Have you found her? Have you even looked? Have you really looked? When did you last look? Did you actually put your shoes on and go outside and walk around the neighbourhood or did you just stand on the porch, look up the street, have a smoke?
Did you call her name? Did you yell it? Did you cup your hands and shout at the top of your lungs? Would she have heard fear in your voice? Caring? Anger? Annoyance? Indifference?
Did you ask the people you saw? Did you show them a photo, that one on the desk, and ask them, “Have you seen this person?” Did you tell them what she was wearing? Do you even know what she was wearing? Did she dress to go out or was she wearing her housecoat, her slippers? Did you look to see if her slippers are beside her bed?
Did she have her cigarettes with her? Did you check to see if there was an open pack lying around?
Was the cat in the house? Did she go out looking for it? Does she still remember the cat’s name? Did you mention the cat’s name to people, that she would go out at night calling for the cat, rubbing catnip between her fingers, waving her hand in the breeze?
Did you walk towards Prospect Street? Did you follow her route? Do you remember the route? Don’t you remember the walks we took, you in the wagon, me holding her hand, up Jean street, up Dawson, left on Prospect, past the school, up the hill, past Van Norman, past the biker’s house, then stopping in front of her house, the house she told us was her home? Do you still know every house on that route, who lived in them, the girls you liked, the boys you were afraid of, the smells of their cooking at dinner time, the dogs that sat watching you, the trees you knew how to climb? Do you ever wonder why she would walk the same way every single time, why she would stop in front, without looking at the house, stare away into the distance, toward the mountain, the flat-topped, ancient mountain, worn down by the ages, and finally, why she would turn her head toward the house and only after her eyes had filled to the brim, why she would spit on the sidewalk, and then start walking again?
Do you remember the time she didn’t spit, the time she left us on the sidewalk and walked up the path to the steps, climbing them, one at a time, holding the railing, stopping on the porch, turning toward us, her back to the door, sinking to her knees, head falling to her chest, bending slowly at the waist until her arms were on the porch and her head was between them and she was sobbing, prostrate on the porch, facing out toward the street, and the door opened a bit behind her, the inside door, not the screen door, and we couldn’t see who opened it, we could just see a shape in the darkened hall, a small person with one clenched fist raised, shaking, and a voice, a harsh voice, accustomed to anger, said in a near shriek, “What the hell are you doing, get out of here, I told you to never come back, go, or I’ll call the police, you stupid stupid lying ugly girl”?
Do you know why she never went back there with us, whether she was afraid of the yelling woman, or humiliated, or was it maybe that she had answered a question that she had been asking herself, all those times she had taken us on the route?
Didn’t you ask yourself who she was, that mean, angry woman who shrieked at our mother? Did you go back yourself, as I did, day after day, following her route, past the dogs, the boys, the trees, and stop on the sidewalk and look at the mountain, and wait for the voice behind the door to yell at you in anger, to warn you to leave, so that you could feel what she had felt that day she turned and crawled backwards down the steps while the woman in the doorway watched, unseen, satisfied by the pain she had caused? Did you never want to know?
Did you follow the route today, just in case she was there, somewhere, in front of one of those houses, maybe in front of that house, the mountain in the distance?
Why did you never ask about the time I knocked on the door, alone? Do you not wonder what she looked like, that woman, when she answered the door and saw me there? What she did? What she said? Here, I’m going to tell you, I’m going to tell you now. Now, it’s time. So she opened the door, then she opened the screen door, and she reached out and took my shoulders and held them, looking at my face, all over my face, as though searching it for something. Her grip was tight, she was strong for an old woman, she pulled me, drawing me toward her as though she might hug me, but when I was close enough to smell the scent of tea on her breath, she pushed me hard away from her. And here is what she told me then, in a whispery, venomous voice. She said our mother was a tramp, a disgusting piece of filth, who had whored with her own father, and then left the family, and ran away. And after she ran away her father searched for her, and started drinking, and started beating her, his wife, and finally he left too, left his wife, and then the city, spent the winter in his cabin by the lake, and in the spring he hung himself in the woods. And she told me how our mother, her own child, had had the gall to tell the police the disgusting lies, the filth, the whore. And the police came and asked questions, the neighbours found out, and the priest found out, and asked her to confess, asked her, herself, who had done nothing wrong. And she said to me, no child of that woman will ever come inside my house. And she slammed the screen door, with me outside, and she stared at me again, through the screen, and she told me, “You look like him.” So that’s what happened to me, that day.
And I’ve often thought, why shouldn’t I look like my grandfather, and I’ve often asked myself, but is that what she meant?
What did she mean?
Do you hear the coyotes, down by the creek? Don’t you think it’s time to call the police, to help us find her?
Can you give me a cigarette?