This Is Surely a Curious Fact
It came to my attention roughly five weeks ago that my next-door neighbor—to the left, when facing my home’s front—had lost her mother. I use the term “lost” not in any euphemistic sense, to convey that the subject has ceased to live; instead, I intend its most literal meaning. That is to say, my next-door neighbor—to the left, when facing my house—misplaced her mother and does not remember where she left her.
A description of setting, historical background, biography of relevant characters, and autobiography may help the reader understand the strange predicament of my easterly neighbor and her misplaced maternal kin. That is to say an autobiography pertaining to myself, the narrator, rather than that of the reader. However, if the reader believes it will be of help, he or she may choose to supply his or her own history. Blank pages are provided at the end of this written exploration for such an eventuality.
The narrator and, by extension, his neighbors—both easterly and otherwise—live in a town called Blue Jacket, which is named for a prominent Shawnee military leader in the Northwest Indian War. Blue Jacket also went by the name Weyapiersenwah, which is unfortunately something that I do not know how to pronounce. The narrator lives in Blue Jacket, Kansas; he is regretful if this causes any confusion in the reader, and understands that the reader might naturally assume that Blue Jacket was located in Ohio, as that is indeed the state for which Blue Jacket, a.k.a Weyapiersenwah, fought. The narrator is unable to explain this inconsistency.
Blue Jacket, Kansas is a town of just under 3,000 folks. Though not a particularly diverse town, and though education and income levels tend to fall a few percentage points below state averages, its populace does have the distinction of voting slightly more liberal than is usual in even the bigger cities in Kansas. The yards are green, the schools are safe, the restaurants are clean. There are giant squid in the reservoir. Every year a teenager or two, drunkenly or on a dare, takes an ill-advised midnight swim there and is devoured. We celebrate the beginning of each spring with a craft and music fair held in Truman Square, which attracts many from nearby towns and cities. It was just this past April that a quilt collectively made by the Presbyterian Church’s Women’s League was auctioned off at our Spring Fair for over two hundred and fifty dollars, which was then donated to the American Cancer Society, earmarked for breast cancer research—a cause we can surely all support.
The subject of this exploration, my neighbor, belongs neither to the Presbyterian Women’s League, nor to the Presbyterian Church in any capacity at all. There is no social stigma attached, in Blue Jacket, to a person’s lack of church attendance. This is all for the well, as my neighbor is not affiliated with any known religious institution. She is in her late forties or early fifties. I have never inquired of her the exact year of her birth, as this is often considered impolite. She wears business casual button-down shirts and a series of black and grey slacks to her job, which is not in town. I have hypothesized that she may be a secretary or low-level support staff manager for the parahuman embryo production and cloning plant in Topeka, but I have also never inquired about this. Her name is Frances. She is very beautiful. Until five weeks ago, she cared for an aged mother named Theresa. Their names indicate some familial history of Catholicism. This is also unverified.
I—the narrator—have always lived in Blue Jacket. I am 32 years old. I have a large red birthmark across my neck and right jaw and right cheek. I have changed my mind; I do not wish to give any further autobiographical information.
The last time that Frances and Theresa were seen together by more than one credible witness was on Thursday, May 29th. At least eight separate human witnesses, some of whom I may have interviewed myself, swear to having seen Frances and Theresa at, or on their way to or from, the grocery store—a trip which also included a brief additional stop into the adjacent 99-cent store immediately following their exit from Happy’s IGA. I was not one of these witnesses. I do not leave my house. I see it in my mind, though.
The grocery trip was uneventful: Frances had some minor amount of trouble maneuvering Theresa’s wheelchair over the small quarter-step up into the store, but Marty Enfield claims to have assisted the two ladies. He claims to have noticed nothing unusual. Once inside the store, they made a leisurely circuit alternately up and then down each aisle, buying many of their usual grocery staples, such as brown rice, skim milk, various produce, and a single small flank steak. The single steak, it should be noted, was a not-infrequently purchased item, and was destined to be shared between the two of them; one ought not attempt to interpret this as a clue. They were both physically small women, with relatively healthy habits.
Upon leaving the grocery, they transferred their recent purchases into their 1972 Ford Country Squire and, instead of immediately following the bags’ lead into the car and thence back to their home, they decided to enter the 99-cent store which existed—along with King’s County Liquor, the Sunshine Tanning Salon, and the blackened, burned-out husk of what used to be a beauty parlor—in the same shopping center as the grocery. Though confirmed to have been inside the store for at least 17 minutes, they exited empty-handed. Two apples and an ice cream sandwich from a box of a dozen had been stolen from their bags of groceries while the women were inside, one of those apples having been replaced with a large red and black non-poisonous millipede, rolled up into a self-protective ball—though, as far as I could ascertain the two women never noticed this small change. The two women entered the car, put on their safety belts, and returned home. There are no further credible witness accounts of them seen together, though Frances did not report Theresa missing for another three days.
I believe it is Dunn, the sheriff’s brother-in-law, who has been spreading the unfair rumors which have implicated me in Theresa’s disappearance. Dunn has never liked me.
Frances and her mother returned home from their shopping trip while I was in the basement. (Mine.) I heard their car pulling into their driveway, and quickly ascended to my first floor to watch. There is a large, flat window on the eastern side of the front of my house. If I want to use it to look at Frances, I have to press my face against the far corner of it, and smash my left eye socket up flat against it, and twist my eyeball as far to the right as I can. Then I can see enough to usually catch almost all of her coming and going from her front door.
Which is what I did on the 29th of May. Frances took Theresa’s wheelchair out of the back of their station wagon, unfolded it, and helped Theresa into it. Theresa could in fact walk, but only very weakly and slowly and for short distances at a time. The wheelchair was a vehicle of convenience and comfort, not an absolute necessity. If she had wanted to escape from an attacker, for instance, who was chasing her through her house, and she was without her wheelchair, she would not have been able to do so. It’s probable the wheelchair wouldn’t have helped either, though. But, if she needed to get to the bathroom late at night without any assistance, that would be something she could manage. Frances pushed Theresa into their house via the wooden ramp that Frank Hollins and his son Jason had built for her, custom-made, when Theresa started using the wheelchair more often than not. (They were in her house, building the ramp and widening doorways and such, for almost two weeks, four and a half years ago. I don’t know why no one questioned them. They’re suspects.) After something like one minute, Frances exited the house alone, gathered the groceries into her arms, and took them inside. She closed the door. She did not lock it, though she would some hours later, just before they went to bed for the night. Blue Jacket is a very safe town.
I never saw Theresa again. I hereby swear to that.
At this point I moved up to the second floor of my house. On this floor there is an empty bedroom, decorated appropriately, featuring a vantage point from which I can see four different windows into Frances’ house: one in the kitchen, one in the living room or den—whose angle is very bad and which has a curtain almost always drawn against it anyway, one in Theresa’s bedroom, and a tiny rectangular smoked-glass window that leads to what I assume is a bathroom, probably the shower, though from what I have observed it has never been opened, and it is impossible to see through under any lighting conditions. I did not see either woman through any of these windows for at least an hour and nineteen minutes. We must conclude that these seventy-nine minutes are the ones during which Theresa was lost.
It is also very important to note that tomorrow is July 4th, which everybody knows what that means.
And also, I went to school with Dunn.
Three days after this shopping excursion, the Sheriff was contacted. Theresa had disappeared. Frances had lost her. I can swear that no one other than Frances entered or left that house in those three days, though on the third day, very early in the AM, a small, pinkish (perhaps albino?) bat did fly down the chimney, and has to this day still not flown back out again. Later reports would refer to it as a “winged rat,” though whether this was metaphoric or an actual, literal interpretation of what that animal was, I am unsure. According to Frances, at one moment her mother was in the house, in a certain chair in a certain room, and then suddenly—she wasn’t. Doors were locked from the inside, windows were inaccessible to theoretical intruders, and Theresa was not mobile enough to have left on her own. The Sheriff was sure it was foul play. I suspect Frances believed it was somehow due to mystical or paranormal intervention. I knew that silly Frances has simply misplaced her mother, as she tended to misplace things from time to time.
There are four other notable circumstances that ought to be taken into consideration in the evaluation of any theory. First: on the second day after the women’s final appearance together, the fountain in Truman Square began running blood. Second: Dunn’s sister’s torso was found in the lime quarry fourteen years ago, painted blue and wrapped in newspapers. Third: at no time in those three days did Frances ever call me on the telephone or otherwise attempt to contact me. Fourth: the light bulb in Theresa’s bedside lamp had been burned out for almost nine days, and no one had ever bought a new one to replace it, although they had been inside a 99-cent store on the very last day that anyone ever saw Theresa.
Frances, understandably rattled, understandably guilt-ridden by the scale of her ineptitude, weeping, pale-faced, being led back into her own home by the widower Sheriff, staring at my house’s windows—though (I knew!) they were rendered opaque from the bright outside sunlight. Frances, lovely and forgetful.
(And what July 4th means is that the Carter boys mix human bone meal into the gunpowder for the town fireworks display and everybody knows that. And who will be watching? Frances, that’s who. Alone this year. Yesterday, Annette, the mail carrier, attempted to deliver to her a large white box wound around with butcher’s twine, for which she refused to sign. This is surely a curious fact.)