Years had passed since I had knocked on that door. The last time would’ve been sometime in 1983. So eleven years. I wondered if they would recognize me. Twenty-two year old Mira was a lot different from eleven year old Mira. One hand knocked while the other anxiously gripped the strap of my purse, which felt extra heavy that chilly day.
Mrs. Abernathy answered the door, and her eyes were confused for a moment, trying to remember where she knew me from.
“Hello Mrs. Abernathy, I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Mira Gomez. I was friends with Louise.”
It must’ve clicked in her mind, because Mrs. Abernathy’s face broke into a genuine smile. I don’t know, but it seemed like she hadn't smiled that big in a while.
“Mira, it’s so good to see you, come in, come in.” I followed her inside and the house was a lot like I remembered it. There was the small clown statue on the mantle, and a china hutch of decorative plates with different state flowers on them.
Some things though were different. New furniture, new wallpaper. I noticed some pictures were gone, leaving pale, square-shaped patches on the wall.
She invited me to sit at the kitchen table and asked if I wanted water. I said yes. My stomach crawled a little, I was anxious about this visit. I’d actually put it off for a while.
It’s okay. Be yourself. It doesn’t have to be weird.
“What made you stop by, Mira? It’s nice to see you, but I’m curious.” she said, putting the glass before me and sitting down herself.
“I guess I’d been thinking about you guys. Something reminded me. How are you, anyway? How’s James?”
“James is with his dad this weekend.”
“Oh, oh I see.” I said, feeling myself turn red.
“Yeah, we tried, but we divorced eight years ago.”
“James is good, though. He was little when it happened. It’s normal, to him. You know, switching between living with me and his dad. That probably sounds depressing, sorry.” Mrs. Abernathy- or whatever I should call her- laughed nervously.
“No, no, I get it.”
I should’ve guessed and been more tactful. The absence of the big wedding portrait in the entryway didn’t quite register in my mind right away, I guess.
“So what’ve you been up to?”
She asked me after a pause.
“Not much. I’m back in town for Christmas vacation. My dad’s already got the tree up.”
“And how is college?” she asked me eagerly. I shrugged.
“Got pretty intense toward the end, I was definitely losing my mind during finals week! But-” I did a mock toast with my water.“I survived.”
“Almost all A's.”
Mrs. Abernathy chuckled.
“You were always very smart.”
I mean, not really, I wasn’t.
I never knew how to take compliments.
“Looey would’ve loved college.” she sighed, smiling wistfully.
“Yeah. I think so too.” my hands were sweating as they dug into the fabric of my purse.
Show it to her now, Mira!
“Hey, um, I have something to show you. Something I found a week ago while cleaning my room. See, my dad was looking for this one specific ornament, once I thought maybe I’d hidden away in my room a long time ago, cuz I liked it, you know.”
I was dancing around it, again.
C’mon, get to the point!
I unzipped my purse and took out a pink journal. The cover had all sorts of stickers covering it, and in permanent marker the words Looey’s Secret Journal were written.
Mrs. Abernathy’s brow furrowed as she looked at the journal, and then at me, with misted over eyes.
“The night before… Looey was staying over at my house.”
“She put it under her pillow when she was done writing. That morning when she packed up to go home, she got really caught up in finding her other shoe. When she found it, she was running late. You wanted her home by 10:30.”
“But she didn’t leave the house until 10:26am.” Mrs. Abernathy said distantly. “Your mom called me when she started walking. She offered to drive Looey home. But I said it was just a few blocks.”
I regretted visiting. She tried to keep a neutral face, but I could see the pain and guilt in her eyes.
“She left her journal.” I said. “I didn’t find it until that evening, when my mom and dad told me to stay in my room, after the officer interviewed me.”
“Why did you keep it?” Anger crept into her voice.
“There could’ve been information, or clues about who took her!”
“I didn’t know what was going on, I guess. I was scared.”
“They could’ve found the bastard before it was too late!”
You definitely shouldn't have come here. Bad idea.
“There’s not anything in there like that. Nothing about the guy. And-” I hesitated.
“It didn’t even turn out that he was anyone that any of us knew.” I said quietly, almost whispering.
“Don’t you lecture me on the details of the case, I know them better than you ever could! You didn’t lose a child! You didn’t have to go to the morgue and see what he did, you didn’t have your family fall apart, or lose all your friends because they felt too awkward to talk to you!”
My eyes stung. Why on earth did I choose to visit? I slid the book across the table to Mrs. Abernathy.
“I didn’t have to go through any of that. It was really selfish of me to keep the journal. Whenever I was sad or lonely I read it, and felt close to Louise. Like she was there with me. It’s all in here. That time we tried to spy on the boys, but what they were doing was actually super boring. Just talking about cars. There’s also that time she had to write a poem for school, and got frustrated because she hated the topic they assigned her.”
“Write a poem about a time you were brave.” Mrs. Abernathy said. “I remember that. She got so mad. She said she’d rather get an F than write something so cheesy.”
“So she ended up stealing something from a movie and saying it happened to her.” I said, unable to help cracking a smile. Mrs. Abernathy did the same.
“I shouldn’t have kept it so long. It’s yours now, you deserve to have it.” I stood up. “I should go. I told everyone that I was going out to buy a coffee. I guess I was nervous about coming here and assumed I would chicken out.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.” Mrs. Abernathy also rose. “I’ll see you out.”
“Sorry for digging old stuff up.” I said on our way down the hall. “You’ve got your life going on, and now here I come. Y’know…”
We stood at the door.
“It was a long time ago, and yes, I do have a life. But thanks for coming over, Mira.” she put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed.
As I walked down the stone path on the lawn back to my car she said,
“Merry Christmas, Mira. Come over again.”
“Thanks. Merry Christmas to you too.”
20 Books that Stole My Heart <3
1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
2. Penguin Highway by Tomihiko Morimi
3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
4. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
6. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
7. Emma by Jane Austen
8. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
9. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
10. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
11. The October Country by Ray Bradbury
12. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
13. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
14. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
15. The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer
16. Poetics of Music by Igor Stravinsky
17. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
18. The Night is Short, Walk on Girl by Tomihiko Morimi
19. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
20. If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura
Where did you go?
If we were having coffee, you don't know just how happy I would be. I'd tell you everything that had happened since you left. I'd tell you about how I graduated, and I think that you would be proud of me because I remember you were always there, in the darkest moments, telling me not to give up. Telling me that I mustn't give up. Well, it all worked out in the end for me.
If we were having coffee, there would be so many questions I'd ask you. Why didn't you say something sooner? Couldn't you see that I felt the same way, I was just shy, or scared, or whatever excuse I made to myself? I'd ask you, why were you so quiet about your own personal life? We were so close, but I now realize that it was mostly just me, taking all this support and love from you while barely giving anything in return.
If we were having coffee, I would ask you what you were doing the day you vanished from our lives. You were usually so careful driving, so why did they find your car wrapped around a tree on the side of the mountain road? You must've survived- they didn't find a body, just blood on the windshield. Yes, they didn't find you dead, but they didn't find you alive, either. The trail of blood drops led into the woods, but the trail ended not far from your car.
If we were having coffee, I would ask you where you went? People think that you ended up falling into the reservoir and they just didn't find the body. Officially, you were declared missing, but most everyone thinks that you're dead. If anyone suggests otherwise, people smile vaguely and say some shallow platitude- basically saying that there is no hope that you're alive, but it's a nice thought.
If we were having coffee, I would ask you where you went. I would ask you about how you were so withdrawn in the weeks leading up to the car accident. Was it something we did? Something I did? When you crashed, did you just take the chance to leave? As disoriented and injuried as you were, did you just walk away from everything?
If we were having coffee, I'd tell you how much I missed you. I'd be sure to pay for your drink, and give you all the support you gave me and all your friends, all the support that you never got back in return. I want to see you again, and sometimes when I am having a cup of coffee alone in our old study spot in the cafe, I imagine you're sitting across from me, about to ask me, "are you sure about no. 24?". The thought alone makes me smile. That's what I imagine it would be like.
If we were having coffee.
A Sacred Gap in the Clouds
I spend my nights in the factory, working for a negligible amount of money. Just barely enough to keep myself and my family afloat.
The city is clouded with pollution, pollution from factories like mine that give power to the bigger, richer cities. Everyone walks about with masks on to try and save their lungs, and even during the daytime, the sky is dull and dark. One can barely see an arms length out.
My hours at the factory are long and the longest break I have is just a few minutes long, enough time to eat a sandwich. Usually around midnight- if its not raining- I climb up the steel roof access ladder, and though the air is dirty, and ash sometimes falls on my food, I can at least be alone and escape the steam, clanging, and chatter.
Sometimes, if I am very lucky, the thick clouds part. I find this happens the most often during those windy nights after a rainstorm.
I feel like they part just for me, the only person up on the roof. The sky opens up and shows me that the stars still exist, that they aren't just a story or something that other people get to enjoy. Other people who don't work at a factory in a polluted city.
Sometimes it only lasts for less than a minute, but I treasure it all the same.
Those few minutes of stars every so often are what remind me that there is more than steam, steel, and poison in the air.
The Eyes of a Blind Owl
Ever since I saw it in the woods that day, walking behind my house, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. It invades my dreams, and sometimes when I'm talking to somebody or doing something completely unrelated, it comes to me. Unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome.
That day, it was snowy, so I didn't at first see that owl. It was pure white with some black flecks, perched up in a tree. It turned its head when it heard me- that's what drew my attention to it, that sudden movement.
I froze in my tracks. Those eyes. I had never seen eyes like that before.
Wide, indigo orbs without visible pupils. White dots in irregular clusters were scattered throughout the owl's eyes, like galaxies.
It was blind- I knew it was blind somehow, but it stared right into me. I could see- those white clusters didn't just look like galaxies- they were galaxies.
Galaxies full of comets, asteroids, and planets. All in an instant, I saw the people, not unlike us, going about their lives with no idea that they lived on a tiny planet spinning in a galaxy nested in the eyes of a blind owl.
I didn't realize that I hadn't been breathing until the blind owl looked away from me and flew away, its wings cathing on the bare branches as it flew halfhazardly into the gray, winter sky.
I fell to my knees. Did they feel it when the owl flew, jolting and dipping?
Would I feel it? Was I right now, standing on a tiny planet spinning in the eye of a blind owl?
On that planet, were there more blind owls? And more and more, nested forever like Russian dolls?
Is all of eternity held in the eyes of a blind owl?