I was sitting in my mother’s old study, in her worn out chair with her papers, books, and life spread out in front of me. I took a deep breath and opened the album again. The picture was still there. Strangely, it looked brighter than all the other faded pictures in the age old album. The colors more vivid, the lines sharper, you could almost feel her carefree emotions radiating off the page from that summer carnival last year. It was the last picture we had taken together, as a mother and her daughter. She was the perfect mother, the perfect friend, the perfect everything and then she left. Vanished into thin air was more like it. I had gone to the bathroom while she went up the Ferris wheel by herself. When I got back, I waited for everyone to get off, and everyone did, but her. She wasn’t there.
“Lena,” my father’s voice pulled me back from my memories.
“What?” I said flatly. I had stopped offering any emotions to him a long time ago.
“Looking at those old pictures isn’t going to bring her back. You know that just as well as I do.”
“Just because I know doesn’t mean I can’t try.”
He stared at me for a few minutes, and then left the room shaking his head. I couldn’t understand how he felt no emotion for losing his wife. Ever since she left he had grown more and more distant. He looked older now too, with a salt and pepper beard, and graying hair. What someone would mistake as bright, intelligent blue eyes were really cold windows to his emotionless life. Sighing, I looked back at the picture. When she was here, she made him live, or at least have something worth living for. Apparently, I wasn’t enough. I put the picture back in the album and left the room.
I found my father pulling out his golf clubs from the closet.
“Lena, I’m going to the golf club. Will you be ok here alone?”
“I’m not a little kid anymore.”
“I’ll be back at 6 for dinner.”
And that was the extent of all of our conversations.
Once I heard the door click shut, I ran upstairs to his bedroom. The police had given him detailed reports about the investigation of my mother, but he had never shown them to me. The only thing I got was a shake of the head and a solemn, “I don’t think she’s coming back.” I hadn’t even thought of going into his room and looking for the reports until I saw the picture of my mother. She was one person who, while had shown respect for others, gave no regard to their privacy and would always barge in on you no matter what you did. The room looked…completely different. All traces of my mother had vanished. There were no more wedding pictures; her side of the dresser was cleared off and empty and nothing of hers was in their bathroom. My headed clouded anger. For once, for once, he couldn’t hold onto something that meant to him. Or maybe she just didn’t mean anything to him. After all, what use was a loving wife when he had his fantastic job as a lawyer? He had an upscale neighborhood and house to match. He used to have the perfect family to complete it all. With each thought I grabbed a drawer from the dresser and pulled until it fell to the ground. Soon the floor was covered by the clutter and I gave that last drawer a final, spiteful yank. Suddenly, something fell to the floor with a thud. Still shaking from my anger, I kicked aside the pile of socks to find a handgun. And underneath it and picture of my mother. What was going on? I knew my father was out of it, but I would never have gone as far as psychotic, until now.
Trembling, I put the clothes back in the drawers and pushed the gun as far back as I could. Then I saw the stack of files sticking out from under his mattress. Grabbing them I ran out of the room. I opened the files on the dining room table and I almost heart attack. These weren’t papers from a missing person investigation, they were police records. My mother’s police records. Skimming the page I only registered a few words. Hand gun. Car chase. First degree murder. Her picture was paper clipped to the front of the file. It couldn’t be. But yet it was right there in front of my eyes. Reading further into it I saw that she had hid from the police and it was still unconfirmed whether she was dead or alive. There were medical records too. Everything from suspected insanity to bipolar disorder was listed. No tests were ever completed of course, because she had disappeared, but that didn’t change the fact that her doctors thought that she was some lunatic who needed medication. First things first, I needed to find out why my father had never told me about this. Then, I would find out if my mother was still alive and where she lived now.
I picked up the phone and called him. This couldn’t wait until he got back from golf.
“Hello? Dad? Yeah it’s me; I need you to come home.”
He asked why, and also threw in that it couldn’t be anything that couldn’t wait until dinner.
“No, we need to talk now. I found the files.”
His side of the line was silent for a few seconds as he tried to remember what files I was talking about. Then he remembered and it was like a bomb went off inside of him. I didn’t even listen to him rant.
Cutting him off I said, “Come home now, or I’m calling the police to find the answers.”
15 minutes later, I heard his keys in the door.
“Explain, right now, Lena. It better be a good explanation because you had absolutely no right to look through my things, in my room, in my house.”
“Yeah, well, I just wanted to find out what happened to my mother and your wife, which I wouldn’t have had to do if you had just told me what happened in the first place!”
“It didn’t concern you!”
“It didn’t concern me? I think you’re the one who should’ve been tested for insanity, not Mom! What are all these records about her killing someone? The police are out for her arrest and you’re not doing anything to find her and help her! They don’t even know if she was the one who did for sure without a court trial. You can’t seriously believe it’s true!” My voice rising.
But one look at his face and I realized that he did.
“This is ridiculous. You loved her for God’s sake, how could you stand the thought of her out there somewhere alone, with no family or money? How can you live with yourself?” I screamed.
“Lena, I’m still your father, not your equal. Don’t talk to me that way. Yes, I believe she killed that man. I also believe that she was a pathetic excuse for life. She never had any goals, no future plans, she just lived in the present. She’s probably still living today if you’re wondering. Did I love her? Sure maybe, at some point in my life. But by the time she left? Not a bit. Lena, you’re almost a young woman, you had to have noticed the distance between us those past few months. If she hadn’t left, I would have filed for a divorce. Our family would have split up sooner or later.”
I didn’t have anything left to say. I was too shocked by the fact that one, my mother was still alive and two that my father didn’t seem to care the slightest bit.
“Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to put the files back where they belong and get dinner ready. You however can go up to your room until its ready.”
I walked out of the kitchen, but instead of going upstairs I went into my mother’s study. This time instead of reminiscing on old memories I searched for new information. Something, anything that would give me the slightest clue towards why mother had killed that man and where she was now. But there was nothing. Walking out of the study I heard my father yelling for me to go check the mail. For a second I wanted to say no, to say that he could go do it himself because I had better things to do, like find a mother who left her family, but the moment passed and I went outside to get the mail. When I came back inside my father was getting ready to leave again.
“I’m going to go back and finish my rounds of golf.”
“Don’t forget your golf clubs.”
He hesitated for moment like he couldn’t figure out why he would need golf clubs for where he was going. “Oh, um, yes, I left my clubs in car…”he trailed off.
“Okay, then I’ll see you when you get back.”
I sifted through the bills, and bills, and bills when my eye caught a bright red envelope addressed to my father. Except it was written in my mother’s easily recognizable and almost indecipherable cursive. Glancing around, I ripped open the top of the envelope quickly in case my father came back inside and forced myself to read the letter slowly and deliberately.
“Thomas, I’m not sorry for leaving you so that’s not the reason for this letter. I’m sorry for leaving Lena, and some day she’s going to have to know the truth and it’s going to have to come from you. I killed an innocent man. Little secrets like that can torment people to the brink of insanity. It’s the human way to want to tell someone these secrets but in most cases you can’t. Everyone has their dirty secret, and that one was mine. Those nights when I would wake up screaming? It was because I had dreams about the look in his eyes as his life slowly ebbed out of him. I can imagine you now, with this letter in your hand shaking your head because you think I’m being melodramatic. The man I married wasn’t like that; he embraced my dramatics and joined in with them. But anyways don’t walk away from this letter yet, I promise it’s only going to get worse from here. I killed him thinking he was you. And now you’re probably angry, maybe close to having a conniption, correct? Well, that’s the truth. I followed you one afternoon on your way to the ‘golf club’ where you said you were going to meet your ‘co-workers’ for a round of golf just like you did every Tuesday afternoon. I had my suspicions about what this ‘golf club’ really was, but I wanted to confirm it before jumping to conclusions. I followed you all the way to the empty warehouse lot on the east side of town and, well, consider conclusions confirmed. I was so angry then, when I saw a man wearing the same coat as you walk out of your so called club I pulled out the hand gun I had brought, the one you keep hidden in your sock drawer, and shot. So there, now you know the truth, I wanted to kill you, but instead, I killed another poor man instead. Who knows? Maybe he deserved to die just as much as you did but either way it wasn’t my place to decide that. The police showed up. One of them caught a glimpse of me and started to walk over, so I panicked, floored the gas pedal and made a run for it. I expected them to follow but they didn’t. I waited, one day, then three, and then it was two weeks before I could take it anymore. The man I had killed was on the news, in the paper, everywhere and I knew it was just a matter of time until the police found me. And I was right. One afternoon three weeks later a police car pulled up in front of the house. Remembering that the summer carnival was in town that week I grabbed Lena and we slipped out the back before they knocked on the door. I didn’t know whether or not they would recognize me and follow me, but what’s a better place to lose the police than a place filled with kids, family, and fun fun fun? Only it wasn’t fun Thomas. Because I was fugitive now with first degree murder on my file. And it’s your fault. So I did the only thing I could do, and probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, I abandoned my own daughter and ran to protect myself. I wasn’t too terribly apprehensive about leaving her alone at the carnival; she was already 12 by that last summer. But that didn’t make it any easier. But let me tell you right now, I am alive and well, and you had better be treating my little girl well or else I’m going correct the job I messed up last time. I’ve heard murder is easier the second time around anyway. Give my love to Lena, Susan.”
And just like that I had found the something that gave me the answer to my questions. Looking at the return address I saw that she had sent it from Philadelphia, only an hour’s drive from our home in Princeton. There were no guarantees that she would still be there, but at least it gave me some place to start. Now there was only one thing left to do. I walked back into his room. And I opened his sock drawer and I grabbed the hand gun. Taking my bike out of the garage I headed towards the warehouses. Turns out I didn’t need to hurry because I got there about five minutes before my dad, thanks to heavy traffic. I hid behind the corner of one of the warehouses, ready to pull the trigger the second I was him pull up. And then when the moment came, he parked his car and stepped out. I squeezed the trigger and he immediately crumpled to the ground. The shot propelled me back and I hit my head hard against the wall, but not before I was that I had reached my target. The bullet went through his left shoulder, leaving a clear hole, and then the blood began to fall.
“There you go Mom, I finished your job for you,” I thought just as my vision began to blur.
Then I felt someone shaking my shoulders.
“Lena? Lena! Hold on, an ambulance is on its way for the other man, they’ll take you to the hospital too, just hold on okay?”
It was my father’s voice.