All the Things We Never Found

Taylor Kirby


My father told me they drained the lake so we could play in the soft meat of its concave belly. Really he meant he wanted to invest in metal detectors so I could double his labor during visitation weekend. We would scan the mud of what was once Horsetooth Reservoir for wedding rings or the kind of watch his bosses wore—maybe even the stainless steel of a pistol that would help solve an ongoing murder investigation with a standing reward. He’d plant his Budweiser empties in the holes he dug up to uncover cracked sunglasses or rusted keyrings. That way, the frustration he felt when wealth didn’t reveal itself to him would bloom in whoever radared his trash after us.

In the dark of morning, hours before construction workers arrived to repair the lake’s eroded dams, my father and I would emerge from our nearby tent to descend into the Mars-colored clay. The news reports said we wouldn’t be alone. People were travelling from out of state in the hopes that a better life would be given to them if only they could find the lavish flotsam that had fallen from people’s swimming bodies and trade old loss for new pawn shop income. I couldn’t wait to scan my search coil over every discrete puddle that was once a singular and immense entity, orphaned bodies of water reflecting the false metallic glitter of rippling constellations.

As we stood on the rim of the lake, now a canyon dug into the base of a mountain range, he’d say, “This looks like the hole a volcano gets after it blows its lid and kills everyone near it.” He told me a lot of things that made me not want to search for treasure anymore—that if we got lucky, he’d take me on a long vacation without my mom, or how we might find, among other debris, the skeletons of lost kids who didn’t listen to their dads.

Once my father taught me to swim in this lake by dropping me into the water churning behind our speeding boat. After he lifted me by the skin of my underarms, kitten-like, and launched me over the motor, I learned how to keep my head above a violent wake. I needed to witness just how far behind he left me while my legs kicked away the gravity of that lake’s opaque floor.

It’s been 20 years since the lake was drained. Snowmelt has replenished 95 percent of its water reserves. Thousands of footprints once sunk into the newly exposed mud of Horsetooth’s floor, but we never made it there ourselves. In truth, I don’t remember much of my father—not what he said about volcanoes or vacations, and not how his voice sounded before he wet his throat by licking morning dew from the slope of our camping tent. But I know that had I drowned in those reservoir waters, I’d be only a shipwreck of bones, too bodily to warrant being found by the metal detector he never bought.


A writer from Denver, Colorado, Taylor Kirby currently lives with her two cats outside of Austin while she pursues an MFA at Texas State University. Her prose has appeared in or is forthcoming from Jellyfish Review, Atticus Review, and the Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology.