Wednesday, 27 April 2011
W is for ... 'Waiting' (flash fiction)
Another short story, inspired by the opening sentence, as part of a weekly fiction challenge last year.
This was quite hard to write - difficult to 'imagine' yourself in this person's shoes. However, with a lot of these fiction challenges the prompt usually conjures up an image in my mind and as soon as I read this sentence I was already there in Frank's office.......
He walked in and slid the photograph across my desk. It was hard not to look but I was fighting that urge because looking at it might finally make me face up to something I’d been tying to avoid for the last few months.
“Frank, I need you to look at this for me.” The policeman’s voice was firm but there was a kindly edge to it. Or maybe I’d just grown used to it after all this time.
Since Debbie had gone missing six and a half months ago Detective Sergeant Peter Guidrey had been in contact with me in some form or another every few days. Lately he’d taken to calling into my office, sometimes with possible news, sometimes just touching base, as if to say ‘We’re still on the case’. It was a kindly gesture, rather than being summoned yet again to the police station.
In the first harrowing hours of her disappearance I’d seen the finger of suspicion waver in my direction. That was normal I suppose. I’ve read somewhere about the number of abduction cases involving a known family member, usually a parent, often a male. My alibi had checked out, but I wonder even to this day, if somewhere lurking below the surface of formal Police procedure, they still suspect my involvement.
Peter pushed the photo towards me, prompting a reaction. Trouble is, the reaction I might give would not help matters.
“Please, Frank. Let’s settle this. Take a look.”
Settle it? Doesn’t he understand how much I want it to be settled? To see my beautiful Debbie come springing into the room in all her teenage youthfulness, with her music playing way too loud and her pleading for a newer, smarter phone…..?
He doesn’t understand the hours I lay awake at night going over and over in my head the last time I saw Debbie. I’d dropped her at the station. She was meeting her friends and they were going into the city to shop for new clothes and spend far too much money and hang out together and whatever it is that teenage girls get up to these days.
I should have waited; made sure some of her friends were there, but she’d waved me away. I shouldn’t have looked at my watch. Perhaps that’s why she told me to go. She’s a good kid. She knows the business pays the bills and the pressure to keep the whole thing afloat takes every minute I have. I should have waited.
So when Peter asked me to look at the photo and settle it I really wanted to, believe me. But I also want to rage and curse because my little girl is missing. She walked out of our lives and just disappeared. No trace. No explanation.
Sometimes I imagine she’s walking down a street, carefree and happy. Other times, the imagination turns the opposite way, to a darker reality. In the moments when hope is at its lowest ebb I secretly wonder where her body lies, her soul crying for us to bring her home.
My attention returns at the sound of Peter’s voice and my eyes focus on the white edge of the photo. I take a deep breath and reach out, my fingers tracing the corner of the print as I pull it towards me, like all the others I’ve pulled close to scrutinise before.
Slowly, I force my eyes to focus on the image. The air in my chest is frozen, hard, a leaden weight. Such beautiful hair. A cute, button nose. A fine bone structure. The picture blurs as my eyes fill with tears. The photo is obviously post mortem.
The heavy weight in my lungs escapes in one long, low groan as I push the photograph back.
“No,” I say quietly. It is not my beloved Debbie. Part of me is relieved. Glad to see that this is not my daughter, and yet somewhere her own parents will see this picture and their world of restrained agony will explode.
My relief is tinged with the pain of yet another day of uncertainty, another monochrome day in a world of technicolour, of putting one foot in front of another and working every hour God sends because to be at home is to be close to all that reminds me of Debbie. Stephanie, her mother, understands. She copes in her own way, seeking comfort from alcohol-induced inertia. What right have I to take that from her?
“No, it’s not Debbie,” I say, looking back towards the policeman who must now go back and cross her name off a list of missing girls, before the photo is circulated to other grieving, waiting families.
Peter retrieves the image and straightens up. We’ve had this conversation before and he knows not to pressure me to be sure.
“I’m sorry, Frank,” he replies. “You know we have to check each unidentified victim.” The word ‘victim’ cuts yet another sore in my heart.
“We will find her, I promise you,” he says as he turns towards the door. It’s a hollow promise, one he probably will never be able to make good on, but still he makes it, each and every bittersweet time we meet.
I raise a hand in acknowledgement as he opens the door and leaves, curbing my gut feeling that we will go through this charade again, sooner or later.
The clock has moved on ten minutes.
Another six hundred seconds of waiting.
As the empty, cavernous, fear of unknowing devours me yet again, how many more will there be, I wonder, until my daughter finally comes home?