A single strand of pale hair caught on a thorn, lifting in the air and gleaming for a moment in the sun. Don’t miss it. If you’re a homicide detective, that’s how hard you have to look, how closely you must pay attention and never allow your focus to waver. Otherwise you might mistake it for something it’s not—a single filament, say, from a spider’s torn web. You have to look closely, because there isn’t always a body to find. Sometimes it was long ago that she died, as much as 30 years, and all that’s left is her exhumed remains. Other times there isn’t even that much. But you don’t stop looking. You can’t stop looking. Your job is to find what other people refuse to see. By day you hunt for clues, by night assemble them into a map.
You detect her, the dead girl, no matter if you have to use a magnet to stir a hundred woodstoves’ worth of cold ashes to find a single eyelet from her sneaker. Not everything burns away. A girl can be killed, but not obliterated. And even one tiny eyelet is something. Something for the mourners to bury.
KATHRYN HARRISON, novelist, nonfiction writer and More contributing editor, is working on a biography of Joan of Arc.
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