Sheila wasn’t really missing. Frank never hurt her, really, but didn’t want to be alone. He reckoned if he knew where she was, he wasn’t alone and she wasn’t really missing.
She was tired of Campbell’s tomato soup and burnt toast and offered to cook. Frank didn’t answer so she promised she wouldn’t run. The kitchen granted access to the upstairs, which was dingy like the basement, but with bars on the windows. Nobody would break in to steal a threadbare couch but somebody might want to get out.
Sheila kept her promise. The toast was no longer burnt. The soup was homemade. Frank shuffled out the door every morning for work in uniform pants that sagged at the hips. After a few months his pants no longer sagged. He smiled sometimes.
She missed her family and was likely presumed dead. She imagined her distraught mother or cadaver dogs combing the empty lots near her apartment complex. But this was her life now. Frank wasn’t cruel, and in fact, he would give her almost everything she asked for. Except her freedom.
“I’d be lonely,” he said.
“You’d be hungry,” she answered.
Sometimes Frank would be gone for days and returned smelling of stale beer and cigarettes. He’d apologize and bring her a wilting bouquet. Once it still had a card attached to it that said, “I miss you, Earlene.” She felt a twinge of jealousy toward Earlene, until she realized he’d lifted it from a cemetery.
# # #
Sheila marked the passage of time by the click of the hasp on the padlocked door. It clicked once in the morning as he left, and again in the afternoon when he returned. Occasionally, she’d wake from a nap to the sound of the mail slot creaking open and snapping shut. Bills and mailers advertising dry cleaners or pizza coupons would fall to the floor, where Frank often ignored them.
“Bills always find you,” he said.
“Same with junk mail,” she answered.
He’d said nothing and slurped his soup.
Frank had been gone two days when the mail slot flap groaned. There was an electrical bill, a lawn care flyer and a postcard addressed to her. It was a picture of the Grand Canyon. She imagined herself standing on the edge, then falling into nothing.
The card bore a simple message:
Wish you were here,
She looked carefully at the postmark but it was smudged. She turned the card over in her hands, wondering when Frank would return. She noticed that the stamp had not been cancelled.
She’d seen people steam open envelopes on old TV shows and she ran to the kitchen to boil water. After a few moments under steam, the stamp peeled away easily and she stuck it to a Wailing Wall post card she’d found once in an aging Bible.
She wrote the last known address for her parents. Her message was simple:
I am here. I am not lonely.
After all, she wasn’t really missing.
# # #
Darcy McMurtery is a cranky librarian who writes in her spare time. Her work has appeared in various online and print resources including McSweeney’s. Her first chap book, Feast of Needs:Stories, was published in 2015 by Piecemeal Publishing. http://www.darcymcmurtery.blogspot.com
Photo credit: Larry Thacker, www.larrydthacker.com