By Karen Heslop
Karen Heslop writes from Kingston, Jamaica. Her stories have been published or are upcoming in a prominent Jamaican newspaper, a Devolution Z anthology, 101 Words Magazine and Bloodbond Magazine. She will also be in the Honourable Mentions section of an upcoming issue of Allegory Magazine.
"Is everything okay Mom?" I asked.
"Yes dear. Everything's fine."
Her smile was very tentative and I knew she was lying but 16 years in this house had taught me the futility of asking probing questions. Besides it was Friday and the last thing I needed after a long week at my crappy school was family drama. I pushed the thought from my mind and went to my room. That evening, my mom and I ate dinner in the silence that had become our custom since my dad started working late so often. Mom said it was necessary for our survival; I thought it was necessary for Dad's sanity.
In the morning, I had to force my eyes open even though my room had gotten too warm for sleeping in comfort. It felt strange because I generally don't get a chance to sleep in. The smell of breakfast would usually wake me up. I dragged myself out of bed and started to make a mental list of all the things I could forage for in the kitchen. I was halted in the living room by the sound of my mother's faltering voice.
"Hello. I would like to report a missing person."
Missing person? What the...?
"My husband, James Calder."
My legs moved forward of their own volition.
"Well, I haven't seen or heard from him since he left for work yesterday. Uhm, no...I don't know if he was at work all day so yes I would say he's been missing for 24 hours."
A slight pause.
"Yes, I would still like to file a report. Thank you."
She placed the handset gently in its cradle and got up from the chair with her eyes still downcast. She bumped into me when she turned in the direction of the kitchen. I hadn't realized I had gotten that close.
She surprised me by bursting into tears. I mean I've seen my mom slice her finger open while chopping vegetables and still finish cooking without batting an eyelid. Let's just say tears are not the norm for her. Now she was dabbing at her eyes while telling me that Dad hadn't come home last night. At first she thought he was just working overtime at his accounting firm but then she couldn't get him on his phone.
"It's okay Mom. I'm sure he's fine. Maybe something just came up."
It was her turn to ignore a lie.
"Thanks hun," she said while patting my hand, "I'll go make you some breakfast now."
A few hours later, a couple police officers came by to start the process of filing a missing persons report. They asked my mom about my father's daily schedule and anywhere he may have gone after work had ended.
"Was it possible he was having an affair?" they asked.
"Does he have any family nearby?"
"What about other parts of the country?"
"Not that I know of."
"Were there any problems at work?"
My mother's eyes flashed to mine for a brief second before she answered, "No".
It struck me that she was lying again and I wished I knew the nerve the police officer had just touched. I decided to take a walk and think about it some more. I grabbed my coat from the closet in the foyer and shouted, "I'm going for walk Mom!" without waiting for a reply.
When I opened the door, there was a small brown box with my mom's name scrawled across its top sitting on my step. I picked it up and shook it a little but there was only the dull thud of something moving sluggishly side to side. I didn't want to disturb my mother and the police officers so I placed the package in the refrigerator since it felt cool. I decided I would tell my mom about it when I got back.
I kept my walk short because I just wanted to be gone long enough for the cops to leave. I saw that my mission was accomplished when I walked through the door. My mom was back in the kitchen making dinner.
"Hey mom. How did it go with the cops?" I asked.
"Alright I guess. The report has been filed so they're going to start looking for James now."
"When they asked about the work thing...why'd you lie?"
She looked at me sharply so I quickly added "I mean...what if it would help them find him?"
Her face softened a bit.
"It was just a minor disagreement between your father and his boss. Your father had misplaced something, that's all. I didn't want the police wasting time on something irrelevant."
I wasn't sure I believed that but like I said before I had learned not to pursue information my parents weren't willing to give up.
"Okay. Oh...did you see the package in the fridge?"
"Yes. I had ordered something for the kitchen online."
I nodded and left her in the kitchen.
Three days after my dad's disappearance, my mother was worried and annoyed that she hadn't heard anything from the police yet. She finally got through to the officer in charge after hours of being passed from one person to the other. All they could confirm was that my father had indeed gone to work, spent all day and left at his usual time. No-one remembered anything of note. It didn't seem as if he had done anything out of the ordinary, you know apart from the whole not coming home thing.
Another three days after that, my mom surprised me by offering to cook my favourite stew for dinner when I got home from school. I happily agreed. There had been no progress with the investigation and we needed to think about something other than the void left by my father. My mom had barely ventured into the kitchen since Dad's disappearance so I offered to help.
"It's ok hun. You should go relax. This has been hard on you too."
I wasn't sure if she was just being nice but I took the easy way out anyway and went to my room. Somewhere between inane reality show re-runs, my conscience kicked in. Maybe my mother and I didn't have the closest of relationships but washing a couple dishes wouldn't kill me.
Once in the kitchen, the first thing that struck me was the neat stack of plain brown boxes on the counter. I hadn't realized that more boxes had been delivered after the one I had collected the week before. The boxes were soggy and dripping what looked strangely like blood. I wondered who shipped meat in boxes like those. I noticed a slip of paper on top of the boxes and thought that might give me some more information.
HAVE IT YOUR WAY MRS. CALDER.
WHY DIDN'T YOU RETURN THE MONEY HE STOLE?
NO MONEY, NO HUSBAND. ENJOY THIS LAST PIECE OF HIM.
THE POLICE WILL DELIVER THE REST.
I looked from the note to my mother humming over the pot of bubbling stew. Oh God...