It was too hot in Roanoke, he decided. That was why the colony had vanished. It was far too hot. Throughout grammar school and what little high school he’d attended, he’d been taught the story. Other than the headquarters for R. J. Reynolds, it was all his small city had to claim. In 1698, the settlers, 300 in all, had vanished, leaving behind smoking pipes and half-roasted turkeys, clothes set to dry and fish in nets. They had vanished, never to be heard from again. A sudden Indian attack was the popular explanation for the disappearance of the entire population of Roanoke, Virginia, but he knew better. The merchants who discovered the ghost town found no signs of struggle, no stray arrows trapped in trees or cabins, no bloody scalps hanging from posts. He knew better. The July sun had threatened to singe their delicate English faces, to curl their hair into dark strands of ash. They picked up and went North one day, tired of carrying on the fight.
That’s why she left, he decided. Such a frail woman; her laugh like a glass wind chime. That’s why he had come home three days ago to find a cigarette smoldering in the ashtray, an instant pizza in the oven, no Marie in sight, not even a note. She had taken the car. He pictured her driving with the windows rolled down, her dark hair in the cool breeze. She would go to Maine, he thought. She would swim all day long. And if he closed his eyes and thought hard enough, he would be with her too.
Quality control. That was his job. Camel Special, Ultra, and Regular Lights. Random samplings. Only place left in America you could smoke on the job. She worked there too, the early shift, in charge of packaging and loading. It got hot in the factory. So hot you put your head under the bathroom faucet and prayed your hair would stay wet ‘til your next break. Made you old before your time, she’d told him when she found her first wrinkle. Old before your time.
He’d told her he loved her once and she had looked at him like he’d damned them both. Too fragile, he decided. A slip of a girl. He’d searched the apartment 1,000 times. But there were no clues. No secret abortions. No extraordinary childhood traumas. No other man. Just the two of them, their miseries made more palatable by the company. She’d told him she loved him, too.
He’d called the police, of course. Just to be safe. They had their theories. A last minute errand before dinner. Just to the convenience store down the road. A spate of murders throughout his side of town. There was a body they’d found. Half buried under the rocks by the river. He’d identified it for them. Yes, it was Marie, he’d told them because that’s what they’d wanted to hear. They didn’t want to know that she was brave. That she had left. That right now, she was diving off steep rocks into cool cool water. Yes, he thought, if he closed his eyes in this heat that made his heart want to stop. If he tried hard enough. He’d be with her.