At the Shaw Butte trailhead in North Phoenix, Lu strapped on a sun hat and tugged up her bright yellow and black compression socks with I’m the bee’s knees, motherfucker printed on the band—remnants from her failed athletic clothing venture, Kicky. Last night, post-birthday-party fight with her mother, she’d drunk only seltzer but felt hungover after subbing a shift at the Palmview and then bingeing on cake and a slew of nature and science articles. She squinted at the radio towers at the summit, wishing she could see the crests and troughs of the electromagnetic waves. She listened for the phantom hum and squeal that probably was tinnitus but that she liked to believe was a frequency she could tune into like a dog or a bat. “Test, test,” she said into the recorder app on her phone. Her voice came back tinny, alien.

In winter, runners and tourists clogged the trail while paragliders launched off the peak, tilting in drafts like birds of prey, but this June afternoon, the air glimmered with ghoul heat. She wanted to scald her system. Soon her quads ached but she kept on, past the old, burned-down Cloud 9 restaurant, past the Hohokam’s spiraled petroglyphs and a rock shelter thought to be a solar observatory. Ignoring her knee, she kept her eye on the antennas, pretending she was still Lucia Carson, center forward, maestro of the bait-and-switch outer kick, clutch in penalty. On her phone app she recorded her footfalls on the shale, rocking toe to heel, stomping to ward off rattlers. Last night she’d read about people rounding up snakes in pits and killing them for sport. The cruelty and sadness of this choked her, rushed her ear with spit and slither.

Pushing up the final spur, she kicked a rock and again replayed the fight with her mother. She’d gone to Constance’s house for birthday tacos. Over strawberry cake on the patio by the pool, Lu took her chance. She’d gotten out that she’d be quitting the Palmview, the restaurant her mother owned, and moving back to California to apprentice as a Foley artist, before Constance interrupted: “Whose brilliant idea was that, your father’s?” Lu said, “No, but Sarah said she can—” and Constance said, “Oh, Child Bride Number Five is on the case, perfect.” Then she was off and running: You’re thirty-nine, for Christ’s sake, how many times are we going to go through this, is this going to be like Kicky, or the PA fiasco, or the ten college majors, or your line of organic soaps, and have you forgotten why you’re here. Her sandals flapped, the pool drain slurped. A familiar hiss had swelled in Lu’s ears, along with her father’s voice: You know how Constance gets, twirling a finger at his temple, which once had made her laugh but now sounded like men who told her to smile, explained soccer stats, slurred slurs. She’d heard her ex-girlfriend—I know you’re sorry, I know, but I can’t keep doing this. The hiss intensified: busted gas pipes, fizz of the last can in a six-pack. When Constance said, “Lucky, are you even listening?” Lu had screamed. A real larynx scorcher, shouting at her mother to shut up, couldn’t she ever Shut. The. Fuck. Up. She’d covered her own ears.

A place she’d known since age ten as she shuttled between her volatile actor-mom and her charming, patronizing producer-dad, between desert and ocean, never finding her place in either.

Lu reached the summit, panting. As she gulped water, she held up her phone and recorded the ice cubes clinking inside her metal canteen. She scrubbed her frosting-glazed teeth with the neck of her T-shirt. She’d wanted to tell her mother about the Foley studio she’d visited with Sarah (a sound designer and grown-ass woman in her forties), where Lu had banged on car doors to create thunder, rustled piles of unwound cassette tape for wind, snapped sunflower stalks for breaking bones. How it felt like a key sliding into a lock—a sound she’d learned to make with metal pliers. A natural, the artists called her. No, for Christ’s sake, of course she hadn’t forgotten why she was here, working for her mother at the Palmview, living above the restaurant in an apartment her mother also owned. That final blackout, waking up half-clothed on the grassy curb outside her Los Feliz condo. How could she forget?

At the trail summit, Lu sheltered in a scrap of paloverde shade. A chain-link fence topped with razor wire surrounded the radio towers, which were bumpy with aerial prongs and satellite drums. She’d read last night about astronomers studying electromagnetic waves with an array of large antenna dishes. In the radio sky, they found gas clouds raining on a black hole, explored Jupiter’s atmosphere, collected emissions from the Orion Nebula. Some artists had turned the emissions into musical notes, eerie strings of whir and zephyr and wails.

She moved to the cliff edge. The trail zigzagged around saguaro and creosote and outcrops of volcanic basalt. She could make out the concrete pad of the old Cloud 9, a cluster of stones from the Hohokam observatory, the gash at Dreamy Draw where miners had gone loopy from mercury poisoning. Downtown high-rises and construction cranes glinted through the shroud of smog and drifting wildfire smoke. A place she’d known since age ten as she shuttled between her volatile actor-mom and her charming, patronizing producer-dad, between desert and ocean, never finding her place in either.

A muffled cry. Lu paused mid-sip, water from the canteen dripping onto her shirt. She scanned for a hawk, a crow, a quail in the shrubs. But the sound was softer, the pitch lower. A woman’s voice, or a child’s?

“Hello?” she called. “Hello? Is someone down there?” She couldn’t climb down the steep slope, especially with her knee. She stepped along the narrow lip, holding the chain-link fence, looking for an easier path.

There, again, the cry. Clinging to the fence, she leaned out but couldn’t see anything. Maybe the sound was from the antennas? Maybe her ghost frequency. She stared up at the crosshatched metal and wires, straining to listen.

Her foot slipped. As she flung her arm out for balance, she dropped her phone, which skittered down the slope. She jerked upright and lunged for the fence. She shouted, “No!” but too late. She was falling.

She landed on her back, slamming her head. Before she blacked out, the last she saw was the forked prong of an antenna, the coiled razor wire on the fence, her bee’s knees socks flying over her head.


A whisper. Her name. Lucia. Lu. Lucky.

A glare. She must have forgotten to shut the blinds. Her apartment above the Palmview used to be a dance studio. The morning sun ricocheted off the mirrors and barres, roasting the room. Get up, she told herself. You have to open. The prep cook went on a bender, and you have to cover. You have to call the electrician; someone stripped the copper wire, broke a window, trashed the kitchen. Lucky, did you drink last night? Did you black out again? The old hiss. Cornered puma, greasy wrapper on stadium steps.

Lu, get up. Get up!

At this time of day, in this heat, what was the chance of someone hiking up here?

Lu opened her eyes to scalding sun, a filmy sky tinged pink. She lay on her back like an upside-down beetle, wedged in craggy basalt flow. She couldn’t move her right arm. Fire in her shoulder, probably dislocated—she’d done that once in college, a rough slide tackle on the field. With her working left hand, she touched the back of her head and winced—blood on her fingers. A scrape on her left thigh and forearm, a biting pain in her right ankle. She had no idea how long she’d been here. The skin on her face felt flayed, her lips cracked. Her tongue throbbed, swollen like a sponge—she must have bitten it when she fell. Her hat was missing. Her pants were wet, and for a moment she thought she’d peed herself but then realized, worse. She’d spilled her water. She felt around for the canteen but couldn’t find it.

Phone. Somewhere on the slope. When she moved, her vision blurred, and the world went belly-up.

“Hello?” she called out, raspy. She tried to swallow. “Help! Please help!”

No response. At this time of day, in this heat, what was the chance of someone hiking up here? The chance of them not wearing headphones with hip-hop or alt-rock ticking and fuzzing in their ears? Of anyone listening at all?

Stupid. How could she be so stupid? Hiking alone midday in mid-June, not telling anyone where she was. Didn’t she ever think? The questions of her life. Ones she’d asked not so long ago as she lay on the curb at dawn, shoeless, wearing only a torn tank top and underpants, her car up on the sidewalk with a dented bumper and smashed headlight. No idea where she’d been or how she got there. Sober four months now on her thirty-ninth birthday but still falling down.

For a while, she simply sobbed, salt stinging her lips, cinders cutting into her skin, until the radiating pain settled into a burning numbness. She had to think. The sun would set soon. Nights weren’t that cold—she might make it till morning, if she could find her canteen, if she had any water left.

She pushed up with her left arm and heaved herself sideways off the basalt flow, flopped on her stomach into the scrub and shale, her useless right arm half pinned under her hip. Her vision went starry again, and she inhaled dust, coughing. She scouted the slope for her phone. She’d dropped it before she fell, so it must be somewhere near the cliff. Maybe ten yards up?

She scooched like a baby learning to crawl, pulling and pushing with her good leg and arm, letting out snorting grunts, a series of popping farts. She laughed, and then wept, sucking salt and grit. She made it a few feet and grew dizzy. She rested, staring at the porous lava flow. Vesicle. She said the word under her breath, elongating the s.

She realized she might be able to scoot better on her back. With a groan, she rolled herself over. Her right ankle had puffed to the size of an eggplant, bulging under her sock. She leaned hard on her left side and started counting, pushing up on three. One, two, three, rest. One, two, three, rest. The slope grew steeper. Her leg and arm shook with the strain. She writhed against the ground, trying to get purchase, but her shoe slipped on the shale. She began to whimper.

She listened again for that voice on the air. She’d heard something before, hadn’t she?

A small plane cut a diagonal across the sky. Only a puttering drone, but she imagined the techno whir of wing adjustment, the heart thump of landing gear. She waved her left arm, lifted one yellow-socked foot in the air. “Help!” she yelled—croaked. “I’m down here!” Her voice cracked as the plane disappeared behind a butte. The same crack as all the times she’d explained failure after failure to her mother until the white noise grew in her ears, drowned out everything. The plane’s drone dissipated. A mourning dove cooed.

She listened again for that voice on the air. She’d heard something before, hadn’t she? Unless it had been only a gust of wind, her own rasping breath.

She turned her head, her ear to the ground. I’ll keep my ear to the ground, Dad would tell her, about jobs, opportunities, second (third, fourth) chances. She listened now for vibrations, rumbles. Something. Someone. Smoke turned the sky milky. She thought of people fleeing wildfires, charred rafters and sagging insulation. She thought of Foley: cellophane, chip bags, and steel wool creating a fire’s crackle and spit.

Something long and brown coiled a few feet away. She yelped, and then realized: not a snake. The strap of her canteen.

She twisted and wrenched her arm up, managing to grab the strap. Water splashed onto the dirt as she pulled, and she said, “No, no, no!” She finally caught the jug. Not much left. She took a small sip, screwed the lid on, and cradled it to her chest.

“Please,” she said, or at least thought. She closed her eyes, pressed her ear to the scratchy shale, thinking about plate tectonics, shifting fault lines, about huddling in doorways with her parents when the earth trembled. She recalled an early memory, maybe her first: lying alone in bed, sunshine and ocean brine leaking through the open window. The purr of adult voices, the snap of sheets on a line.

“I depart as air,” she whispered, or tried to. “I shake my white locks at the runaway sun.” She hadn’t read that poem in years, but somehow the lines stayed in her. She pushed her ear flat against the earth. We are all made of dust, she thought. Thirty-nine. Twice the age when she’d blown out her knee, her life blown sideways, but it was no time at all. Her existence would be nothing but a blip on the radar. Radio static.

She began to hum, an old lullaby her mother used to sing. The vibrations traveled from her throat to her hands and feet.


Shouts underwater, cries muffled by pillows.

Lu opened her eyes to dusk.


At first she thought she was muttering in her sleep. But a woman stood above her, a phone at her ear. The woman said, “Oh my God.”

“Hello.” Lu’s voice came out dry, choked. She burst into tears.

The woman said, “Oh, God. You’re—okay. Okay. I’ve called for help. I’ve got water.” She kneeled and held out a steel bottle.

“Thank you,” Lu lisped with her sandpaper tongue.

The woman had long, pale hair and wore square, mirrored sunglasses. The top of her left ear stuck out at an angle. Her lenses flashed as she held the bottle to Lu’s lips. Water sluiced down her chin. She coughed.

“Slow. A little at a time.”

She drank more, gasping.

“You’re bleeding.” The woman took off her T-shirt; she wore a pink sports bra beneath. She had a tattoo of a sun on her shoulder. “They told me not to move you. Can you lift your head?”

Lu managed to raise up. The woman tucked the shirt under her head. Then she poured water on the fabric, folded pieces like poultices over Lu’s burned forehead and cheeks. “Your poor face,” she said.

Lu sighed, reminded of washcloths on fevered cheeks, lemon-lime soda with chipped ice, and strangely of snakes sloughing off their skin, those lovely frail husks left behind. She peered from the fabric. “Are you real?” The letters heavy, her tongue fat.

The woman smiled. “I called for help. They’re on their way.”

Lu wanted to tell her she wasn’t a tourist, she had water and a phone but had slipped and dropped them. She got out, “Fell,” which sounded like, “Fuh.” She tried to say, What time is it? She pointed at her bare wrist.

The woman checked her watch. “Seven twenty. Sun’s almost down. Which is why I came up here, to watch the sunset. I almost didn’t, but—it’s been a day.”

Lu wanted to say she understood. She pointed at her chest and then held up two fingers.


Lu shook her head. Or maybe that’s what she did mean.

“Wait. You, two. You too.” The woman laughed. “I should say so.”

Lu gave a thumbs-up and smiled, flinching at her split lip. She shifted, trying to dislodge a cinder beneath her hip.

The woman said, “I—it’s been a helluva year, actually. Lucky I’m here at all.”

Lucky. Her mother’s nickname for her. “Mom,” she got out.

“Do you want me to call her for you?”

Lu nodded but then realized she didn’t know the number. “Phone,” she said. Her voice broke again, a wishbone snapped in two.

“It’s okay,” the woman said. “We’ll find your phone.” Her pale hair was almost translucent. I shake my white locks at the runaway sun.

“Sleep,” she said. She couldn’t hold her eyes open.

“No, don’t sleep.” The woman clapped her hands. “You have to stay awake.”

A whumping sound came from above. Helicopters. Oh, God, the news. She was that idiot. Another fuckup. She heard her mother’s voice: How many times? Have you forgotten why you’re here?

“Stay awake, okay?” The woman clapped again. “They have to check your head.”

Check Your Head. She had that album somewhere. She remembered a bulky portable disc player and headphones, popping a soccer ball off her knees. Being good at something, a natural.

She said, “So whatcha whatcha whatcha want,” though it came out gibberish. If that was even her voice. If any of this was happening. A siren. Or her ears were ringing. Or was that singing? Happy birthday, dear Lucky, happy birthday to you.

“Hey! Tell me what you’re going to do next. Your plans. Hey, hey!” The woman doused the sleeves covering Lu’s cheeks. “Tell me what’s next.”

Lu tried to wet her lips. She remembered a birthday long ago, licking sticky beaters, a soccer ball decoration made of green frosting. She sat in a driveway, waiting for other children to arrive, tapping her sandaled feet.

“Cake,” she said.

The woman laughed. “Perfect. Yes. Then what?”

Perfect, yes. Her birthday. Footsteps muffled on carpet. Whispers. Wake up, sleepy head. Wake up, little Lucky Lu. She smiled. Everything was perfect.

The woman whistled and waved her arms overhead. She shouted, “We’re down here! Down here!” She leaned over Lu. “They’re coming. They’re here.”

Who? “Mama?” she said.

Sunlight bounced off the woman’s glasses. “Stay with me.”


Almost dark now. A thigh bruise of a sky. A galaxy of noises Lu couldn’t hear. Or maybe she could. Maybe that was where the sounds came from. Or maybe from below. She pushed her ear to the ground. She started to hum.

The woman stood over her. “They’re coming to get you now.” She held up a phone. “And look what I found. I’m calling your mom now.”

Lu would bake this woman the biggest cake. It would taste like clouds. Like Cloud 9. She laughed, though it came out as a moan.

The rescuers reached her with a board and gurney attached to a big rubber wheel. The woman answered their questions, but Lu couldn’t get the words out.

The antennas flickered, disappeared from her line of sight.

They stabilized her neck and back with a brace, got her onto the gurney and up the slope to stable ground. They gave her sips of water through a straw, wrapped her in a tinfoil blanket. Above, the antennas gleamed, pulsed with red lights near the top. The rescuers talked loudly to Lu, told her they were headed to an ambulance, she was going to be okay, hang in there, stay with us. They traversed down as choppers circled. Footfalls on shale, a buzzing drone.

The woman held up a phone. “Your mother.” Lu took it with her good hand.

Constance shouted, “Christ alive, Lu. What is—You’re hurt?” Static cut in and out. “You keep cutting—I’ve been—call.”

“Fell,” Lu got out.

Constance’s voice crackled. “I can’t tell—I want—” The line warbled, and then Constance was shouting. “I’m—what’s—worried!”

Lu clenched the phone. Here it was, that howl and break she’d known her whole life. Or thought she knew. Different now. Softer. Sea wind, surging waves. The antennas flickered, disappeared from her line of sight.

At the trailhead, the crew loaded Lu into the ambulance. The woman stood by the doors and waved goodbye. Lu dropped the phone and lifted her good hand. Wait.

The woman leaned inside.

Lu tugged at the woman’s shirt under her head.

The woman shook her head. “Keep the shirt.”

Lu needed to thank her. She mouthed the words but couldn’t get her tongue to move. She hummed, found the rhythm of it. Hmmm-hmm. Hmmm-hmm. She did it again and again.

The woman smiled. “You’re welcome. I’m glad I found you. Did something right for once.”

And she was gone.

Lu startled at a voice. Her mother’s voice. The phone. She held it to her ear.

“Lucky,” her mother said. “I’m coming. I’ll be at the hospital. Okay?”

Lu hummed. Out the window she glimpsed the red pulse of the radio towers again. She picked up something. A frequency. A hiss.

Constance said, “You’re going to be okay, darling. Do you remember when you hurt your knee? Of course you do, I’m babbling—but I remember thinking, even on one leg, she’s the strongest person I know.”

Sighs in bed. Socks on wood floors.

“I want to hear about—I know—great.” She cut out, came back. “Love,” she said, or something like it.

Swish of an opening door.

The ambulance jolted. The mountain and tower disappeared from view. Lu lifted her hand, wiggled her fingers through the invisible waves.

Her mother said, “You cut out. Are you there? Did I lose you?”

A secret whisper, an ocean in a shell.

“Here,” she said, and waited for the static to clear.