Tanya pulled her sunglasses out of her pocket, slid them awkwardly over her nose, and looked down the river into the late afternoon sun. Then, when she turned back, she took them off again. "Sometimes when I'm down here alone," she told Carol, "there's beaver running around on the banks across the river, wreaking havoc." She pointed to the other side. "You think that all those uprooted trees come from the spring floods, but you're only half right. Beavers massacre 'em over there--here too." She pointed at trees not more than twenty feet away, already half-gnawed. "People think those idiot beavers smart, but they aren't--that's what I'm told. They just do it for the heck of it--maybe to keep their teeth sharp, who knows?"
"Nature's engineers," Carol said. "I always thought of them as nature's engineers, dam builders."
"Ask the guy up the hill." She nodded toward the park ranger's office. "He wishes he could get rid of the whole lot of them. All they do is make a mess." She had to laugh. "But nobody buys beaver derbies anymore, or whatever hats beaver pelts make." And then, for the first time, the woman looked directly at her in a way that dropped any bit of profession and pretense. "Hey, listen--I'm glad you're all right. I've had a big day."
"At least the boy is alive," Carol said.
"He's not really a boy--he's as old as I am." Tanya shook her head, looked around aimlessly. "I was with his mother last night for a while," she said, a begrudging smile. "Woman officers, you know--we're supposed to be better at that sort of thing." She shook her head. "That woman--her heart is gone. It's like it's not even there. It's just awful, you know? That kid shot his girlfriend, but he killed his mother."
"I saw her," Carol said.
"She was worse off camera," the cop said. "No kidding."
She felt as if the woman had said enough. "So this park is your beat?" Carol said. "That's not bad."
She smiled. "There's a place down the river--the other way," she said. She was Paige's age, little more. "If you'd have walked the opposite direction, you would have seen it." She half turned. "You want to see? It's a place I go when--" she shrugged her shoulders, "--when I just like, have to, you know?" Once again, she looked at Carol in a way that seemed child-like in its pleading. "I suppose it's unprofessional or whatever, but this job--it isn't what I thought it was going to be. It's not glamorous and it's not at all easy on a woman."
"I'm sorry," Carol said.
"I don't want pity," she said. "And it's not that I don't like what I do. There's just some times I got to stop down here and go see this upturned tree--in the river." She pulled her hands out of her pockets and drew a circle in the air. "It's huge. Some beaver probably dumped it a dozen years ago and the branches are all bleached like old bones--like that." She pointed at flattened cottonwood just fifty yards away in the river. "It's like that, but it's bigger, much bigger." Again, her hands drew out the branches. "But this spring, you know, when the water was high?--the river grabbed this whole other tree and laid it in those branches so that the whole thing looks almost like a big--" she bit her lip, searching for words, "--well, like a big cross, I guess." She seemed embarrassed. "I used to believe in God," she said. "Sometimes I look at that tree, you know--at the way it makes a huge cross in the middle of the river, right in the middle of all that mud, and it just helps, you know? I mean, something weird like that. It's huge." Her face fell. "I'm sorry," she said. "The last couple days, you know?--that mother and that girl--"
"It's okay," Carol said. "Show me. I'd love to see."
"Maybe it won't mean anything to you--I don't know," she said. "But it's huge, and it sits right out there like something God stuck in the middle of everything. Just not something you'd expect to find--you know what I mean? It's like a shock or something, and it fills up something needs filling. I'm sorry--"
"What do you mean 'you used to be a believer'?" Carol said, laughing. "You sound like you still are."
"Maybe." She laughed, hard, in big heaves of breath that could have, in a moment, evolved into tears. "It's just stupid, I guess, isn't it?" she said. "And I'm so sorry, and here I am an officer of the law and all of that, and I'm spilling my guts over this river bank. I should be better than that."
"We all should be better than we are," Carol told her, and she walked up to her, then waited for the offer a shoulder. When it came, she put an arm around her. "Show me," she said. "I want to see this big old tree in the river. I don't believe it. I need to see it too."
"What?-somebody your age got problems?" Tanya said.
"You know better than to ask," Carol said. "You're a cop."
"You know," Tanya told her. "You got your life, and you got your job, but that's not everything really." She pulled away. "You're serious, right? You're not just pulling my leg or being nice?"
"Show me," Carol said.
"That's why I came, you know--to visit. Stupid, huh?"
"That's why I came too," Carold told her.
When she got home later, Lloyd was standing outside the back door, waiting, his jacket on. "You must have done some serious shopping," he said.
"I didn't go," she told him.
When she came up the walk, he grabbed her in his arms. "Carol, that kid--the guy who shot his girl?--he came home. He's not dead. It was on TV. He came back."
"I know," she said. "I heard." She put an arm around him, tucked her hand in the pocket of his jacket. "I went down to the river--"
"To the river?" he said.
"I went down to the river, and you can't believe what I found," she told him. "Lloyd--I'll show you. It's incredible."
"We haven't been there for a long time," he said.
She pinched his side. "I'll take you, Lloyd."
"River Bend" appeared in Christianity Today.