A feather fell from the sky. It floated ever so slowly down, almost as if it were trying to defy the pull of the earth’s gravity. Emily watched the phenomenon, looking around to see if she could spot the bird it came from, for surely it must have been huge so as to produce such a large feather, but other than the feather, and a few puffy clouds in the distance, the sky was clear.
Finding nothing, she sighed as she sat back down on the small beach, looking out over the dark blue waters of the lake near the home where she’d grown up. She wasn’t happy to have returned after so many years away. It was a beautiful place, yes, with its meadows of flowers in the springtime and mild summers on the lake; memories of playing along the shoreline and in the neighbor’s boat danced through her mind. The winters were harsh, but sitting inside, cozy by the fireplace, and reading a book while snuggled up in a blanket with the smell of chocolate chip cookies in the oven, almost made it worth being snowed in so much of the time.
But, despite its beauty, other memories resurfaced too; these memories she preferred to keep locked back behind a wall within the recesses of her mind. She didn’t want to think about her mother’s disappearance. She’d been just thirteen years old when it had happened, the age when you were too old to be a child and too young to be a woman, you were just somewhere in between, feeling lost and floundering in the midst of the transition from childhood to adulthood. With just that flash of memory, she was that lost little girl again.
At first she blamed herself for her mother leaving. What had she done to drive her mother away? In those days she had been hard to get along with, she was often moody and argumentative. She’d had an argument with her mother earlier that week, before she disappeared from their lives forever. And in the days after, well, her father wasn’t much solace.
That first morning, when her mother was gone, she’d woken up from her father’s scream. Her heart beat fast, frightened as to what was happening in the house; she’d never heard her father make such a noise before. After clutching her covers tightly in her fists for some time, and after the noise of running footsteps pounding through the house abated, there was silence. Her breathing slowed and she was able to move again, no long frozen in place by her fear. She slid from the bed, freeing herself from the covers, and tip-toed over to the door as quietly as she could, putting her ear against it. There was only silence. She cracked open the door and saw the hallway was empty.
She made her way downstairs but everything in the house was still. Everything looked normal except for some of the closets and cupboards were open, their contents spewed forth on the floor around them. Her parents were nowhere in sight. She made her way back upstairs to their bedroom. More stuff was strewn everywhere in there, clothes pulled halfway out of drawers and onto the floor, the entire closet seemed emptied of its contents as it was laying in piles all over the floor and bed. It looked like a whirlwind had come through the bedroom. What had happened? And where were her parents?
This time she ran, first downstairs and then outside, calling out for her parents as she made her way through the house, her bare feet slapping against the cool hardwood floors. She nearly burst through the front door, and seeing that their car was still in the driveway, ran around the side of the house to the back yard.
She stopped so fast her body nearly toppled over itself from the momentum. Her father was down by the lake, sitting on the beach. She could recognize him anywhere, even with his shoulders slumped and his head hung low, his fist pounding the sandy shore beside him over and over again.
‘She’s gone,’ he said, his face covered in tears. That sight was far more terrifying than anything she’d ever imagined. Her father, a pillar of strength, the man that carried her in her arms when she was tired, had kissed her cuts and bruises, to be brought so low, so obviously distraught.
‘Your mother, Emily. She’s gone. She’s left us.’
‘Left us? I don’t understand.’
And then he just cried again, pulling her to him and into his arms where he hugged her and moaned which only made her panic all the more.
There wasn’t an investigation, at least not right away. It was only later, when Emily got older, that she’d gone to the police about her mother’s disappearance. But strangely enough, there was no record of her mother on file. It was if she’d never existed. The authorities told her perhaps she’d been an illegal immigrant, come over from Canada. It happened sometimes. But since there was no record of her, and no evidence of foul play, there was little they could do.
The relationship between her and her father became strained over the years. He seemed to be in perpetual mourning, and when he looked at her he became even more distraught. She never got any answers from him, although she was sure he was hiding something, he often had a guilty look about him. The older she got, the more suspicious she grew, until wild theories about what had happened, and what her father had to do with any of it, began to obsess her. She left home on her eighteenth birthday and hadn’t ever spoken to him again.
Where had her mother gone? Why had she left?
The puzzle of her mother’s disappearance was a mystery she’d never solve, especially now that she’d come home to bury the one person that she was sure had known the answers. And that was the most frustrating thing of all, to never have the answer, to always guess and doubt if you’re right or wrong. To always wonder, and have some part of you blame yourself.
She shook her head to clear herself of the memories and looked out before her. Except for a lone swan swimming just offshore, the lake was still.
L. Richardson is a writer living in Baltimore, Maryland. When not writing she can be found reading, or watching too much television.