One night while Tim was camping with his brothers, Shauna and Katy arrived on Becca’s front steps, each with a six-pack in tow.
“We wanted to make sure you weren’t holed up in your pajamas and talking to the cat or something,” Shauna said.
The girls sat on a blanket in the backyard drinking beer while the cat sprinted in odd formations throughout the yard. Katy was a friend from SUNY-Franklin and had worked at the student newspaper with Becca. Becca helped Katy get a job as a temp at Adirondack Mailing Solutions and when Becca quit for the graduate school job, Katy was picked as her replacement. Already, Katy despised the place with a virulence that Becca didn’t acquire until her second year of employment with the place.
“Fuck that place, seriously,” Katy said. “I’m getting on Craigslist first thing tomorrow.”
“Come on, Katy, pet the cat and chill out,” Becca suggested.
Shauna swirled the beer bottle and gazed out at the dark yard. “We should do something heroic.”
“Fuck yes,” Katy said, taking a swig.
“A moonlit walk.”
“Why the hell not?” Katy nodded. “Yes, yes, I like this idea.”
“We could climb Waldo. Right now. Up to the summit.”
From Becca’s house, the trailhead of Mt. Waldo was about a twenty minute walk so they drove. The girls entered the woods talking loudly, but after a few moments in the woods, Becca noticed her little sister’s quietude. She remembered sweet Shauna’s love for night walks and the hug of the dark. At some point, every week it seemed, when the two were restless high schoolers in New Paltz, Shauna would stroll into Becca’s room and pester her sister into sneaking out for a walk. The two of them stayed up late habitually, reading fantasy novels or gazing at art books together. Little Shauna, Seraphim, and Becca, Cherubim, the two were sarcastically labeled by their parents. For most of their adolescence, both girls loathed their conjoined nickname, until Shauna became obsessed with the words’ derivations. Somewhere in an unnamed cave up on the Mohonk Preserve overlooking the town was an acrylic painting Shauna had drawn of an angel with six wings.
Seraphim, the sinister burning angel, shrill of voice and ultimately more powerful than the dumb fat Cherubim that round-cheeked, round-eyed Becca was appropriately named for. The only reason Becca ever noticed the movie, Séraphine, was because the title reminded her of her sister. The only reason Becca noticed many things was because of her sister.
“Turn off the headlamps,” Shauna said.
“I think we should be up there in no time,” Becca said.
In fact, the climb took over an hour given their beered-down sluggishness and the poor visibility. Becca thought of Tim, out in the Adirondacks with his brothers, unreachable by phone.
“He could be dead right now,” she said into the dark. This was at a low-point in the climb. “Mauled by a bear, fallen to crushing death over a cliff, shot by a hunter, dehydrated to death. . .”
“OK!” Katy said. “What you just did is the definition of morbid.”
“It’s the woods,” Shauna murmured. “They just make your brain go there.”
Once they’d summited, Shauna spread a thick blanket on the ground in front of a long boulder and the three sat on the blanket and examined the lights of their town. Waldo was high enough above the train yard and warehouse loading docks so that the beeping of fork lifts and haul trucks was buffered.
“Now,” Katy said. “Where do we live?”
Shauna handed the two others a beer and traced the town’s landmarks with her finger. “You can see the river there, the dark ribbon. The university bell tower is there. Then, just following the river south towards where we are now: there’s Oak Street, oh, there’s AMS, Katy.”
“No. We are not talking about that place,” Katy said. She shook her head at the town.
“Did you know that Franklin’s river feeds into Lake Champlain?” Shauna asked Becca. “So really, we could trace this one all the way back to New Paltz and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.”
“Let’s do it,” Becca said. “Hop on a raft.”
“Huck and Finn, huh?” Katy asked.
Becca and Shauna laughed and the girls were quiet for a moment as they drank their beer. Becca hugged her knees to her chest. She was free, just as she always had been. This revelation was followed shortly by a crushing loneliness and longing for Tim.
The top of this mountain seemed to be the place for other revelations, up here too high for trains to sound them out; Becca wanted to reveal secrets and to make them beautiful. She hesitated over her secrets, though, and in the pause Shauna spoke of the angels.
Becca hadn’t realized how attached her sister had grown to their childhood nicknames. The two sisters hadn’t been worried by Easter or Hanukkah, but they did have the disembodied screech of angels to celebrate with.
“When they heard the first angel in the desert, they likened it to a burning sensation, a white hot power. And she was just the messenger.”
Katy and Becca were silent. Becca felt herself growing tired.
“Do you think we could get away with camping out up here?” Katy asked. “I want to see what the sunrise would be like.”
“We could stay,” Shauna said, looking at Becca. “But I don’t know,” she added.
Their descent from their perch on Waldo was more crablike than like the shimmering swarm of seraphs. They made a game of awkward stumbles and graceful last-minute righting of their stature. When they tripped out from the woods into the parking lot, a park ranger’s SUV was waiting, headlights turned full on.
“Shit-shit-shit-shit,” Becca whispered.
“Shh,” Katy said. She grabbed the two girls so that they faced her. “We should go straight to the car.”
The girls gave the SUV a wide berth and made for Becca’s truck. The SUV door opened. The girls kept walking.