Limberlost

Limberlost was named Loblolly Marsh until the night Limber Jim got lost and never came back. Limberlost is a real place, an enormous swamp preserved by the state. I’ve never been there, but I have memories of it from reading the book as a kid. Mia would be ten now, and we would be reading it together and planning those trips now. In my mind, though, we’ve already gone a thousand times. My memories are of a place I’ve never been and events that never happened. My mind is its own Limberlost – a swampland full of moths, dragonflies, and Indian relics. A place to search for treasure, to get lost, to drown.

I saw Becky the other day. What else could make me go on like this now?

Grocery-basketed Becky. Highlighted-hair Becky. Baby-Bjorn Becky. I instinctively hid my face and tried to hide from the moment. Was it her? Unmistakably. Would I reveal myself? Make her see me? Make her see me see her baby? Even if I wanted that, I wasn’t sure I could do it. The grocery aisle became a swampland beneath my feet. I might sink into the ground, and would she notice? Would she stop it from happening?

I hadn’t seen her since that day. Someone took over my classes for the rest of the semester, and Becky disappeared. Maybe she found a way out of this town. Maybe she returns every year to see her patchwork family. Or maybe she only came now because of the baby. Her baby.

“What’s her name?” I said. I don’t recall making the decision to reveal myself, but I was suddenly standing beside her, sinking really, as she surveyed rows of pasta sauce. The baby strapped to her had a pink hat.

“Hmm?” Becky looked distracted but prepared to tolerate a stranger’s pleasantries. I remember so clearly. How the faces of strangers were never kinder than when Mia was with me.

But when Becky turned to me, her distracted expression transformed to something else, something as apt and empty as her Compositions once were, as cryptic as the buttons on her messenger bag. I’m sure my own expression changed upon seeing her so close, these ten years’ hence, the scent of a newborn between us.

Winter was once again settling into its deep chill. “Home for the holidays?” I said.

“Yes.” She covered the baby’s pink hat with her left hand. “I live out east. Boston area.”

Not only did she have new hair, tasteful makeup, a new town, a baby—she had a wedding ring, a big one. Some do make it out of this town, apparently. Some do get their happy ending. Who would have thought it would be Becky? But at the end of the Limberlost novel, even Elnora Comstock marries the man she loves and finally gets her mother’s love, her happy ending.

“You look well,” I said.

She winced, as if her bounty hurt her more than it hurt me.

“You’re still here,” she said in a low voice. It came out a question, one that I felt compelled to answer. But neither of us wanted to hear about how I couldn’t leave Mia, and how, even if I’d wanted to, I had nowhere to go.

Forget all those things I told myself about mimes and crows. Here’s what I finally knew: I’m a ghost. A woman who wandered into this swamp of a town, got lost, and never made it out.

So like a ghost, I disappeared from the store, leaving my half-filled cart in the aisle, leaving Becky there with her baby and her ring and her life.

But first I looked into Becky’s eyes and found an answer I could give her.

What I told her was this: “I’m from here now.”

Kelcey Parker is the author of For Sale By Owner (Kore Press), winner of the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Award in Short Fiction, and the forthcoming book, Liliane’s Balcony, set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house. She directs the creative writing program at Indiana University South Bend, which is just a couple hours from Limberlost Swamp, setting of Gene Porter Stratton’s novel, The Girl from Limberlost.