It’s a Sunday morning and I’m in the kitchen stirring up pancake batter, watching little brown ants march along the wall under the windowsill. I’m thinking about herding the ants onto a piece of paper, mixing them into the batter and frying them up.
Mom’s on the phone. When she hangs up, a frown creases her forehead. “Reggie’s missing,” is all she says. Reggie’s my riding instructor. She’s only a hundred pounds, same as me, but she can do anything with a horse. Jump a five foot jump, or get them to move just by tilting her head to the side and looking them straight in the eye.
“Reggie’s sister’s in town for the weekend,” I say. “I bet Reggie’s probably with her. Reggie talks about her all the time.” I realize that I keep saying her name. As if by saying it over and over I might conjure her up. I picture her standing in the room, throwing her arms up in exasperation, “Y’all worry too much. I’m right here.”
“I bet you’re right,” my mom says and flashes me a toothy smile that I know is phony. Her real smile never involves teeth.
At dinner, we don’t say much. Our knives and forks clink against our plates like they do in families where everyone’s afraid of talking in front of the mean dad even though there hasn’t been one of those in our house since I was seven.
Monday at school, Lola Simms — one of the “populars” — turns around at her desk, slides her elbows onto mine and stares right at me like a scientist examining a bug just before he squishes it to study its insides. “Some creep grabbed Reggie off her bike Saturday night. And guess what, my mom says they found her bike in Tequila Bay.” She says it with a gleam in her eyes as if she’s telling about the action scene in a movie. Lola’s mother is a police officer, but Lola has told stories before that turned out to be total hogwash. I don’t believe her.
I look at my friend Janet, who’s sitting next to me staring at the pages of her Earth Science book. Janet doesn’t like Science. I keep looking at her, willing her to lift her face. Her chin dimples the way it does when she’s nervous or about to cry. So it’s true.
I have never cried at school. Not even in the 2nd grade when Kaylee Hempstead snatched my mother’s necklace from around my neck (which I wasn’t supposed to be wearing) and smashed it with her pencil kit to prove it wasn’t a real diamond. The “diamond” split right down the center like cheap glass that had been glued together. Mom had told me the necklace was the only nice gift my father had ever given her. But I didn’t cry then. Instead, I slammed my fist into Kaylee Hempstead’s pencil box and broke it clean off its hinges.
Now, a hot tear slides down my cheek and then another, and then I let out a full-fledged stupid big fat baby sob.
I can’t sleep that night. I keep thinking of Reggie, her body floating somewhere in murky Tequila Bay where alligators lurk. Fishermen have even caught sharks there. These thoughts build up into a super sucking vacuum in my head, sucking away at everything until I think my eyeballs will be sucked into my skull. I force myself to think of something else. Something else. Reggie’s horse, Jude. What will happen to him?
If life were like a book, I would take him and go galloping across open fields, my hair whipping in the wind, and that image would end the story, symbolizing how strong I am, how Reggie lives on in me. But I don’t want to ride Jude or any other horse. Not without Reggie. And anyway, I know something else. I know my mother can’t really afford to send me to riding lessons. That’s why we hardly ever eat out. That’s why she works a regular job and then scrounges around at the recycling center every weekend trying to find stuff she can re-sell on Ebay.
The next morning, I wake to the sound of the TV and the smell of pancakes. When I enter the kitchen, mom’s there stirring up batter, and the ants are back, crawling along the wall. It occurs to me then: I’d thought of hurting them just because they’re smaller than me.
We both hear it. The reporter saying, Body found in Tequila Bay that of Regina Simmons. A silence as big as a night sky opens up, a silence so deep it buzzes, threatening to swallow me.
I always thought time was set, that a minute is always a minute. But it’s not true. A minute can feel like an hour, like an eternity.
“Remember how I cracked the diamond in your necklace?”
She looks at me with a raised eyebrow then waves her hand in the air. “It wasn’t a real diamond anyway.”
“I’m like that. A cracked fake diamond.”
She cups my chin in her hand. “Samantha, everything and everyone on this earth is cracked. But those cracks are shot through with light. Try not to forget that.”
I consider her words. I try to picture light, pure as a spring morning, seeping through a crack, a window, inside me. I can almost see it, a flash, like Reggie’s smile when I would enter the barn for my lesson.
Author’s Note: This story is in memory of all the girls who go missing each year, but was inspired by Mickey Shunick, a 22-year old college student who was abducted and later found murdered in Lafayette, Louisiana, May 20, 2012.
Tricia Orr is a poet and fiction writer whose work has appeared in The Pedestal Magazine, Entelechy: A Journal of Contemporary Ideas, DoveTales Literary Journal (a Writing for Peace project), A Hundred Gourds, and Contemporary Haibun with a forthcoming flash fiction in Number Eleven Magazine. She was a finalist in the 2013 Loft Poetry Prize Competition. She lives in New Hampshire where she is developing a blueprint for a submarine after a month of incessant rain.