught the bus to the overpriced craft store in town.
He waited for the crowd to exit the bus, but when he finally tried to board, his head met the crotch of a straggling woman two steps above. Her sagged sweatpants showed a sliver of belly. Sticks of sidewalk chalk stuffed her winter coat’s pockets. Her jowls bobbled wordlessly. He stepped back, and the woman hopped to the ground. She gazed at him as if he’d given her bad news. Before shouldering past, she pushed into his hand a cell phone clutched in a bright pink case.
He didn’t yell back to her. He hadn’t spoken yet today, and he worried phlegm would cloud his shout. Plus, it’d take hours of gutting, tanning, mounting for even a buck to bring in the cash this phone would.
He boarded, paid his fare, chose his seat and tried to turn on the phone. It worked and unlocked at the recognition of his thumb. Icons covered a photo of a girl no older than fifteen with straight blonde hair, some baby fat, a freckle below her lip. Allen spent the whole route scrolling through her pictures. His own daughter would’ve been about this age, and he liked seeing the simple things this girl found beautiful—sunsets, hearts swirled into coffee foam, and her thousand pouts and smirks preserved in self portraits—but the most recent photo was weeks old.
The bus returned him eyeless to the depot at dusk.
“Get what you needed?” Connie was slouched with her right calf resting on the dining room table. She was eating white rice from a white carton.
“Too expensive. I’ll taxidermy cyclopes from now on.”
“Price of gas, price of milk, no one talks about the price of eyes.”
“I’ll drop you at work tomorrow, take the truck to Allentown, and buy in bulk.”
The next morning, after dropping Connie off at the hospital’s staff entrance, he drove to the places the girl had photographed. He recognized the high school entrance he’d walked through decades ago. She’d stood outside the school, but now kids crowded without her. Starbucks in town was empty. He paced the whole mall before finding that bright loud store where she’d posed in a sequined blazer. There were other girls, angry moms, sales clerks asking if he needed help finding a daughter, but she wasn’t there. At sunset, he drove to the quarry. She’d captured light burning on its still water. He parked at its ledge. He’d held off, hadn’t wanted to read her messages, but now he looked.
She’d ignored her mother: When home?
She hadn’t answered Amanda, who’d asked about homework.
She neglected Sean’s pleas: send more, send more, don’t blue ball me…
Allen kept scrolling up and up past Sean’s words until the photo appeared.
He averted his eyes from her bare chest, but her face he still remembers. The light washed out her tan skin, leaving just her cheeks done up a sloppy red, her lips contorted in a silent moan, and her dark eyes unfocused, pointed just above the lens. She seemed to be spilling some manic energy past her skin and disappearing, the way a kid’s last chalk drawing muddles away in a heavy rain.
The sun had left a strip of pink in the sky’s ice gray. Allen lifted the phone, swiped to the camera and tried to get the shot. Only black and glare and burning dust showed up in the flash.