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The stream curved sharply. The retaining walls had badly deteriorated, sinking below water level in a couple places. We crossed a shaky wooden footbridge back to the west side, where we saw there had been major subsidence — a muddy hole had opened up and swallowed the aluminum barriers and yellow caution tape the Public Works people had tried to cordon off the site with.
Through the foliage, high up on the crest of the ravine, we glimpsed some fine brick homes. We saw upper floors, roofs, chimneys. The Moore Park neighborhood. They presumably had spectacular vistas over the ravine. A breeze rustled through the leaves up there, but down here the air was stock-still and humid, like a terrarium.
If she were to buy a house, Annie told me, it would have to be near a school, because she wanted to bring her eight-year-old daughter over. That part wasn’t going to be easy, though. Annie’s sister was caring for the kid back in Shanghai and seemed to have the means to resist handing her over, on the grounds that the child’s education would be disrupted. Annie planned to make a trip home in fall to sort matters out. I always felt there was something she was not telling me about how her marriage fell apart. So be it. My attitude is, if you don’t want to tell me something, then don’t.
I also had the feeling that if Annie went back to China she might decide not to return here and I wouldn’t see her again in this life.
If you buy a house, I said, I mean if it’s the right kind of place, I could rent part of it from you. If there’s a separate entrance, I mean.
We didn’t talk now, devoting our energy to the task at hand. We advanced doggedly, clambering over fallen, mossy trunks, as if intent on, as if obsessed with, reaching the stream's source.
The path entered an overgrown area and dead-ended at a heap of fallen, mushroom-encrusted boughs. We backtracked and hopped back once more to the east bank. That turned out to be tough slogging as well. Nature was trying to bar the way. We stooped low to pass under a series of rotten tree trunks that dangled across the path. Someone should clear away that dead wood, Annie said, it could fall on someone.
The ravine grew narrower, the climb steeper. We were reaching a culmination. We walked single file atop a retaining wall of rocks tightly gathered within wire mesh. A sort of cave mouth in a hillside came into view and we could see where the stream gushed out from it, passing thru a heavy grate. The water was murky now, spilling over a mat of dead leaves and debris tangled in the grate.
To the right, a path led to an open gate beyond which lay a well-groomed lawn with big shade trees. Here and there a stone slab poked up from the ground — they were tombstones, I realized with a start. Mount Pleasant Cemetery. This was not the destination I had in mind when we started out.
Annie was facing in a different direction. She was heading toward a stairway that led up to the houses.
That’s for rich people up there, I said.
Let’s go look, she said.
No harm in looking, I agreed. Let’s go.