One week gone
Instead of supportive Sam was elusive. He looked at her like a stranger. As she stared at herself in the mirror she realized she didn’t recognize the woman staring back at her. Her hair was greasy and limp. Her eyes dull and red-rimmed. Her normally upturned mouth, a fine straight line. Helen pinched her cheeks in an attempt to get some color into them. It was pointless. Her blood just didn’t flow the same way it used to before. She stared at the mirror until her eyes lost focus. Everything blurred together. Messy and unrecognizable-like her life.
She skipped the coffee knowing the caffeine would be too much for her system and walked into the garden. It was a clear, bright day. Just last week it had been gray and gloomy out. The day the police called her to the station to go through Sophie’s backpack was the worst of the gloom. A bitter wind swept around her as she had entered the station. Besides some scuffs on the backpack, nothing was wrong with it. The contents of it still held everything Helen had packed for Sophie. It was as if someone had taken the backpack and tossed it from a car window on the highway without a second thought. A chill ran through her body as she bent and pulled some weeds. Her garden would be ready for spring early. Being outside provided a space big enough for her to breathe so she found herself out there as much as possible lately.
Helen arrived at the school ten minutes later. Cora normally walked because they lived so close. She strode into the office and waited while they paged Cora to come to the front office. Helen watched as Cora bounded toward her, eyes rimmed red. When she reached Helen she threw herself into her mother’s arms.
“What’s wrong?” Helen asked squeezing Cora back.
“I don’t feel good.”
Helen brushed Cora’s hair back from her face and kissed her forehead before ushering out of the school.
“You don’t have a fever, so what’s really up?” Helen asked as Cora buckled herself in.
Cora sighed and looked out the window. “My stomach hurts. Every time I think about Sophie it knots up and squeezes and I feel sick.”
Helen worked hard to stay composed for her daughter. “Me too sweetie. But you don’t want to fall behind in school.”
“I know Mom. Just lemme stay home today,” Cora said. Helen didn’t have it in her heart to send her back to school anyway so she started the car and headed home. Where was her baby? Sophie was a four-foot perpetual-motion machine of unconditional love, squeals, and cartwheels. No one in their right mind would wish her harm. Who would torture her family this way and why?
Not having the energy to parent, Cora and Helen curled up on the couch when they arrived home. Helen turned on the television and cradled Cora in her arms as they both stared vacantly at the screen.
Sam woke her gently. Helen lifted herself from the couch, careful not to wake Cora. “What time is it?” She asked as she stretched and followed Sam into his office. Sam had always seemed indomitable, but today Helen noticed a bit of grayness in his normally bronze skin as he lowered himself into his desk chair and gave an uncharacteristic sigh. He seemed to have aged since Sophie’s disappearance. He needed a haircut, his tie was askew, and he looked tired.
“Almost six,” he said.
Sam sighed and loosened his tie. “People look at me like they think if I really loved her, I would be home grieving. But, I can’t stand the empty house. Is that so hard to understand? Work is easier to bear.” Helen knew grief caused people to say and do strange things but she too had shared the thought that he was rushing things along. The wind shrieked through the eaves and rattled a window and Helen shuddered.
“Don’t worry what other people think,” she offered but her voice lacked conviction. “Staying busy helps me too.” She approached him, arms outstretched for an embrace. Sam stood and welcomed her into his arms. They would get through this together, right?
“I feel so guilty,” he said.
Helen had wondered if Sam beat himself up for not walking Sophie to the door. It had angered her at first, but after careful thought it wasn’t out of character. She herself might have done the same thing. “It’s not your fault,” she answered.