Missing : Reward

“Some people are missing, because they don’t want to be found.” A whimsical work of fiction where a missing person’s case serves as a reminder that when life gets strange, the best thing to do might be to simply ride it out…

By: Paul Negri

Harriet went to the ladies’ room and never came back.

“This is like a horror story,” said her daughter Patricia as she paced back and forth between the table and the pantry in her parent’s massive 1950’s-looking kitchen. The sun streamed through the window above the yellowed sink and set the foil daffodils on the wallpaper sparkling. Patricia’s husband Don was browsing through the shelves in the pantry. Her father Harry was sitting at the table eating waffles.   

“They’re not in there, Don,” said Harry. “They’re frozen.”   

“I’m not looking for waffles,” said Don.   

“I don’t understand,” said Patricia. 

“I mean they’re in the freezer,” said Harry. “He won’t find them in the pantry.” 

“I mean about Mom. This is crazy. Why didn’t you call me last night? Why didn’t you call the police?” Patricia stopped pacing and turned toward her husband. “What the hell are you looking for in there?” For a small woman, she had a big voice. 

“I don’t know,” said Don. “I just want something. Something small.” 

“These waffles are small,” said Harry. “You could eat a dozen of them. Maybe more.”  

“I love waffles, but not frozen,” said Don. 

“For Christ’s sake, Dad. Are you listening to me?”

Harry put down his fork. “You don’t have to shout, Patty. I’m not deaf, you know, despite what your mother says. She’s always saying to me ‘Are you deaf?’ And I always tell her if I were deaf how could I answer that question? That shuts her up.”  

“Focus, Dad. Why didn’t you call the police?”

Harry picked up his fork. “I thought she’d come back. She’s done this before, when you were a baby.  She went out to get milk one night and didn’t come back for two days.”

Patricia sat down at the table. She brushed her bobbed brown hair from her eyes. “You never told me that. She didn’t either.”

“There’re a lot of things she never told you. You think we tell our kids everything? Do you tell your kids everything?” 

“We don’t have kids, remember?”  

“You’d probably have nothing to tell them anyway,” Harry chuckled. “You were always a good girl.”

“Didn’t you have those little coffee cakes?” asked Don from the pantry. “You know, the individually wrapped ones?”  

“They should be there somewhere,” said Harry, “unless Harriet ate them all.”  

“Where did she go? I mean the first time, when I was a baby.”

Harry took out his handkerchief and wiped maple syrup from his mouth. He put the handkerchief back in his pocket. “Just driving around, she told me. She just wanted to get away from me. And you.” 

 “And me? She said that? How old was I?” 

“I don’t know. Little. One or two.” Harry put his fork down on the plate. “Hey Don, there’s a fruit cake in there somewhere, I think. From Christmas a few years ago. But it’s okay, we never opened it. Those goddamn fruit cakes last forever.”  

“I don’t want fruit cake. I just want something small. I’m not really hungry.”

Harry looked down at the waffles. “Me neither. I was. But now I’m not. It’s these frozen waffles.” He took out his handkerchief again. “What have you done to my handkerchief, Patty? It’s sticky as flypaper.”

Patricia stood up, took her father by the shoulders, and shook him.  

“What the hell?” said Harry, his voice full of vibrato. 

“Don, come here. Please. Help me with this.”  

“Is he going to shake me too?” said Harry. “He’s a gorilla. He’ll kill me.”

Don sighed and shut the pantry door. He limped to the table and loomed over Harry. 

“Remember what you used to call me, Harry? The gentle giant.” 

“That was just so you wouldn’t kill me, you ape. You could crack me like a coconut. 

Don’t let him shake me, Patty.” 

“No one’s going to shake you, Dad.”   

“You just did.” 

Patricia sat back down at the table. She pinched the bridge of her nose, a trick she had learned to keep herself from crying. “Just tell me again what happened. Start from the beginning. Please.”

“I need the TV on,” said Harry. 

“Later,” said Patricia.

“I think better with the TV on.” Harry crossed his arms and dropped his chin to his chest.  

Patricia looked at the rash on top of his bald head, the red patches beginning to spill over to his forehead, adding color to his furrowed brow. This past year he seemed to have aged rapidly beyond his seventy-five years. “Okay, come on. Don, give me a hand,” she said.

“Upsy-daisy,” said Don and lifted Harry from his chair. 

“Leave me alone, Kong. I can walk. I’m not a cripple, like Harriet thinks. She always says, ‘Stop walking like a cripple’ and I tell her if I’m a cripple, how can I be walking? She can’t answer that one.” Harry laughed and wheezed.  

Patricia and Don walked Harry to the living room and deposited him in the big vinyl chair in front of the mammoth TV he had bought for Christmas over Harriet’s objections. The TV took up most of the wall and blocked half the window. Harry took the remote that he had attached to the arm of the chair by a cord and clicked on the TV. A man in a white cap stood poised to make a putt on an immaculate green.   

“Now Dad,” began Patricia.  

“Shhhhhh,” said Harry. “He’s putting.”  

“He can’t hear you, Harry,” said Don. “He’s in the TV.”  

“Yeah, that’s what Harriett says. Like he’s deaf, too, I suppose.” The golfer putted. He missed and the crowd groaned. “You see? Jesus Christ!”

Patricia took the remote from Harry’s hand. “No more TV until you tell me about Mom.”

Harry winced. “Okay, okay. What do you want to know?”

She sat and sank into the crushed blue velvet sofa. Don towered over Harry. “You were in Dante’s on 48th street. Then what? Step by step, tell me.”

“I forgot my glasses and I couldn’t read the menu. So your mother is reading it to me. But she won’t read the appetizers. She says we don’t have time, the show starts in an hour. But that’s what I want — the appetizers. So, she’s reading the pastas and I don’t want any pasta and she says we can share it and I say I don’t want to share anything, I just want two goddamn appetizers and they’re for me and she can order all the pasta she wants, pasta up the wazoo for all I care, and she says stop yelling which is crazy because I’m not yelling and then the waiter comes over and says can he be of any assistance and me, well I used a bad word, not the F-word, but the S-word, you know, and I don’t mean sugar, and Harriett says when I think of using the S-word say sugar instead and I tell her you can’t use sugar for shit, what kind of stupid shit is that—”  

“Take it easy, Dad,” said Patricia. “Slow down. So what happened next?”  

“She made a funny face, like she had a cramp or something, and just sat there for a while. Then she gave me her phone that I have no idea how to use and said to hold on to it and told me she was going to the ladies’ room.” Harry settled back in the chair. “Can I have the remote now?”  

“Then what? Think. What happened next?” Patricia struggled to extricate herself from the enveloping sofa. 

“That’s it. She never came back. I sat there for a while and then I had to go to the bathroom. So I get up and find the men’s room and right opposite is the ladies’ room and I remember that’s where Harriet went, so I go in to check for her and there’s some lady at the sink and she asks me what I’m doing there and I say I’m looking for my wife and she says no one’s in here but me and you’re not my husband.”  

“Who was she?” asked Don. 

“How the hell should I know? She was a big brute and ugly as sin. Maybe she was one of those men who dress up like women, one of those transient people.”  

“You mean like homeless?” said Don. 

“So what did you do?” asked Patricia. Harry lunged for the TV remote but she put it behind her back. “Come on, Dad.”

Harry looked like he was going to spit. “I got out the paper that Harriet had written where we parked, so we would remember after the show. I walked to 45th street and up to Eight Avenue, my legs all wobbly, so I took it real slow, like a cripple, you know. A cop stopped me and asked if I was drunk and I said no I’m old. So he walked me to the car and told me to drive carefully and that’s what I did. I drove home.”

“You had the car keys?” Patricia was surprised.

Harry thought for a minute. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Doesn’t Mom always drive?”

Harry paused. “I guess not.”

“And you haven’t heard from her since?” asked Patricia.

“No, not that I can remember. Wait a minute. The phone rang last night.” 

“Was it her?” 

“No. It was nobody. Nobody was there. Can I have the remote now? I don’t want to see any more golf.”

Patricia handed Harry the remote and motioned Don to follow her back into the kitchen.

“We’ve got to call the police,” she said.

“Come on. He hasn’t done anything wrong.” Don looked at the pantry door.

“For Mom. To report her as missing.” She gave Don a little push. “Will you stop with the pantry already?”

“I don’t blame Harry for not eating those frozen waffles. Why can’t people make waffles from scratch anymore, like when I was a boy?” 

“Don, come on.”

“Sorry, Pat. I’m a little foggy this morning. Maybe it’s low blood sugar.” Don sat down and placed his arms on the table like they weren’t his. Since his mini-stroke a month ago on his fiftieth birthday he was slightly weak on his left side and walked with a limp. He had gone part-time in his job at the post office. 

Patricia sat next to him and put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry, hon. It’s the new medication. You’ll get used to it.”

“It makes me — I don’t know — dopey.” 

“But that’s better than being so sad, right?”

Don scratched his head and Patricia flinched. It was just the way Don’s father scratched his head when they visited him at the nursing home in the dementia unit.   

“You just tell me what to do, Pat, and I’ll do it. We’ll find your mom together. We’re a team, right?”

She kissed him. “That’s right. Go sit with Dad. Keep him company. I’ll call the police.”

Patricia looked at the calendar stuck by magnets on the refrigerator door. It was a personalized photo calendar that she had made up every year for Christmas, each month showing different pictures of the family. November was her mother’s birthday and the photos were mostly of Harriet. In one she stood at the kitchen table looking down at Harry. She was not smiling.

Two days after filing a missing persons report at the 105th Police Precinct in Queens Village, Patricia called and asked for the officer who had taken her information at the Missing Persons Squad. She was told he could not be located.

“You mean he’s not at his desk?” asked Patricia.

“We can’t give you any information on Officer Crusoe at this time,” said the responding officer. 

“But he’s supposed to be looking for my mother.”  

“Why don’t you give it a couple of days. Most people turn up after two days.”  

“It’s been two days.”

The officer paused. “Have you put up any missing person posters?”

“What’s he say?” asked Don, who was standing behind her.

“Officer Crusoe told me to wait to hear from him,” said Patricia.

A longer pause. “It wouldn’t hurt to put up some posters. Most people with missing loved ones do that right away.” His tone was disapproving.   

“So this is my fault? Are you serious?” 

“Don’t yell at the police,” warned Harry, who was standing behind Don. “They don’t like it when you yell at them. Right, Don?”

“I don’t know. I never yelled at them.”

Patricia shushed them. 

“Why don’t you come back down to the precinct,” said the officer. “We’ll reactivate the report.”

“Reactivate? You mean it’s been inactive for two days?” Patricia looked at Don and shook her head.

“What?” said Don and looked at Harry.

“Don’t look at me,” said Harry.

“Come back down to the precinct, Miss and we’ll take it from there. And think about some posters. Maybe even a reward. People respond to a reward. What was your mother’s name again?”

“Harriet Houdini.” Patricia braced herself. “And yes, my father is Harry Houdini.”

“I don’t have time for this,” said the officer.

“Just for your information, the Houdini’s real name was Erik Weisz. My father is a real Harry Houdini and always has been.”  

“Why don’t you bring him down too? Tell him I’m a big fan.” 

“I’ll do that,” said Patricia and slammed down the old-style phone into its cradle.

“And thank you, officer,” shouted Harry, too late.

“Dad, why don’t you go sit in the backyard. Take your binoculars so you can watch the planes.”

“Is it time for the planes?” asked Harry.

“It’s always time for the planes.”

Harry took his binoculars from the kitchen counter and his Yankee’s baseball cap from the hook by the kitchen door and went to the backyard. Patricia closed the door behind him.

“Don, I’m going to have to move in with him for a while.”

“How long?”

“Until we find Mom,” said Patricia. “Or get someone to drop in every day. Maybe Valeria’s sister.”   

“Who?”   

“Valeria. The cleaning lady. She has a sister, a home health aide. We’re going to have to play this by ear.”  

“What about me, Pat? You want me to move in?” Don looked hopeful.  

“No, hon. You have to go to work, remember? Wednesdays and Fridays and Saturday afternoons. Right?”   

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said.   

“Will you be alright?” 

Don took Patricia in his arms and held her. She wanted him to be what he had always been to her before, big and strong and gentle, when in his arms was the best and safest place for her to be. But something was different now.  

“I’ll be fine,” said Don. “You just do what you have to do and don’t worry about me.”

She pressed her face against his chest and could feel the slow faint thump of his heart.

After a repeat visit to the 105th Police Precinct and a quick conference with a new officer in the Missing Persons Squad (a woman who assured her she had no plans to disappear anytime soon), Patricia sat at her mother’s PC and worked on a MISSING poster. She modeled it on the endless examples available on the Internet.    

“It’s like half the world is missing,” said Patricia.

Harry, who used the PC only to play a free online game called Crazy Golf, peered over her shoulder. “Look at the puss on that one. Who would want to find her?”  

“For God’s sake, Dad. That’s Mom. I scanned her photo.”

Harry moved closer and peered at the screen. “You better use another picture.”

Patricia opened a blank document and typed MISSING: REWARD.  

“How much reward?” asked Harry. “Maybe I’ll go looking for her myself.”

She looked at Harry. “It’s okay, Dad. Kid all you want if it helps. I know how worried sick you really are.”  

“You do?” 

“Of course.”

Harry nodded gravely. “Can you make meatloaf tonight? It’s Wednesday. Harriet always makes meatloaf on Wednesday.”  

“It’s Tuesday. But I’ll make meatloaf anyway.”  

“I had those frozen waffles again this morning. Where are the real goddamn waffles?” 

“Forget the waffles. Please. I said I’d make meatloaf.”  

“Don’t use chopped carrots. They get stuck in my dentures. Your mother always uses chopped carrots and I got to pick them out of the meatloaf. She gets mad and says you can’t even see them and I tell her if I can’t see them, how do I pick them out? That keeps her quiet.” 

The doorbell rang. “Who’s that now?” asked Patricia   

“Maybe it’s your mother,” said Harry. “Maybe she forgot her keys.”  

“Sit. I’ll get it.” Patricia went to the front door. 

The man at the door was familiar but Patricia couldn’t quite place him. He was big, like Don, but younger and plainly in better shape. “Can I help you?” she said. 

“I’m glad you don’t recognize me, Patricia. I’m Crusoe. Missing Persons?” Crusoe looked over his shoulder.  

“Holy shit,” said Harry, who had followed Patricia to the door. “He’s a bigger ape than your husband.”

“This must be Harry Houdini,” said Crusoe. “I see what you meant about him.” 

“Oh my god,” said Patricia. “I’m sorry. Come in.”

She led Crusoe to the living room and tried to shoo Harry back to the kitchen.   

“This is my house, isn’t it?” griped Harry. “I can go where I want to.”

Patricia took his arm and moved him out of the living room. “Go sit in the back for a while. Take your binoculars.”

“Is it time for the planes?”

“Yeah. Maybe even helicopters. Just watch and be patient, okay?”

When Patricia returned to the living room, Crusoe was standing and peeking out the part of the window not blocked by the giant TV.

“Officer Crusoe, is there a problem?” She realized his hair was a lot shorter than when she had first seen him, cropped close to his head. He had rapidly grown a full-face beard. He wore big dark glasses that looked like a clumsy disguise.   

“I’m incognito,” said Crusoe. “I can explain. Maybe.”

Patricia felt her stomach sink. “Look, if you’re in some kind of trouble, I don’t want to hear about it,” she said. “I’ve got enough trouble already.”  

“I just got involved with the wrong people and I need to be invisible for a while.”   

“Don’t tell me any more,” said Patricia and covered her ears.

Crusoe nodded.

Patricia sighed. “What kind of wrong people?” 

“The kind you don’t want to know.” Crusoe sat on the sofa and it swallowed him to the hips. “Jesus!”

“That sofa’s a man-eater. I should’ve warned you.” Patricia sat in her father’s chair.

“Wait a minute. You are a real cop, right?”  

“Oh I’m real all right.,” said Crusoe. “I felt bad about leaving like that and not doing anything about your mother. Not doing my job.” He took off his dark glasses. His eyes were big and bloodshot.

Patricia fiddled nervously with the remote and accidently turned on the TV. 

“…carried the head around in a bowling ball bag for a week before being apprehended by local police at her hairdresser’s salon. Her hairdresser Miss Betty said she was suspicious because she knew Mrs. Corridoro was not a bowler…”

Crusoe nodded sagely. “That’s always the way. It’s the little things that trip you up in the end.”  

“Sorry,” said Patricia and turned off the TV. “I’m working with someone else now at the precinct, so don’t worry about it.”  

“Who are you working with?”  

“Officer Melrosen.”

Crusoe laughed. “Mel? She couldn’t find — sugar. In a sugar bowl.” 

“Sugar?”

“I don’t really mean sugar,” said Crusoe.  “My mom — she passed last year — used to tell me to say sugar instead of, well, you know. I’m doing my best. Kind of for her.” 

“Good for you. And I’m sorry about your mom. Look, I appreciate your interest, but I think I better stay with the visible police.” 

“Okay. I understand. Just let me give you what I’ve got.” Crusoe took out a little notebook. 

“You’ve got something?” Patricia leaned forward in the chair.

“Harriet — or someone with her password — made two withdrawals from her checking account on the night she disappeared, each for $250. That’s the most the ATM allows in one transaction. The ATM was in Times Square.”  

“Really? I didn’t even know she had a separate checking account.” 

“The next day she withdrew all the money from a savings account. Forty-two thousand dollars.”

“She had a secret savings account?” Patricia stood up. “This is bizarre.”

Crusoe turned a page in the notebook. “A Times Square cabbie took a woman answering Harriet’s description to LaGuardia Airport the next day.”

“Oh my god,” said Patricia. 

“She apparently purchased a one-way ticket to La Paz, Bolivia. Used a VISA credit card.”   

“She’s flown to Bolivia?”   

“There’s a little confusion about that. The airline can’t confirm that she boarded the plane.”  

Patricia began pacing back and forth between the sofa and the TV. “This gets crazier by the minute.”

Crusoe stood up and began pacing with her. “Patricia, I’ve got to ask you something. Don’t take it the wrong way. It’s just a formality.” 

“What?”  

“Could your mother Harriet have been connected with drug trafficking?”

Patricia stopped in her tracks. “Jesus Christ! She’s seventy-two years old. She plays bingo at church. She makes meatloaf every Wednesday.”  

“I knew it was a long shot,” said Crusoe.  

“Do the police have this information?

“No. I gathered this myself. But you can give it to them. Just don’t mention that you saw me. Tell them we spoke on the phone and you don’t know where I am.” Crusoe put the dark glasses back on. 

 “I really appreciate your help,” said Patricia. “I’m a little crazy right now.” 

 “That’s okay. I’ve got to go. Have you done any MISSING posters yet?” 

“What good will they do if she’s in Bolivia?” Patricia pinched the bridge of her nose but began to cry anyway.  

“Maybe she just wants us to think she’s in Bolivia.” 

“But why, for God’s sake?” 

“When you’ve got the posters give me a call. I can help get them up where they’ll do the most good.”

Patricia was surprised to find she didn’t want Crusoe to leave. “Do you want a cup of coffee or something? I think I’ve got fruit cake somewhere.   

“No thanks.” He scribbled on a page from the notebook and ripped it out. “Here’s my cell phone number. Call me when you have the posters done. I’ll call you if I find out anything else.” 

“Thank you, Officer Crusoe. Thank you so much.” 

“Just doing my job,” he said and went to the window, peeked out, then to the door.

“Be careful,” said Patricia. “I mean with — well, whatever.” 

Crusoe smiled. She shut the door behind him.

Harry came wobbling into the living room. “I saw it,” he shouted.

“Saw what?”

“A helicopter. A police helicopter,” he said gleefully.

Patricia and Don stuck MISSING posters around Times Square and parts of Queens but stopped when Don was given a $75 ticket by a policeman for illegal posting of handbills. 

Crusoe was surprised. “It is a violation, but in missing persons and pets cases they usually let it slide. That cop, well, you know, he’s — well, not very nice, let’s say.”

“He’s a dick, let’s say,” said Patricia.

In the two weeks that had passed since Crusoe showed up at her door, Patricia had talked to him just about every day. She had begun to look forward to it. There was nothing new coming from the police. Harry seemed to have almost forgotten his wife was missing. And Don seemed more and more comfortable sitting with Harry in the backyard looking at planes passing overhead. He had even bought his own pair of binoculars. Crusoe was out there doing legwork. He was rapidly becoming the only one Patricia felt she could count on. And she just liked talking to him. The more she got to like him, the more she didn’t want to know anything about why he was on the run. They had something good going, she thought, and she didn’t want to ruin it.

They had met three times and each time he looked a little different. This day they were meeting at a Starbucks in the Bronx at Crusoe’s request. His beard was longer and his close-cropped hair was gone completely. He’d dropped the glasses, but wore a patch over one eye. He was in a midnight blue fleece jacket with a hood.

“You have a nicely shaped head,” she said, surprising herself. 

“Thank you, Patricia.”  

 “And the patch is a nice touch.” 

“You don’t think it’s a little much?” asked Crusoe.

A snippet of a woman sitting within earshot snickered.

Patricia turned and looked at her. “Do you mind? This is private.” 

“Then you should get a room,” said the woman.

Patricia stood up. “For your information, my mother is missing. This man is a—” She felt Crusoe’s hand on hers. “Is helping me find her. All right?” 

The little woman closed her laptop, took her coffee, and scurried past them. “You still look like you could use a room, honey. Live a little.”

Patricia sat down. “I’m sorry, Officer Crusoe.” 

“Don’t you think it’s time you just called me Crusoe?”

“I’m not flirting with you, am I? Oh god, I’m sorry I asked that. Forget it. I’m just feeling really weird.” 

“Forgotten,” said Crusoe.  

“Things have been so scary lately. Since Don had his little stroke last month he’s been like a different person. He seems so strange. Dad’s been going downhill without any brakes. Now Mom disappears, just like that.” Patricia snapped her fingers. “Everything was going along fine. I mean like it usually goes. Then you wake up one morning and everything is different. Teetering on the brink. It’s like some awful horror story and you’re afraid to get to the ending because you know it’s going to be bad.” She sighed. “I know I’m rambling. I’m sorry. But I’ve got to tell someone and you’re a good listener.”

Crusoe nodded. He lifted his eye-patch and gave her a long look.

Patricia sipped her latté. “I have to ask you something. I’ve been avoiding asking it.” She licked foam from her upper lip.

“The less you know the better,” said Crusoe. “I’ll only tell you I’m not a bad man.”

“Oh. Okay,” said Patricia. “Actually it’s not about you. It’s about Mom. Do you think that — foul play is involved?”

“No.” 

“No?” 

Crusoe took Patricia’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Some people are missing because they don’t want to be found. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah. No. Maybe,” said Patricia. “Oh shit.”

“Sugar,” admonished Crusoe.

“Shit!”

A little girl sitting with an old man at the adjoining table looked at Patricia and said, “That’s a naughty word. Right, Grandpa?”

The old man looked at Patricia, then Crusoe. “Don’t talk to strange people, Abbie.” 

“Well, I’m a naughty lady, sweetheart,” said Patricia. 

“What’s your problem?” said the old man.

“You don’t really want to know, do you?”

“You’re attracting attention, Patricia,” said Crusoe.

“You think?” 

“Let’s take a walk.” He took her by the arm and led her to the door. Patricia turned and saw the little girl staring at her with one eye closed, as if she was taking aim.

“Where’re we going, Crusoe?”

“Somewhere special.” 

“We’re not getting a room, are we?” said Patricia, half-joking.

They walked down the Grand Concourse beside six lanes of stop-and-go traffic, and trudged through the morass of slush the previous evening’s light snow had left behind, past old six-story brick apartment buildings and shabby shops. Patricia was unfamiliar with the neighborhood and felt lost. She wondered what could be special about the choked gray streets and dull mix of pedestrians walking with heads down against the wind or loitering in front of the buildings. They turned a corner and across the wide boulevard was a small park surrounded by a chest-high wrought iron fence with black bars and pointed finials.

“We have the light,” said Crusoe and trotted across the street, Patricia hustling to keep up with him.   

In the middle of the small park, behind the fence, was a little white cottage, a low house with a front porch and an even lower portion with a steep slanting roof. It had an odd and forlorn look about it.

“What the hell is this?” said Patricia. 

“Guess who lived here?” asked Crusoe. 

“I don’t know. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?” 

“Good guess. But wrong.”

Crusoe opened the gate and walked to a worn wooden bench facing the house and sat down. Patricia sat next to him. The wind blew hard in the open space and she felt a chill. 

“Okay. I give up. Who lived here?”

“Edgar Allen Poe.”

“You’re kidding. The Raven? Murders in the Rue Morgue and all that?”

“Don’t forget The Tell-Tale Heart,” said Crusoe and touched his chest.

Patricia moved closer to Crusoe.

“This place is a museum now, though it’s closed a lot. Like today. Poe lived the last two years of his life in this house. His wife died here. In the bedroom right there.” Crusoe pointed to the windows.

“Okay, Crusoe. This is interesting as hell. But what does it have to do with my mother?”

“Nothing,” said Crusoe, “and everything. Sometimes life gets strange and there’s nothing we can do about it. We ride it out, that’s all. We just go about our normal business. It doesn’t mean that everything’s normal, but it makes it feel that way.” He nodded his head toward the cottage. “Poe knew that. He knew it in his head and in his heart. In the end I think it broke his heart and drove him crazy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not for you. 

Patricia leaned against him and Crusoe put his arm around her. “Now listen, Patricia. I can’t stay here any longer. I’m really sorry. I wanted to find your mom for you, but things are catching up with me.”

“Things?”   

“I’ve got to vanish.”   

“Are you coming back?” 

 “Who knows?”   

“Don’t leave me here,” said Patricia in a small voice. “Don’t leave me in this nightmare.”

Crusoe kissed her on top of the head and stood up. “I don’t think you’re going to find your mom. She’s too good at being missing. But you’ll be alright. You just go about your normal business. Do what you always do.”  

“Isn’t there something else I could do?” 

“You could go missing too. You could pull your own disappearing act, if that’s what you want. Go find yourself a better place to be and don’t let anybody know where that is.”  

“How could I do that?” Patricia watched Crusoe walk away. She stood up.  

“Anyone can do it,” he said, looking over his shoulder. He pulled his hood over his head and took off at a rapid clip. She watched until he disappeared down the long boulevard into the gray of the evening. 

Patricia sat down and wrapped her arms around herself. The sun sank behind the house and the sky slowly lost its light. She took out her cell phone and turned it off.

It was past ten o’clock when Patricia walked into the kitchen and put a shopping bag on the floor and a small bag of groceries on the table. Harry laughed and Don looked like he was about to cry.

“Where’ve you been, Pat?” said Don. I’ve called your cell phone a hundred times.”

“I told you she’d come back,” said Harry. “She’s a good girl.”

Patricia sat at the table. “Sorry, hon. I wasn’t taking any calls for a while.” She opened the box in the shopping bag, pulled something out, and put it on the table.   

“Oh boy,” said Harry.

Don smiled.

Patricia patted the shiny silver waffle iron. “Okay, boys. Who wants some waffles made from scratch?”

 

Paul Negri has twice won the gold medal for fiction in the William Faulkner — William Wisdom Writing Competition. His stories have appeared in The Penn Review, Jellyfish Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Into the Void, and more than 50 other publications. He lives in Clifton, New Jersey.

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