Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Disappearance of Ms Garwood

Don’t let them fool you. It’s never any fun being eleven. Nobody respects you, nobody listens to you, nobody much cares that you’re alive. I mean it. Nobody goes Britney do this or Britney do that, Britney go here or Britney go there. They just ignore your existence. Or they treat you like the dog. My dad pats my hair sometimes as he talks to my mom over my head. My mom, she only fusses over me when she thinks it’ll make her look good. My sister ignores me unless she needs me to do something she wouldn’t be seen doing; then she can remember just what I really want, and knows just how to bribe me. And my brother? I think he’s just praying for my titties to grow so he can get a real feel. No shit. Like I said, fun it’s not.

One of the best examples has to do with that woman up the street who disappeared earlier. All the fuss, and the cops, and the mystery! I could have told them a few things, clues maybe, but did anybody want to talk to me? Forget it. I’m only an eleven-year-old girl. I don’t exist.

But about the woman. If you’ll sit still and listen, I’ll tell you the real story, as I know it. If I feel you’re losing interest or ignoring me, pfftt! I’m out of here. It doesn’t matter to me one way or another.

Garwood, her name was. Ms Garwood. Evalina, or Lina to her friends, so I’ve heard. But that makes no difference.

She bought the little bungalow up the street last summer and moved in – by herself. No sign of a lover or significant other, according to the gossips and nosey parkers. She had just lucked into a job teaching at the private girls’ Academy across town, according to them. They knew where she came from, but not how she’d discovered the house for sale here. Oh well. Even busybodies aren’t perfect.

A teacher. Female. Single. That would be enough to wag tongues for the whole summer, but there was more. The lady was a looker. Curved where she was supposed to be, and then some. Straight long dark hair that reached her waist when she let it loose, and she did so that summer. Every woman on the block mentally or physically checked up on her husband every so often, depending on the amount of trust existing. When not tracking their own man, they’d track someone else’s; just sort of accidentally, you know. The neighborhood burbled at a slow boil all summer long.

A good job. Good looks. And a great car to match. Some Japanese model according to the horny guys who would know. Top of the line. They drooled over it almost as much as they drooled over her whenever she mowed her lawn. Oh sure, they had offered to do the yard work for her. She kept the mower in the garage with the car. Any of those ginks who could get her and her car and themselves in the same place at the same time would believe he was in heaven.

Just a month or so into the school term, the biddies found reason for their tongues to wag overtime again. Sometimes a silver Lexus would park in her driveway and a man would come knocking at her back door. And she would let him in. There were times that they’d go out together and others when they stayed in. He even, according to those who kept track of such things, stayed the night several times! The phones would ring and tongues would wag. According to what I overheard (not that I was trying or anything) this seemed to be a serious affair. The man was identified as the brother of the principal of her school, better than well off, but married although separated and in the process of getting a divorce. Rich material for the rumor mill.

Me, I thought she was a fool if she let him hang around. He sure didn’t look like a Prince Charming. Older, not all that tall. Losing his hair. He may have been rich but he was ugly in my book. She could do better, what with her looks.

I tried to talk to my best friend Marsha about the whole case, but Marsha had found out that a boy really liked her and was doing her best to screw his life around. Since she figured I couldn’t be of any help, she was beginning to ignore me. Our friendship was at a sort of low point and I decided I’d keep all I knew to myself.

All winter, between Christmas and Spring break, things seemed to continue to flow on an even keel. The gossips quieted down; the Lexus kept up its usual routine with the driveway; Evalina Garwood continued with her teaching career and going out with the principal’s brother. Boring.

* * *

All this changed after the school spring break. The Lexus wasn’t around as often but the neighborhood ladies didn’t seem to notice. Maybe they weren’t as interested anymore. I noticed. I also saw that there was a different car hanging around, a blue pickup truck. I didn’t know the guy who drove it but I did catch him several times ducking into Ms Garwood’s back yard. Unlike the other man, he never parked in her driveway. And he always used the back door, knocking and going in without waiting for her to open it. If the gossips were aware of him, they must have figured he was her brother or something. That’s what he acted like, anyway.

Once I saw them in the parking lot at the supermarket, just sitting in the truck and talking. About a week later I noticed the truck there again. Ms Garwood and her guy weren’t there and there was a big sailboat on a trailer hitched to the back of the truck. I felt a bit jealous. She’s got a boyfriend with a sailboat? Wow! I sure would have traded the bald guy with the Lexus for this. Lucky lady.
The two of them kept a pretty low profile and if I hadn’t been out looking for Romeo that evening in June, I might not know what I do. Let me tell you what happened.

At supper that evening Mom mentioned that Romeo, our cat, hadn’t been around all day. Probably hunting, she said. Yeah, hunting for a lady cat, I thought to myself. Anyway, after supper I had nothing to do and no one to do it with so I decided to wander around myself, not really looking for him but just looking, you know.

I was passing through the alley behind Ms Garwood’s house, where it’s fenced off with one of those tall wooden privacy fences, when I heard giggling coming from her back yard. Now I’m not nosy but sometimes you can’t help being curious, you know. So I found a crack and applied an eyeball. There she was leaning back against the pear tree in her back yard, with him facing her leaning against her. Whispering at each other. Lovey-dovey stuff probably. Eeuw! Then she pushed him away a little and firmly said, “Yes.”

“Lina, do you mean it? You really want to?”

“Yes. I said yes and of course I mean it. I believe I can trust you; it’s just a question of if I can trust myself. With you, that is.”

Then she grabbed him and they went all kissy and feely. Sickening enough to make me slip away.

I sort of wondered what they had been talking about. It almost felt as if they were planning to run away and get married or something. Yuck. Boy, if the nosey-parkers found out about this! Rumours would fly for weeks, maybe months. Well, nobody was going to find out anything from me. And that’s a sacred promise I made to myself.

There was no sign of Romeo of course, but then I wasn’t really looking. When I came by again about half an hour later, it was quiet in Ms Garwood’s back yard. I stopped to glance through the crack just in case, you know, and was almost frightened out of my skin when I heard her loud whisper.

“Pssst, Britney! Come in here a minute.”

I don’t know how she knew it was me or that I was there. She let me in the back gate and closed it behind me.

“You were watching Peter and I. Earlier.” It didn’t sound like an accusation, so I nodded. “The sailor,” I told her.

“Ah. So you know about his boat.” Again I nodded. She looked at me solemnly for a long minute.

“I want to tell you a secret, and trust you to keep it to the best of your ability. Do you think you could do that?” Oh no. She’s getting married and wants me to be a flower girl or some such crap. Please, God, no! Carefully I nodded again. My head was getting a better workout than my tongue but I didn’t know what to say. Ms Garwood looked up into the sky and spoke softly.

“I like Peter very much and he wants to take me sailing for four weeks down the coast on our summer holidays. Tonight I told him I would. The problem is that I don’t want everyone to know where I am or whom I’m with. See?”

Well, not really. The big relief for me was that there was no mention of wedding plans. I don’t know why I was so stuck on that thought.

“Let me explain,” she said. “When I met Peter and got to like him, I tried to break it off with Ronald. You know Ronald?”

“Uhuh. Baldy boy with the car, right?” She giggled at my description of her number one man.

“Well, he doesn’t believe I could live without him. I didn’t tell him there was another guy; he would get so angry! Anyway, he’s in Germany on business right now and when he gets back he expects us to take up right where we left off. But I intend to be off sailing with Peter, and it’s none of his business anymore. If I confided in any of the people around here, the rumors would be all over the neighborhood in no time.” I guess she was well aware of the busybodies and the way they talk among each other.

She sighed. “ I don’t really know what I want. Let me put it this way. Nobody, except a real estate lady who will have a key and pick up my mail, will know about my trip. Except you. I think what I want you to do is keep a watch out for Ronald and see how he reacts when he finds I’m not here. Don’t tell anyone what you know, especially not Ronald. I don’t want you to lie to your mom and dad, but keep it from everyone if you can. Would you do that for me, Britney?”

Intrigue! Yes! Keeping secrets and knowing things nobody else knows. Now that could make for an exciting summer. She reached out and took both my hands in hers.

“Britney and Lina. Girlfriends?’ she said almost hesitantly.

“Girlfriends,” I assured her and watched relief come to her eyes. I hadn’t really been aware of the worry in them before.

* * *

It certainly didn’t take long for the shit to fly. Nobody, not even me, noticed when she left. Then on a late Friday afternoon, Baldy and his Lexus were back. I could hear him knocking at her front door, rushing around to bang at her back door. When Mrs Posner, the widow next door, came out to see what the racket was all about, this Ronald guy got into a heated discussion with her. I overheard a little of it. Ms Garwood didn’t answer her phone, didn’t answer her door. Weren’t the neighbors afraid that something had happened to her? She could be in there sick, maybe even dying, and nobody cared! Well. He was going to call the police, the emergency medical people, somebody to find out fast!

Mrs Posner, whose hearing isn’t all that good, shrugged and went back inside, but by now several mothers and about a dozen kids had gathered. They were watching as the police and Emergency team from the Fire Department screamed up in their trucks and cars in response to whatever Ronald had told them with his phone call.

Nothing happened right away. The policemen knocked at the doors but wouldn’t break them down the way he wanted because there was no sign of forced entry or any other wrongdoing. The firemen stood around with the lights going around on their truck. Then, I heard later, Ronald remembered he had a key. He asked the emergency people to wait while he went to get it.
While everyone waited for his return, some of the people were talking to the cops, trying to understand what was going on. I didn’t. I just hung around and listened to everyone else’s wild theories: sickness and death, accidental poisoning, kidnapping, even foreign spies. True to my word, I didn’t say a thing.

When Baldy with the Lexus returned with his key, the cops accompanied him inside to inspect the place. When they came out again I heard him urging them to start a search for her; she would never go missing on her own, no matter that there wasn’t any evidence of foul play. Whatever reasoning he was using, the cops weren’t buying. The angrier and hotter he got, the cooler and more distant the police.

The Emergency people were the first to go. I overheard the police officer in charge tell Ronald to file a formal statement at the downtown station on Monday morning if he was still so inclined but they couldn’t do anything at this time. Then they left.

For a couple of minutes it was a fuming, red faced balding short guy facing a scattered bunch of women and kids on the sidewalk (and two guys watching from the open door of their garage, I noticed.) He too finally roared away.

Over supper at our house the conversation, I imagine, wasn’t much different from anywhere else on the street. Suddenly Ms Garwood was the number one topic of discussion. Even my brother had some sort of weird idea to add to the fire, something to do with UFOs and aliens and seeing a strange light in the sky. They didn’t notice that I personally had nothing to add. Nor did anyone think to ask me any questions. And the real estate lady? Nobody even mentioned her or tried to find out if someone was taking care of the house. Not while I was listening.

Like I said, it’s not easy being an eleven-year-old kid. People so tend to ignore you. The best feeling is when you can ignore them right back, especially when they don’t know that you know what they don’t.

All right! Ms Garwood, don’t hurry back!

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