The cameraman inside the Channel 13 helicopter zoomed in on the pearl-blue van, its roof torn open, the left side mangled, resting deep inside a rocky fold of the Sierras. It was a warm spring day in Dixon, California, and most of us weren’t aware of the breaking news as we fired up our barbecues or stayed out late on the ballfields. It was only after Mary Davies, the driver, was identified, and then Carissa, her fourteen-year-old daughter, that we turned on our television and computer screens. We watched replays of the early footage: the rescue team rappelling into the ravine; the four bodies, blurred by the media, being extracted from the van. Twenty-four hours later we learned the names of the two other local girls, Erin and Phoebe.

Reporters flocked to town, interviewing anyone who knew Mary. At first, we had only kind words. Lois, her next-door neighbor, described how Mary favored lawn ornaments: cement toadstools, spotted baby deer, grinning gnomes. George, her boss at the packing supply store, said she was a crackerjack employee, able to lift forty pounds even though she barely grazed five foot two. We held a candlelight vigil. We propped flowers, cards, and teddy bears in the gnome garden outside the Davies’ home.

Then the autopsy report came in, and the preliminary toxicology tests revealed a .19 blood-alcohol content, an amount equivalent to five drinks.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Frank, her husband, told the first reporter who called the house. “It isn’t possible. She hardly drinks.” He sobbed, and his teenage son took the phone and hung up.

We talked about it at work, outside the post office, in the checkout line at the IGA. It was inconceivable that Mary Davies, our Mary Davies, would be drunk while driving the girls home from a weekend gymnastics clinic in Reno.

Her daughter was a talented gymnast. Mary was convinced that if Carissa were to spend three days with Olympian Sophia Petrovskii, she’d finally nail her double back tuck, which would move her up a competition level and rank her as the best on the team. The clinic, with a $1,500 price tag, was well worth it, even if she had to put it on a charge card.

So with no awareness of what would be the true cost of that weekend, Mary slipped out of bed Friday morning. It was dark outside. She opened the back door for the dog, a fifteen-year-old Chihuahua, who shivered and refused to move off the rubber doormat. She fed him, made coffee, then checked the dryer to make sure the leotards had dried. At 7, she knocked on her daughter’s door. “Rise and shine.” She lifted the Venetian blinds, letting the sun splash across Carissa’s face.

Her daughter clutched her faded Cinderella comforter and rolled from the light.

Mary ticked off the items in Carissa’s suitcase against her packing list. She added the jewel-colored leotards. Then she looked inside the gym bag to make sure Carissa had her bar grips and plenty of tape.

“Time’s up, sleepy head.” Mary zipped the blue duffle bag, the Dynamo gymnastics team name and logo embroidered on it in gold thread.

The dog had made a mess by the back door. Mary cleaned it up. In the kitchen, her son, a senior at the high school, toasted a waffle.

“If your dad works all weekend, you’ll need to be around to let the dog out.” Mary put the disinfectant back under the sink.

“Maybe I’ll have a party,” he said. “Booze. Dancing girls. Porn movies.”

“No, you won’t.” She smiled because Matthew was not that kind of kid. He was the captain of his school’s QuizBowl team and a team leader for Students Against Drugs and Alcohol. Even as a toddler, he’d pout if Mary poured a glass of wine. More than likely, he’d have his girlfriend over and they’d watch movies and eat popcorn.

“Why not?” Matthew asked. “You and Carissa get to go off to Reno. Isn’t that what people do up there? Go wild?”

“It’s a gymnastics clinic. A working weekend.” The toaster pinged. Mary ran the maple syrup bottle under hot water until the cap came unstuck. She wondered if he was needling her. She had postpartum depression after the births of her children. Drinking wine helped her get through the rest of the day. She wasn’t sure how much he remembered about those years.

Carissa shuffled into the kitchen, still in her pajamas. She swiped a finger through the syrup on Matthew’s plate. “Yum.”

“I bet Sophia Petrovskii doesn’t oversleep or eat sugar.” Mary handed Carissa a bowl of oatmeal with apples and yogurt, which she made for her each morning, because otherwise she’d choose Fruit Loops.

The kitchen-office printer whirred into action, and Frank rushed in, picking up each sheet as it rolled out. He seemed pleased with the results. “Too bad these folks didn’t sign a few days earlier. I could have driven up with you. Maybe caught a show.”

“Another missed opportunity,” Mary said. There had been a lot of those lately. Frank had bought into a solar-panel franchise just as the market was flooded with startups. He was forever chasing after potential customers.

“Yeah, Dad,” Matthew said. “I hear they have naked dancing girls up there.”

“Gross,” Carissa said.

Mary called after her, “Clean clothes on top of your dresser.”

Frank tapped the stack of sheets on the counter. “Sorry, gotta run. Early meeting.” He leaned in to kiss Mary, but she pretended not to notice and reached for the syrup cap on the counter. His lips barely brushed her hairline.

Matthew’s eyes flickered with disappointment. Children were like that. They picked up on everything. But Mary was tired. She hadn’t slept well the previous night. Eventually, after taking an Ambien, she fell asleep, only to be awakened a few hours later when the alarm went off. She didn’t have the energy that morning to put on a show.

The phone rang. “Mary?” It was one of the other gymnast’s moms. “Phoebe left her bag at the gym. Can you swing by on your way out of town?”

“No problem,” Mary said, although it was. Phoebe’s mom only remembered Mary’s name when she needed something. Once at the gym, when Mary had said hello, she’d squinted at her, “And who are you again?” After that, when Mary drove Phoebe home from practice, she didn’t bother to remind her to check if she had everything. Little Phoebe became known as Little Airhead.

Mary wrote the name of the Reno hotel down for Frank, gave Matthew twenty dollars for lunch and essentials, filled the dog’s water bowl, double checked that the toaster was unplugged, finished packing her own suitcase, and then called upstairs for Carissa.

Carissa wore her team warm-up jacket and pants. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and the stray hairs secured with metal clips. She handed her mother her blue and gold hair ribbons, and Mary tied them into a neat, secure bow. Carissa had turned fourteen, but she could be mistaken for twelve. Mary was thankful for that. She’d been the first girl in her class to develop breasts. The boys grabbed at them, mooing cow sounds. Her teacher sent home a note, explaining that Mary needed to wear a bra at school. At the time, walking home, Mary believed the kids were snickering because they knew what the teacher wrote. Mary kissed the top of Carissa’s shampooed hair, breathing in the scent of apple blossoms.

The girls lived within ten minutes of each other, but it took over an hour to collect them. Phoebe was still in the shower. Erin attended private school and had gone to her early classes, so Mary had to check in with the school secretary who insisted Erin couldn’t leave without permission from one of her parents.

Mary looked at her watch. “I assure you her mother knows.”

The woman’s hair was short and spiky with punkish platinum tips. She looked over the rim of her black-framed glasses. “We can’t just take your word for it.”

Mary had half a mind to leave Erin behind. It would be one less kid vying for Sophia’s attention. But Carissa could be temperamental. Any change in her routine could throw her into a tizzy. “Can you call her mother then?” Mary asked. “You must have her work number on file.”

Mary sat in the row of seats against the far wall, tapping the heels of her white sneakers against the chair’s wooden legs. The secretary kept glancing over at Mary while she talked on the phone. Even though Mary wore a compression sports bra, her Dynamo team T-shirt fit snug against her chest. It was a dense cotton weave, royal blue with gold lettering, a unisex style with small side slits. She adjusted the collar, the front placket. She rubbed her palms on her jeans.

Later, the secretary was all over the news. She was identified as the last person in town to see Mary. “I should have listened to my instincts. I thought there was something fishy going on. She was nervous. Fidgety. Working in the school office, you learn to spot the ones who have something to hide.”

“What do you think she was hiding?” the reporter asked. “Could she have been drinking?”

The secretary shrugged, leaving us to wonder.

Once underway, the girls had trouble settling down. Each time a car slowed to read the slogans they’d written with liquid chalk marker across the van’s sides—RENO OR BUST! GYMNASTICS RULES! WE FLIP FOR SOPHIA!—they screamed and high-fived. Mary tried to feel exhilarated, too, but she’d eaten only a dry toaster waffle that morning, and with all the delays, her blood sugar had dropped. She felt light-headed. Her eardrums throbbed as they climbed into the Sierra range. To keep occupied, she glanced out the window at wild mustard, which grew along the freeway. In the foothills, blue lupine and yellow star tulip bloomed. It was a brilliant spring day, but as she climbed higher, she dreaded the mountains and deep ravines ahead. She’d never liked heights, but could usually cope long enough to get over a bridge or a steep hill. Above the sounds of the girls’ music, a popular boys’ band, she could hear gears shifting and engines straining as semi-trailers and tour busses chugged up the I-80 grade.

She pulled off in Kingvale and into a gas station. She grabbed a blue paper towel by the pump and mopped her face. A hot flash, she told herself. She was getting to be that age.

Carissa stuck her head out the window. “Can we get some soda?”

“There’s juice and water in the cooler.”

The gas station’s security camera captured Mary entering the convenience store, paying for a Coke and candy bar, and then standing just inside the glass door, watching the pumps as she devoured them. When local and national news stations attempted to recreate Mary’s actions, they played the grainy video with experts commenting. “It’s not unusual for people to have multiple cravings—sugar, caffeine, exercise, even overzealous parenting—which might appear benign individually, but viewed collectively, are significant markers of the addictive personality.”

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