Thursday, January 18, 2007

Chapter Five: And Then There was One

Compass sat on her mother’s sofa, quietly contemplating her rapidly vanishing family. This time yesterday she’d had two parents – one inarguably dead, but still a parent, still a genetic presence, a half-contributor to her Frankenstein body (her hair, his nose, her chin, her eyes, his long legs, his smile) – but now that half of her came from god knows who, and the progenitor of the other half had scarpered, taking her answers with her. All the solid things in Compass’ life were being replaced with air and shadowy figures in the mist. Then the dryer buzzer went off and Compass screamed like a nine-year-old girl.

Upstairs, she opened the dryer, steaming her glasses slightly. Todd had already left for work, but Compass didn’t teach on Fridays, so she rattled around her mother’s house alone, pinballing from shock to numbness, shock to numbness and back to shock again. She was unsure what to do next. Did she go to the police and file a missing person report? She’d trolled through the house a little bit already, looking in the places she knew her mother stashed her favorite things. All of those favorite things were gone, as was the frozen cash she kept in a Tupperware container in her freezer. To pack all these things, make preparations to disappear, that must have taken time. Why didn’t she say anything on the phone? Was it Compass she was running from?

Compass laid her head on a pile of freshly dried towels. They were warm and smelled wonderful and for some reason Compass wanted her mom to come home to clean sheets and fresh towels. It was bait, perhaps. Compass wanted to burrow inside and curl up like some small mammal – a gerbil, perhaps, or a rabbit – and sleep until the owls and the hawks and the foxes were gone.

If this were a movie, there would have been a handsome cop. He would have been tall and leonine and brave and sensitive and sparks would have flown between them (inappropriately perhaps, considering her mother had just disappeared), and when he patted her hand sympathetically, the camera would have focused on their touch, his hand lingering on top of hers, the warmth palpable even through a movie screen. He would have looked into her eyes just a second too long, a small smile playing across his lips; he would have been in plain clothes since all cop uniforms made her think of ChiPS and there was nothing sexy about that at all. Alas, there had been no such cop. All the ones crowding her mother’s house last night had been of the pudgy, irritable, we-don’t-get-much-action-around-here-and-that’s-the-way-we-like-it type. Compass wondered about this, idly; do you become a cop because you think it’ll be relaxing?

The phone rang, causing Compass to shriek again. Did everything have to be set at pant-wetting volume in this house?

“Mina Jones’ residence.”

“Compass?” It was Todd.

“It’s me. Where are you? I can hardly hear you.”

“I’m out back of the building, having a cig.”

“No garbage trucks around, right?”

“No garbage trucks.”

“Keep an eye out. You’re the only family I have left.”

“No word from your mom?”

“No. But I’m pretty sure her disappearance was voluntary. Unless the kidnapper was willing to wait while she gathered up all gram’s jewelry, mom’s passport, her laptop, eight pairs of shoes, some 'darling' summer skirts, her bathing suit and goggles and ski boots, and I’m pretty sure there was a box of condoms in the bathroom.”

“Ah. A better class of kidnapper.”

“I’m thinking of not involving the police further. She went on her own.”

“And no cute cops to bring back for an ongoing role. Maybe they’re all on day shift?”

“Did you feed my girls?”

“I did. They were fast asleep on the bed when I arrived, and fast asleep on the couch when I left.”

“Them’s my girls. Thanks for that.”

“No worries. If you need me to watch them for a few days, I’d be happy to.”

Todd’s apartment was even smaller than Compass’ and didn’t have the view; he was therefore always willing to catsit on the rare occasions when Compass was away.

“Would you? I think I might hang out here a day or two.” Her commute to work wouldn’t be much longer, and maybe she could dig up a clue as to her mother’s whereabouts. They sounded nearly identical on the phone; that might help if she needed to do sneaky stuff.

She made a quick trip home to get some clothes, her laptop, her school stuff and to spend a moment explaining the situation to her girls. She left strict instructions as to their feeding, knowing that Todd would likely ignore her directives and the girls would be even fatter and more spoiled by the time she got back.

Once she was thoroughly burrowed in at her mom’s house, she began a less dainty search for answers. She dug through drawers instead of glancing at whatever lay on top. She used her laptop to look through the pile of floppy disks for interesting files. She checked the trash, tried for clues in the clothes her mother had packed, but she’d taken a bit of everything. At one point, as she was trying to make sense of the shredded documents in the recycle bin, Compass laughed out loud. Her mother’s helter-skelter approach to life had worked in her favor – there was no rhyme or reason to any of it, and it amused and mightily pissed off Compass that her mother had derailed the Search for the Father by turning it into a Search for the Mother.

In the bedroom, there was a wooden box with a lock that Compass had been avoiding all morning. This was the box that she had been told she must never go into unless her mother was dead. “If you’ve seen my corpse,” said Mina to the then-eleven-year-old Compass, “If I’m riddled with bullets and dry as a bone, if the doctors are backing away from the operating table and saying things like, ‘TOD 8:48 am,’ if people are patting you on the back and looking consoling and there are lots of dark clothes and lawyers around, then you may open the box. But not one minute before, do you understand?”

Compass knew her mother wasn’t dead. She knew there was every chance in the world she’d come waltzing in the door in a couple of weeks, full of explanations, lies, funny stories and airplane booze. She would undoubtably claim that she’d told Compass ages ago about the trip, it’d been planned simply forever, and all her daughter’s worrying was her daughter’s own stupid fault for not paying attention.

Compass could hear her mother’s voice in her head, berating her for being so foolish as to worry about the well-being of another human being. That was something Mina never did. There was the time Compass had had stitches and the nurse held her hand because her mother was off harassing the hospital’s plastic surgeon about his rhinoplasty rates. Or when Compass had passed out giving blood and came to to find her mother had eaten her cookies and drunk her juice. What about when she’d stayed out all night as a teen, just to force her mother to worry? When she finally came home the next morning, stiff from trying to sleep at the bus station, her mother had pilfered her favorite skirt, her best pair of shoes and $35 from her piggy bank.

Compass hammered the shit out of that box.

1 comment:

Ash said...

LOL: "Did everything have to be set at pant-wetting volume in this house?"