[I wrote this as a “Cropped” short story. If you’d like to learn more about the term, check the comments box for a link to a post I wrote yesterday.]
Lost and Found
May 13, 2008
She noticed the box, with its cardboard sides bulging in every direction, before she noticed the child. At first, the little clump of orange behind the crate looked like a shipping notice, or some sort of magazine clipping. But then it rose abruptly into the air, revealing two pigtails, two eyes and an incomplete set of teeth that outshone them both.
Impatient with her wandering eyes, she looked back at her attorney’s letter, only to glance right back at the little girl. Strange that a child should take the subway at five in the morning with nobody at her side. Her legs agreed with her eyes and walked, ever so slowly, over to the box.
The girl jumped up again, revealing a bright blue shirt that mocked the subway car’s drab interior. There were pink letters on it, but her eyes couldn’t follow the text.
“Little girl?” she asked with a whisper. “Do you know where your parents are?”
It felt strange to talk to a child. It felt strange to talk at all without raising her voice, storming off and calling Scheidung and Associates.
The child’s smile flashed at the word “parents.”
“Of course,” she said. “They’re together. Mom and Pop, all together.” She clenched her hands together and wiggled her fingers.
The train lurched to a stop at Paraffin, and she grabbed a pole for balance. The kid giggled and began drumming on the box.
“Spay Cifficly? Who’s Cifficly?”
Maybe this was why she never had a child.
“Where are your two parents? Are they searching?”
She shook her head intently. “Oh, no. Mom and Pop are finally done searching. They say they were just a little lost for a year.”
The train choked to a start, and she had to grab onto the same pole for support. She felt a little queasy, but it wasn’t the subway’s fault.
“But they haven’t found you,” she said, pointing at the girl. One of her fingers had a distinct tan line on it.
“Pop says that I was lost for a while, but now he found me, too. He says that these last months were like a big game of hide and go seek, and he had been hiding his heart.” She pulled on her pigtails and took one more leap for the ceiling.
The woman looked at the box, only to find a fluffy blue ear sticking out of a rupture in the side.
“I need to know where your parents are, right now.”
She never had been able to extract information from people. Maybe that was why this spree with Harold lasted so long. He could divert and skew her questions as well as any lawyer—his lawyer, to be specific. They would be a perfect match when the dust settled.
“Are you lost, too?” the child asked with a sugary innocence that made her cringe.
“I’m on my way to Uri Station.”
“Oh, okay. Are you going to meet your husband there?”
She laughed and shook her head.
The nausea hadn’t gone away. Her stomach always shifted whenever she got the slightest bit worried about the case. No pills seemed to help.
“Are you lost, too?” the girl continued.
The train took a sharp turn, pressing her near the wall. She stumbled to regain her footing, but the girl just stood there, sphinx-like, with the box.
“I know the direction in which I’m going,” the lady replied.
“Pop says that everyone knows the direction they’re going, but not if if’s the right one.” The girl looked down and petted the fluffy blue ear.
She pressed a hand to her stomach, which now felt ready to burst a hole in her chest. The lady tried sitting down, but lurched forward instead as the train came to a stop.
It was all the child’s fault. This sickening girl had put that man back into her head, a man who now seemed less and less repulsive with every flashback. They had it all laid out, a clean break, but now part of her disagreed. Part of her envied the little brat.
“Are you okay?” the child asked, face tilted. The lady nodded and massaged her stomach. Court was just two days away, but it wouldn’t be so simple anymore—stomach always tightened up when she got second thoughts about Court, always tightened up…
The woman with the tan mark on her finger ran out the open door and onto the platform, hand cupped over her mouth. A few seconds later, a tall woman rushed into the car.
“Cecilia!” she said, tripping over the box. “You frightened me so much! I was on the car behind you, all this time.”
The girl nodded. “I could see you through the window,” she said.
The mother, shaking her head in relief, stooped down to pick up the box. Her daughter was frowning when she looked back up.
“There was this lady I met on the subway,” she said. “I think she might have been lost.”