Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Blues-Eyed Girl

We had plastered her picture on every milk carton and Wal-mart wall in a fifty-mile radius.

I keep a picture of her in my pocket. One of those school pictures with the generic denim-colored background. It’s been seven years now. Creases mar the surface like lightning strikes across that denim sky. Her eyes, all that blue, stare outward to a fixed point beyond me. Sad eyes. Eyes that only saw the worst of the world.

She would be an adult now, probably a sophomore in college. Maybe majoring in English Lit. Going to parties. Dreaming of a future.

Instead, she’s gone.

I put the picture back in an old silver cigarette case before sliding it into my pocket. I turn off the car and get out.

Usually, when the abduction happens, it’s not far from home. In fact, many abducted children are hidden or buried by someone who could watch them. Covet them. 

The house ahead of me looks familiar in the same way that most houses do in this area. Built by immigrants during a boom, having housed three or four generations now. Cheap latex paint covers the old exposed brickwork. Plastic siding caked with the grime that fills the air from the factories on the other side of town. The soot sullies the buildings when it rains and will work its way into the gray slush of winter as a reminder that not all things can be washed away.

The porch steps bend under me, one cracking slightly. The rot works its way into everything.

I push the doorbell but nothing sounds inside. Probably a short. I knock.

I can feel the weight of the picture in my pocket. The weight of things never found.

Boards creak inside, the secret language of old houses, as a body moves toward the door. A dark shadow appears behind a gauzy curtain covering the door’s glass. The darkness grows until it materializes into the shape of an adult.

Curtain drawn aside, a face appears. Red, puffy eyes. The remnants of days-old mascara on the cheeks. Matted brown hair.

A bolt clicks and the door opens.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m detective Brown with the APD. I’m doing a follow-up on the missing persons report you filed. For Missy Dalton.”

She hesitates, bracing herself against the door jamb. “Did you find her?”

“I’m sorry ma’am, but we haven’t yet. I was wondering if you have a recent picture that I could have.”

“I gave one to the other officer yesterday.”

“I know, but I need one for my files. I’m working the case from a different angle. Even a small wallet would do, maybe from a recent school picture.”

“Sure. Hold on.” She leaves the door open and disappears from view. Looking in, I see a tidy living room. The TV’s glow lights up the face of a small boy, about six, who is watching some cartoon that I don’t recognize. The home smells of stale cigarettes and grease.

The woman appears carrying her wallet. She pulls out a photo. “This one is from last year. I hope it’s okay.”

She opens the screen door and hands it to me. It is a headshot with a blue background.

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll return this when we find her.”

Her breath hitches in her throat. “You think you will? Find her?”

“I feel pretty confident, ma’am.”

She takes my hand and holds it to her face. Fresh, warm tears travel over my skin. The salt makes them slick and soft. 

I nod, trying hard to fight back my own tears. Years of missing children never making it home. 

“I need to be going ma’am. I’ll be in touch.”

She looks away and closes the door. 

Back in my car, I examine the picture. Missy Dalton is wearing some kind of yellow shirt. Her sad, blue eyes almost match the background of the picture. 

I touch her face. My blues-eyed girl. 

Just like all of my blues-eyed girls. 

I pull out my silver cigarette case, and put Missy’s picture on top of Meghan’s. Underneath Meghan is Cassandra. Under Cassandra is Jaime. Under Jaime is Rita.

A sea of blue eyes and secretly sad faces.