You don’t recognize your own reflection in the mirror. Your expression is unfamiliar somehow, pale and hard. The rain has impressed streaks like glistening snail’s tracks on your cheeks, blotching mascara. Why so many lazy days lying in warm summer sand? Why the ruination of your complexion? There is skin cancer in your future, my dear. The mirror doesn’t care, frowning back, reversing everything.
If you only could find where you put your purse. Why so much stupid yarn?
You could be anyone almost.
The one twenty-dollar bill left, papery.
Sipping your coffee, wondering if you drink it like this. It’s a bit sugary, but it’s the sugar does that.
Listening. A man says: He’s had that same cold since June. We think he’s developed an addiction to Sinex nasal spray seeing as how he squirts it up his nostrils every two seconds. Wendy, from HR, decided he’s allergic and has us move all the plants out. We’ve created a unique ecosystem for him now. It’s like working with the boy in the bubble.
The woman says: I’m not saying she’s stupid, but she asked me where’s the ‘any’ key on the keyboard. See, the prompt sheet says, ‘To initialize the Wrap Report, press any key.’ ‘Oh, God,’ she says. ‘You must think I’m so dumb.’ I’m thinking, Duh.
So this is a river town. You never see a river right from a bridge or the shore but need to be on it. Feel it under you, its tug, the life of the thing. You feel the cold of a river on its bank, but not the cold that is the river, the way the pull of it displaces you. Landmarks are familiar but don’t fix you anymore and you’re different every moment, changing and changing. You’ve moved on. Cities don’t make rivers: rivers make cities.
Which city? Where are you?
At the corner of Prairie and Main a sky full of sky-things: streamers of starlings, scudding clouds. Newspapers spun in an alley’s updraft.
You’ve only a ten-dollar bill now.
On the far side of this bar there’s nobody with teeth.
The man says: I’m involved with potbelly pigs. You any experience with potbellies? My grandmother had a pig was probably three hundred pounds. He lived in her house, and was fantastic. Potbellied pigs are real intelligent. That pig was smarter than me.
You make a study of the yellow brackish backup on the floor tiles. The brown paper from the towel rack feels coarse against your brow below which eyelashes smudge black strips. “Hi,” the man says, cat-lazy eyes and a half-moon’s worth of dimple, a smallish balding one with a doughy face and quiet insistent voice. His cheeks are an ice botched by skaters.
Under the maple on the thin grass, a little Spring Green flag fluttering and a man spraying and you think about all those weird chemicals seeping into the lawn. There is some major brain damaging poison in that weed-killer stuff, you just have to take a look at the mental status of the guys that spray it every day to know that.
Grass should be slathered with dew.
If you lived here you’d be home now.
You’re climbing higher than the steeple as light drapes the river town like. Blue the color of day in the dip of the sun like. In the slash, from the windows of the houses, the lights of a thousand TV screens shimmering like. Push on deeper into blue. A green field of cut grass under a sky blue and full of hum, so lovely, you are so lost, irretrievably, among flowers like stars, yellow flowers crying out for a blue vase like. Like?
Let time turn to color, waves to windows, oceans to rain, diamonds to tunnels. Branches of trees are veins, a sky a big jade wheel like, and you a girl, a green larval thing, changing and changing and then not.
There is something the matter with you. There has been for years, whoever you are, whoever you think you are.
So for now why not be everything, a melted piano, a clock fallen in the sea, a chime of cold rain, train clicking tracks.
Your mother is calling you in, and you are staying out to play.
A somewhere gonging of big bells and there’s the black lake into which you threw a yellow pebble, a decayed tooth, a key. Ripples lapping, changing texture like, fireworks peacock tails, studded with hexagons, bands of dark red and yellow globes jetting grids of blue halos. Vaults of wet-bubble rainbows spraying spider webs, choking perfumes vanilla thick bitter cloying on the tongue. What else you need, honey? Scissors a toucan’s bill, a crab a wineglass, a keyhole a champagne cork, fish swimming stained glass windows. A fissure in a tree trunk an open door to. Moisture beaded on a blade like, stalk bent low by dew a message like. Reach in the hole the frost cracks rent, your fingers sinking in the hive’s red cone like. Tugging till a comb gives sighing in liquid squirting warmth sticky coagulate webbing fingers in viscous yellow strings clotting cloying the heart of you. The tree broke out in bees like.
If you lived here you would be home.
Well, she’s a very devoted mother, been a stay-at-home mom for eight years now. Nine. I’d say she makes friends wherever she goes. She’s pretty involved in the community, with the church and the school and so on, pastries. I don’t suppose she does go very far these days. But she’s the type would make friends wherever she went. Very chatty, you know, the type strikes up conversations with strangers. Which is precisely what could have got her into trouble. I talked to her about that behavior a few times.
She said she needed to run some errands. She didn’t specify. It may have involved fabric or something of that nature. She did things with fabric, and, oh, we needed drops for our cats Buffy and Willow. They have a skin condition. I think they’re probably allergic to something in the basement. Molds?
So she left shortly thereafter to go to wherever, although running errands doesn’t mean going that far usually, in the typical sense of the phrase. I don’t know why they say run to describe that. Once she gets talking to a person it’s hard to shut her up though. And I was playing with the kids, just generally taking care of them, since we’re not using a babysitter right now, and watching the Cubs game. They’re in Anaheim and it was quite riveting, a pitchers’ duel, who’d think that with the Cubs this year, and before I knew it, it was like nine o’clock. And that’s when I started to get nervous and realized this is a little bit longer than what it would take and I started reaching out to her friends trying to determine her, you know, location I guess. Have you seen her? Do you know where she might be? When nobody had seen her that’s when I had that freak-out moment and started up calling local PDs and hospitals trying to figure out if there was an accident or something. There’s no mental disability issues or any history of that—except she took something for anxiety and liked a glass of wine with dinner—which I told her to watch out for because some of her family like a tipple too much and it’s embarrassing how that plays out sometimes, nothing like a lush to put a damper on things. The only thing was I recall she complained about headaches. I think the word suffering came up. This was mentioned the last three days leading up to her disappearance on Thursday. And we talked about it briefly but it wasn’t to the point where it was debilitating. And I don’t know if there was anything in that might lead to some kind of conclusion. I just mention it because it was to the point that she mentioned it several days in a row and I might have ignored it since she had a slight tendency to go on about things, a bit of a rabbiter and a worrier, which is why I suggested she might be better off being on something actually, pills.
Well, I’ve asked all of her close girlfriends. Is there anything that I didn’t know about as her husband that I should’ve known about, as it were? But I don’t think she was capable of having a relationship with another man, mainly because of the way she had let herself go after the last kid, and I should add I’m an observant-type person. I paid close attention to where she was at all times. And everybody says—everyone that’s really close—that there was no third party involvement and I believe this. So any notion she might have had some sleazy affair is plum crazy to me. She’s so devoted to her kids and she’s potty training our little one, which is time-consuming, and she’s just so regimented with everything she does. She couldn’t just take off. I mean, this is a woman knows what she has to do every minute of every day.
Look, I’d be happy to do one of those We love you. Please come home if you can type PSA’s. If you are being held against your will stay strong. People are praying for you. Churches are involved. Don’t worry, the kids think you’re on vacation, and so forth. You’d need to run that during Dance Moms and The Bachelor as that’s the only kind of crap she watches these days. She used to be quite interesting, but she’s into escaping now I guess. A lot of older women are.
Obviously I’m an emotional wreck right now and plus I know when something like this happens the husband is a natural suspect. I wasn’t born yesterday. I know you guys are just doing your job. But I’m very much not involved in doing away with her in any way, shape, or form, goes without saying obviously. That’s just not me. And I think you will also hear, just saying, from her friend Gina about how there was a brief altercation-type incident, and how she kind of stumbled into the door frame in the kitchen and bumped her eye somewhat, and a big to-do will be made of that, since Gina is a major drama queen and also you will hear rumors about the Feinberg’s daughter who used to babysit for us but who, besides driving her home, I barely know. But the fact she’d complain sometimes that it took me too long to drive Lisa back and how we shouldn’t deploy her anymore. That will come out in the wash so I just want to put it out there in advance. I have absolutely no clue why she’d take off like that. We just want her home.
Rob McClure Smith’s fiction has appeared in many literary magazines like Gettysburg Review, StoryQuarterly, Chicago Quarterly Review, Warwick Review, and Barcelona Review. He has a collection forthcoming from Queen’s Ferry Press.