Search Mirror Dance

Visit Us on Facebook

Facebook Page
 

Persephone's Lament

 Persephone’s  Lament
By Shelly Jones

When they said I had been kidnapped, did you believe them? Or did you know it was all a lie? How could I have been kidnapped when I'm no longer a kid, no longer a child who needs tending to? What is the etymology of that word anyway? Does it have to do with children, or goats getting lost on a rocky mountainside, unsure of their footing in a fog? But neither the goats or I were taken.  We simply left. Walked away of our own accord, right on down the road. How long did it take you to notice I was gone? Was it that morning, or did you miss me when I didn't come home for dinner? Did you sit there with your smartphone, answering emails in between bites of the plastic-tasting microwaved dinner? Did you ignore the Amber Alert for the other missing girl in the area, or did you delete it without reading it, too cozy in your bubble to risk disturbing your fake comfort, knowing the content would make you feel something? That girl could've been me. But you had not yet noticed I was gone. She had two parents who gave a damn, who didn't care about how it looked when their daughter was missing, how their image might be tarnished by their child's disappearance. They just wanted her back. But you. You hesitated. I know you did.  When the maid, Luiza, asked you if I was at practice,  you paused,  a crinkle in your forehead as you calculated the time to get to practice, to buy a bag of chips on the way home, to chat with the crossing guard four blocks away. You did the math. You knew it didn't compute. And instead of saying, “No, Luiza,  it's too late, something must be wrong.  Let's call the school,” the way that other girl's parents must have done hours ago,  you frowned at Luiza, scolded her for butting into your parenting style, accused her of not taking you seriously as a single working mom, and told her to leave early.  Luiza, clutching that stupid pendant she wears to hide a mole on her chest, a habit she only does when she's exceedingly worried, winced at your words and, looking at the clock on the stove, packed her things for the evening. She lingered on the streets for an extra hour that night, scanning across the street, looking into convenience stores, even walking through the school playground because she remembered that once I had snuck out in the middle of the night and met a friend there.  We had gone on the swings and talked and talked and watched a spider catch a moth in its web tucked in the corner of the jungle gym.  And in the warm flood light we watched it entomb its prey and begin to devour it.  Luiza knew that story because I told it to her. I told her lots of stories. 

But you didn't believe her.  Or worse, maybe: you knew she was right, but your own pride kept you from agreeing with her, kept you from calling the police to find me.  Until the next morning.  “I thought she simply forgot to check in,” you told the officer the next day.  “She's a forgetful child,” you add, to sound convincing. The crew cut nods over his notepad, his radio barking out new, unrelated info.  He knew you were lying.  

I'm not forgetful. I can remember every recital, every concert, every parent-teacher conference, every awards ceremony that you didn't attend.  Mrs. Perkins used to give me that pert, sympathetic smile, her eyes understanding as she listened to me explain your absence again.  “Important business call. Couldn't possibly be rescheduled. She runs all of Kairos, you know,” I'd add, to sound convincing, mentioning your firm, a trick I learned from you.  

“Yes, I know. You must be so proud of her,” she'd say to me.  And I was.  I like that you are an important person.  I like that you are a powerful person, a leader, a decider.  I just wish you showed that side to me more than you did on a Skype call to the office.  I needed you, and you were off crafting an intellectual feast, an informational database for the whole world to pour over and chew on.  And I sat by myself in Mrs. Perkins’s classroom, sipping over-sugared lemonade from a paper cup until the late bus came to take me, its sole patron, home. 

Was it you or Luiza, or maybe the cop scanning over the family photos, who first suggested Uncle as a possible suspect? You never did like him, and always disparaged him after the few times we saw him at family functions. A loafer, you’d call him, a freeloader. “He hasn’t worked a day in his life,” you’d say, turning the car back towards the highway, starting the several hour journey back home. You wouldn’t believe me when I said I trusted you, when I agreed that they were awful. You kept insisting that you had taken me away from them for my own good, my own safety. You had bought me an ice cream cone, feeling guilty, I think, for subjecting me to your family once more. 

* * *

“I’ve worked so hard to keep you away from all of that,” you said as we drove for hours in the dark, winding our way back home. “They may seem fun, but believe me, they’re toxic. Did you see the way they kept going back to that cooler? Did you see the way he pawed over her? That’s not what I want you to experience.” 

I had seen them and I had agreed with you. When the curled-lip uncle punched the balding uncle in the mouth and one of his teeth flew into the browning grass, did you not see me cringe, nearly hiding under the picnic table, wanting to flee? You were the first on your cell phone to call the police, too busy taking charge, too busy being the manager of the situation than to notice me.  They had scared me with their loudness, their bawdiness, screaming at the sight of each other, eyes glassy from whatever smoke they tucked in their pockets, breaths reeking of what I assumed was alcohol. We had left before the police arrived, but after the typical punches, after one uncle decked the other for not being able to hold his alcohol, for leering at his brother’s wife, for not tiding his brother over until the next payday.  I was grateful we left, happy not to see more, happy your work and smartphone always pulls us away, shielding me from it all. I never wanted to be near them, but I wanted you to be happy - and there was some small piece of you that wanted it, wanted them to respect you, wanted their love. But they were too drunk, too caught up in themselves to see that all you wanted was for grandpa to say he was proud of you. Instead, he sat sullen on the little beach, watching the waves bringing in seashells and slowly smoothing the stones at his feet. He sat smoking a cigar and talked to no one except maybe a nearby turtle, slowly making its way down the shore. Once, at our house, one of the uncles raised his fist to strike him. You and I both remember that. I had been hiding on the stairwell listening to the fight below. But grandpa doesn’t remember that his own son tried to hit him. He can’t. He refuses to. I can’t decide if that makes him foolish or smart. 

Who could think that these sloppy sorts could ever organize a kidnapping? Did you tell the police this wasn’t a logical lead? Or did you let them waste more time? 

I watch them scouring the house from my hiding spot in the cave in the woods behind our house. No one has bothered to search the property for my whereabouts, probably too in fear of legal action from you, even though they’re trying to help you find me. They assume you would have checked your own property for your child before calling the police. Fools. Do you remember when we discovered this cave one day when I was six? It was shortly after he had left you. You were sullen, sad, your phone turned off and tucked into your coat pocket. You decided we should take a walk to explore our new surroundings, our new home. I was giddy, running ahead, picking up leaves to look for caterpillars, plucking dandelions, holding buttercups under your chin to see if you liked butter. You did. Who doesn’t? “Do I like butter?” I had asked, throwing back my head for you to test me. You nodded, “Of course, peanut,” and lightly held the flower under my face for a moment before letting it drop to the ground. I ran on ahead, looking for something else to cheer you up. “A cave!” I screeched and sprinted forward, my legs flailing before me.  

You were wary of my discovery, but too depressed, too muddled, to stop me fast enough. I ran into the opening and began picking up rocks, jumping up to try to touch stalactites. I spotted a clutch of white fringy mushrooms and grabbed for them. Before you were in the cave, a mushroom was in my mouth, my baby teeth chewing up the spongy substance. From behind me I heard a shriek and turned around.  You stood behind me, backlit, at the entrance of the cave. I could not see your face, but your body was hunched, tucked in on itself. To fit in the cave, perhaps. But I remember thinking you looked frail then, weakened, your sweater swimming around your small frame. You came over to me and ripped the mushrooms from my hand, made me spit it out. You weren’t angry, not violent. It was more methodical than that, robotic. You did what a mother was supposed to do. 

We walked back home in silence. That night I watched from the stair railings as you took a pile of photos and an old t-shirt of his and burned them in the living room fireplace. You were shedding that skin, I thought, like a snake born anew. You took out your cell phone and sat on the couch, watching the flames devour the past. You did not weep, and I was scared, but said nothing.

In front of the news crews stands a familiar figure, one of the uncles.  He wears an ill- fitting suit, out of style, probably purchased just after high school, maybe for a first job interview or a great aunt's funeral.  He tries to work himself up before the audience, pinching his leg to make himself cry. 

Do you see him through your window, looking down upon him as he wails before the cameras? He pleads for any information about my whereabouts, hands shaking seemingly from grief, but we both know it's withdrawal. The reporters, after spending multiple news cycles camped outside your still house with its grey stone pillars, are desperate for any activity. You have not graced them with your presence in days, weeks. They're hungry for you, their lenses and microphones inching closer to the house, craning for your image, your sound. You hide behind your marble columns, occasionally flipping the blinds to look down at them. They gather on the lawn, piling up like snow descending in a globe. If you leave, there's a storm of flashes, blinding you, blinding each other, but no one cares, as long as they get the shot. 

When he finishes his hysterics, will you let him in, opening the door and embracing him in front of the cameras? Or, when he comes to the door, will he find it locked and have to, like a stranger, knock, his face flushed. He’ll dart a quick glance over his shoulders at the cameras and, just like Orpheus, he will lose. Does he hear the cameramen laughing at him, this man who has made such a show of his grief, who is not permitted entrance into the house of the lost?  

But he doesn’t matter. The cameras don’t care about him. The focus is all on you, your anger, your grief. The Dow nosedives because of it, because you aren't giving directions, because you have stopped all thought of work, of production. Some chauvinists will mutter in the office break room that this is why we'll never have a female president. Mothers across the world will nod in satisfied triumph at your grief. They'll stitch samplers praising the importance of motherhood and watch a Lifetime marathon weekend of movies like Not Without My Daughter and Steel Magnolias. Sally Fields knows how to make us cry. Some will wonder why you sit, idly, letting others take over.  But what are you supposed to do? There are no leads because there is no crime. This isn't some horror movie where the hero mom kills the home invaders to save her kids. I left. I simply walked out the door. And you know it. And that's why you sit, waiting, wasting away. How long did Gandhi go without food? How long can you go without your phone? When did it become more interesting than me? When did I become the app that drains your battery so you constantly put it to sleep? 

* * *

You think that you are doing this for me. You’ve always told yourself that. To provide a good home and opportunities for me. But really you have made yourself this powerful titan of industry to prove to yourself that you won the break up, that he is worse off without you. He is, he always has been. Why do you seek his recognition in this way? Do you imagine him in his sad apartment, glued to CNN, watching for any indication of you? Isn’t that winning enough? 

I have eaten the wild mushrooms that grow in the cave, slimy and raw. They taste of earth and satisfaction. You once tore me away from them, scolding even for looking their way. “They’re dangerous. Poisonous. You could die.” But you didn’t really know that, only parroting something you heard once, probably on tv. I trusted you then, believed in your infallibility, your inexplicable knowledge of everything. It’s only now I realize it was all a long con. But sometimes I think you believe it yourself.  

It’s starting to get warmer now. The grass is no longer covered in a crunchy layer of old snow. The trees seem to be bristling with potential, pockets of green opening out. The camera crews have finally gone, the last of them leaving muddy tracks in the yard. The old you would sue for property damages as well as slander, but you don’t. 

You’re in your sweatpants with pockets and an oversized sweater that I haven’t seen you wear since you had the flu several years back. You pull a used tissue out of the pocket and blow your nose. You tuck the tissue up your sleeve and hold your head in your hands, your face wrung. I look at your hands, normally manicured to hide the calluses on your fingers, rough from your phone’s screen. Instead I see nails bitten jagged that will snag threads loose on your sweater. Your fingers are trembling when you see me walk up the driveway. You sit there, blinking, your mouth agape. I stand awkwardly in front of you, hands thrust in my jacket pockets. It’s almost too warm for coat, and in the sunshine I begin to feel overheated, but it’s pleasant. 

“Warm day,” I say, as if I’m a stranger passing by, making idle conversation. I scuff my shoe and wait for you to say something, eyeing the front door behind you. I just want to get this over with.

You don’t ask me where I’ve been or what happened, perhaps out of your own guilt. And I am relieved. I don’t want to have to lie and the truth is more complicated than I can muster right now. I want a shower, I want a bed, I want to hear your thumbs clattering across the screen of your phone in the distance. Would you tell him what I’ve put you through, complain to the world about what a terrible daughter I am? Or is it right back to the grind, texting your office new orders to sell or buy. You nod and stand up, head tucked down. I go to step by you and suddenly wrap my arms around you instead. You slowly embrace me, the wet tissue resting between my shoulder blades and your wrist. I stand there a moment with you and then turn toward the house. “I’ll be in in a minute,” you say, and sit back down on the front steps. I open the door and look at you. You sit in the sunshine, feeling the warmth wash over you, and take off your sweater. I can’t see your face, but I know you’re smiling. 

But just know: I'll do it again. One chilly morning you will look around you and realize that I am gone. 

* * *

Shelly Jones, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at SUNY Delhi, where she teaches classes in mythology, literature, and writing. She received her PhD in Comparative Literature from SUNY Binghamton. Outside of academia she is an active nerd who enjoys board games, Dungeons and Dragons, being outdoorsy, and knitting.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories? 
I often get ideas for stories while walking and have gotten into the habit of bringing a small notebook or pad of post-its with me wherever I go.

0 comments: