The Year of Fog
night of Emma’s disappearance. I left out the fact that, as Emma and I were walking down the steps to the beach, I imagined how the surfer’s hair would smell up close, like salt and sun.
    Sherburne nodded, arms folded across his narrow chest. Occasionally he unfolded his arms and scratched something on a yellow pad.
    “Difficult to find a vehicle with no license plate,” he said.
    “It was yellow. Rusty. Blue curtains in the windows. There was something odd about this couple, I can’t put my finger on it. And when I got back to the parking lot after Emma went missing, the van was gone.”
    “The Chevelle?”
    “Gone. And the postal worker who’d been sitting there, he was gone, too. So was the motorcycle.”
    Repeating it for the umpteenth time, I began to question my own narrative—the sequence of events, the minute details. What if, through repetition, my story had been slightly altered, the order changing, one detail replaced by another? Would this be reason enough for the police to discount it entirely? I’d seen this happen before. The parents say one thing one day, something slightly different another, and suddenly the investigation grinds to a halt. All energy is focused on the family, while other leads go untended. I knew the search for Emma would depend on memory, an imprecise art. Her life depended on my getting every detail right, every time.
    Sherburne nodded to a photo of Emma that was tacked to a bulletin board. “Listen, she’s a cute kid. People are friendly to cute kids. That doesn’t mean they’re kidnappers.”
    The board covered half of one wall and featured hundreds of faces of children captured in some casual moment—school photos, picnics, playgrounds. The far right side of the board was reserved for the newer cases, those children who had disappeared within the last six months. Each photo had a date scrawled beneath it in thick black ink. Emma’s picture was at the top of this section. I was startled to realize that in this sea of faces, hers did not stand out; on the board she looked like just another victim, another missing child.
    The far left was reserved for successes—each picture had the word FOUND stamped across it in red block letters. There were also thankful notes from parents, newspaper clippings with headlines like
San Rafael Girl Found
. But most of the faces took up the big middle space—all of the children who had disappeared in California in the last five years whose cases had not been solved. Some of the photos were accompanied by age progression sketches—the hair slightly longer or shorter, the temples broader, the lips thinner. In these sketches, the eyes all had a haunted, waiting look. I wondered where the pictures went after five years had passed. I imagined a huge filing cabinet in some basement room, thousands of photos fading in manila folders, never to be viewed again.

19
    D AY TWENTY-SIX . The meeting is held in a classroom at City College of San Francisco. I arrive twenty minutes early. To kill time, I walk the loop road that circles the campus. The college is sadly urban—a jumble of angular buildings with too few windows, arranged with no apparent concern for aesthetics. On the front lawn, a cement statue of some Catholic saint extends its hands in blessing to Phelan Avenue.
    At seven forty-five p.m., I stand at the entrance to Cloud Hall, willing myself to go in. The air inside is damp and stale. The floors are unadorned cement, the walls institutional green. I climb the stairs to the third floor and locate room 316, where a man is arranging desks in a circle. He smiles and extends his hand. “David.”
    “Abby.”
    “How long has it been?”
    “Three weeks, five days. You?”
    “Seven years.”
    I do the math. In seven years, Emma will be thirteen, a teenager. She’ll be old enough to get her period, meet boys, go to movies with friends. I can’t imagine seven years of absence. I can’t imagine how this man manages to go on.
    “Girl or

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