That all seems so ridiculous now. I’m disconnected. My pulse pounds an urgent rhythm where once it was smooth.
I had to get away. I’ve been hiding out in this tunnel since I made a run for it yesterday evening, but in the daylight, I’m exposed.
It’s still early. Nobody in sight. I gather up the wrappers from the energy bars I stole when I left and shove them in my purse. Gotta cover my tracks. It’s time to move.
Officer Harkless slides his sunglasses into the pocket of his uniform shirt. It’s a new idiot every week—desperate and demanding, and with no comprehension of the system.
“Like I told you,” Harkless says to the man, “it’s too soon. We can’t do anything till she’s been missing for over twenty-four hours. I’ll take your information, and you can call again if she’s not back by tonight.”
“But—she’s gone!” the man stammers. “Isn’t this your job? Finding missing people? She’s never taken things this far before.”
“So she’s done things like this before?” Harkless asks.
“No! I mean—no,” the man barks. Short-tempered and idiotic.
“Just give me your information, sir.”
“Joshua,” the man says. “Joshua Brenner.”
Save the date!
Joshua & Julie
17 May 2014
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. –Helen Keller.
It was Julie’s idea to add the fucking Helen Keller quote. She said she saw it on Pinterest and thought it was so inspiring, so representative of marriage. The great adventure! Two people wandering into the unknown with nothing but the stars to guide them! I told her if she found one more thing on that goddamned website I was going to take back the ring and call the whole thing off. No more handmade boutonnières or cutesy place cards constructed of Scrabble letters and burlap. And no. No to Mason jars. Forever.
Now the save-the-date card taunts me from its shrine on the fridge. Julie smiles her radiant, fake grin, the one she gave to the clerk at the Kum & Go just before I watched her shoplift a handful of shit and go around the corner of the building to “find the ladies’ room,” never to re-emerge. I remind myself I love her. I love her.
Maybe I was born for life in the wild. I’ve been taking what I needed from this world for as long as I can remember. But I should’ve taken more food from the Kum & Go.
I look around for edible plants. This area’s a treasure trove—mint leaves, honeysuckle, mushrooms of various degrees of risk. I fill my pockets with them all.
In my old life, honeysuckle was the color I’d chosen for bridesmaids’ dresses. Honeysuckle yellow satin. I can’t remember why that would have been so important.
My mind rushes. For once, it’s not my legs that tingle, but my brain. A mantra, chanting between my temples. I can’t be caught. I can’t be caught.
He’s back. Harkless sighs and flips to a new page in his notepad.
“Mr. Brenner, can you describe your fiancée’s recent behavior? Is there any reason we should believe she’s in any sort of danger?”
“Danger? No! I have no idea. She’s probably mad about something—some passive aggressive shit.”
“No disrespect, Mr. Brenner, but this case is taking time and resources we could be spending elsewhere. So if this is all some sort of domestic dispute—“
“No, I’m sorry. Sorry,” Joshua says. “This is different.”
“Again, I don’t mean any accusation, sir, but have you noticed anything different about your fiancée lately? Spending time with new people? Any alcohol or drug abuse?”
Along with joining Pinterest and adopting a frenzied skincare regime, Jules stopped eating meat the millisecond we got engaged. She always bitched about the idiocy of her friends who did juice diets, but figured going vegetarian would help her with the whole bridal beauty vision. It’s all a giant racket, women getting too worked up over all that crap. Something’s always wrong with them. Things that aren’t even real. I have fat under my ass. My stretch marks have stretch marks. My legs feel like they’re crawling all the time. Julie went into full combatant mode for all of these imaginary ailments.
“I’m going to teach you the most important two words of your married life,” my father-in-law told me after Julie came back from two days of doctors’ appointments with a prescription for curing restless leg syndrome and a pamphlet about liposuction.
“What’s that?” I asked him.
“Hello?” I hear from behind me.
I freeze. I shouldn’t have left the tunnel. I should have stayed until it was dark.
“Ma’am, are you lost?”
“Stay back! Stay away from me!”
“I’m not going to hurt you. But this is my land.”
“I won’t be here long—I’m passing through. I’m gone!”
“Hey, wait—aren’t you the woman from the news? The one who went missing from that Kum & Go?”
“Harkless, they found your girl.” Rhodes stretches the phone in his direction. Harkless waves it away.
“Get the address. I’m on my way.”
Mirapex. I squeeze the bottle in my fist as I watch the cop escort Julie up the driveway toward the house. She looks confused, as she should—the drugs are probably still in her system. In my other hand I’m clenching the packet of fine print. Mirapex may cause trouble breathing, tremors, changes in vision…and in rare cases, compulsive behaviors such as gambling, excessive drinking, or shoplifting.
Of course I wouldn’t have noticed. Planning a wedding breeds compulsion. I’m not sure what I can blame on the wedding and what on the drugs. What is Julie and what is some phantom.
“They caught me,” Julie says, freeing herself from the cop’s grasp. “I guess I’m back.”
“Why did you leave?” I say. I’m trying to slow my breathing, reminding myself I shouldn’t expect a coherent response.
She doesn’t answer me. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a flower—a honeysuckle blossom?—and offers it to me.
“I’m back,” she says again.
My muscles, tensed for two days, loosen. Then she reaches into her purse and retrieves a pair of shiny aviators.
“I got these for you,” Jules whispers.
Harkless pats his empty pocket.
“Rhodes,” he says. “You seen my shades?”
Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Angela DeRay