Author: Ann Tandy
The house was old, but not particularly interesting–it was the previous century’s version of a model house, with the same layout as its neighbors, the same banisters and door trim. But it was theirs, and they settled into a comfortable if chaotic life. They joked about how cleaning meant “moving piles from one place to another,” but both were actually pretty good about remembering where things were in the organized mess–oh, right, that take-out menu for the new place down the street is in this pile on the buffet, about half-way down, underneath the letter about the city coming to trim trees. Got it.
But every once in a while she’d find something peculiar. The first was a strip of old photo-booth pictures of him as a teen, mugging for the camera. On the back of the photos was written “Times Square 1987.” She didn’t remember him ever mentioning that trip, but then again, they hadn’t met until their late twenties. She sifted further through the pile, found the bank statement she was looking for, and didn’t think any more of it. When she next looked through the pile for something else, the photo strip wasn’t there.
A few days later, rifling through some medical paperwork, she found a postcard from Majorca. It was addressed to both of them, from a name she could barely read. She set this one on top of the pile to show him, but when she went back for it, it was gone, and she could no longer remember the name of the sender.
A month after that, looking for a receipt for a skirt she wanted to return, she found an envelope marked, in her handwriting, “wedding flowers.” Inside it were three pressed flowers from her wedding bouquet. But she hadn’t saved any–she was sure. Yet the handwriting was absolutely hers. The receipt was underneath it; she moved the envelope to the kitchen table and left for the store. When she got back, it was gone.
Sometimes several things would appear in one week. A progress report for a school her daughter didn’t attend, a stained recipe card in her grandmother’s handwriting for a dish she’d never made, a card thanking her for flowers she never sent to a grief-stricken person she didn’t know. Then months would go by without anything. It only ever happened when she was alone, when he was at work and the kids were at playdates or school, and no matter how carefully she placed the items somewhere safe to find later, they always disappeared.
One night, she was startled awake by her husband talking in his sleep. He mumbled something that might have been “Majorca,” rolled away, and settled into a rhythm of soft snoring. In the morning he had no idea what he’d dreamt.
Then a few years passed without anything appearing. Their lives went on fairly routinely. She left teaching and started doing garden design. He got promoted and started traveling more. He was arriving back from Taiwan the day it happened. She called to the kids, come on, we need to go pick up your dad.
They didn’t answer. They weren’t in the house. They weren’t in the yard, they weren’t at the park down the block.
In a panic, she called her husband at the airport.
I can’t find them. The kids. They are gone. They are just…nowhere. I don’t know what to do. The kids are gone.
Standing in the dining room, surrounded by piles of papers, pictures, menus, unopened mail, she waited for his response. She could sense his confusion growing.