Fiction · 04/15/2009

Marionettes

You never could get used to waking up early, flipping to HBO, and grinding out a few miles on the treadmill. You enjoyed your shoes pounding gravel, liked seeing trees and faces. You needed your mornings peaceful. “Use your head,” I said more than once about you running at night. You wouldn’t work out during lunch. You could smell yourself the rest of the day, even after you showered.

Whenever your mom asks about Herbie, I say he’s doing fine. I gave him away four months ago. Feeding him was doing bad things to me. He began wrapping his tail around my calf, like a swinging question mark, the way he would yours.

A few months after you disappeared, your dad lost it. Your mom found him putting all of your things in donation boxes. A few weeks later, he left.

Recently she’s taken to looking for “Ronald Jenkees” online. She digs through search results, hoping for news about your dad. Mainly she reads about a musician with the same name. She has become sort of obsessed with the guy. This morning she declared, “He is self-taught musically and wants everyone to know it.” Then she asked if you ever wanted kids. I said sometimes, yeah.

I pass the wooded park every morning. Most of the time I don’t look over. How many times did I balk at you running so late? You generally shrugged it off, but not always, like the night your boss said you needed to stop deferring to everyone. In the hall, you laced up your shoes, shaking your head as I said you got home too late to go. “Christ,” you said, walking by me, “You are pathetic.”

Your mom still thinks you may have just taken a vacation. She’s convinced you’re going to call her first. She had me set up an e-mail account for her. Every time I check your Yahoo account, I see her messages. I feel bad reading them, but maybe she’ll tell you something she won’t tell me. Maybe she’ll refer to a lunch or dinner where you said you couldn’t take me much longer. So far, no dice. Mainly, she just tells you about her various maladies and asks if you know anything about your dad and explains how the house still smells like his aftershave. And when she does mention me, it’s only to say I call a lot and am getting by. Sometimes I can’t finish them, like the one she wrote last week, giving you her phone number but saying you shouldn’t feel obligated to wish her happy birthday.

I never argue with her. I let her talk about where you might be and what you might be doing. She once mentioned Munich. She said you’d always wanted to go back and see the marionettes. I kept quiet, unable to recall you ever mentioning Germany. You did mention a high school trip to Europe, but I don’t remember specifics.

They never found evidence of anything. You’re just missing. For all I know, your mom is right. Maybe you were thinking of the horrible stuff we sometimes called each other. Maybe you were tired of arguing for a baby. I keep seeing you hop on a bus. You could have borrowed money from some guy in the second row. Perhaps you just planned to ride around for awhile, thinking the bus was local. Then you found out it was headed across the country to New York or Miami and you just went along.

In the mornings before work, I’m lucky to take a shower before talking to your mom. I haven’t been down to the basement, let alone stepped on the treadmill, in months. This morning I looked at my chubby cheeks in the mirror and pictured that fat cop on 21 Jump Street, the one you loved when you were a kid. Remember getting drunk and telling me about that crush, how you wanted to squeeze his plump cheeks while you touched tongues? I don’t know why I stopped teasing you about that.

Last night I dug up my running shoes and headed over to the park. On the way over, I kept thinking people in passing cars recognized me, assumed I was looking for you or those who took you. I kept waiting for them to yell out “don’t give up” or “let her go, man”. I turned around and went home.

I’m at work now, my door closed. Since you went missing, my boss has given me space. He’s a good federal supervisor that way, which helps because my work product these days is horrendous. After I send you this email, I’m going to wait a few weeks before opening your Yahoo account. For real, this time. And when I do open your account maybe I’ll see this message is grayed out. And I’ll wonder where you opened it from. But it’s fine if I have to open this message myself, like I’ve opened the others. Maybe the whole time I’m reading it, I’ll be picturing you hoisting a beer stein, hooting at the marionettes.

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David Erlewine has stories appearing or forthcoming in approximately 70 journals, including Elimae, Pedestal, Pank, Literal Latte, Word Riot, In Posse Review, Titular, SmokeLong Quarterly, 971 Menu, Keyhole (web), and Monkeybicycle (web). His sad little blog is http://www.whizbyfiction.blogspot.com.