Home > The Weight of Silence(5)

The Weight of Silence(5)
Heather Gudenkauf

"Oh, my goodness, of course. Please come in." I show them into our living room, now conscious of the scattering of beer cans on the coffee table. I quickly gather them and scurry to the kitchen to throw them away.

"I'll just go and wake Calli up." I take the stairs two at a time, my stomach sick for Martin and Fielda. I am calling, "Calli. Calli, get up, honey, I need to talk to you!" When I reach the hall, Ben opens his door. He is shirtless and I notice that his red hair needs trimming.

"Morning, Benny, they can't find Petra." I continue past him to Calli's door and I push it open. Her bed is rumpled and her sock monkey lies on the floor, its smiling face turned toward me. I stop, puzzled, and then turn. "Ben, where's Calli?"

He shrugs and retreats to his room. I quickly check the guestroom, my bedroom, Ben's room. I rush down the stairs. "She's gone, too!" I run past Louis and Martin, down our rickety basement steps, flipping on the light as I scurry downward, the cool dampness of our concrete basement sweeping over me. Only cobwebs and boxes. Our old, empty deep freeze. My heart skips a beat. You hear about this, children playing hide-and-seek in old refrigerators and freezers, not being able to get out once they are in. I told Griff time and again to get rid of the old thing. But he never did, I never did. Quickly I run over to the freezer and fling open the lid and a stale smell hits me. It's empty. I try to regulate my breathing and I turn back to the steps. I see Martin and Louis waiting for me at the top. I sprint up the steps, past them and out the back door. I scan our wide backyard and run to the edge of the woods, peering into the shadowy trees. Winded, I make my way back to my home. Louis and Martin are waiting for me behind the screen door. "She's not here."

Louis's face is stony, but Martin's falls in disappointment.

"Well, they are most likely together and went off playing somewhere. Can you think of where they may have gone?" Louis inquires.

"The park? The school, maybe. But this early? What is it? Six o'clock?" I ask.

"Petra has been gone since at least four-thirty," Martin says matter-of-factly. "Where would they go at such an early hour?"

"I don't know, it doesn't make sense," I say. Louis asks me if he can have a look around, and I watch, following at his heels as he walks purposefully around my home, peeking in closets and under beds. She is not here.

"I've called in the information about Petra to all the officers. They're already looking around town for her," Louis explains. "It doesn't appear that the girls were..." He pauses. "That the girls met any harm. I suggest you go look around for them in the places they usually go." Martin looks uncertain about this plan, but nods his head and I do, too.

"Toni, Griff's truck is outside. Is he here? Would he be able to tell us where the girls could be?"

Louis, in his kind way, is asking me if Griff is coherent this morning or if he is passed out in our bed from a night of drinking. "Griff's not here. He went fishing with Roger this morning. He was going to leave at about three-thirty or so."

"Could he have taken the girls fishing with him?" Martin asks hopefully.

"No," I laugh. "The last thing Griff would do is take a couple of little girls on his big fishing trip. He's not supposed to be back until Saturday. I'm positive the girls did not go fishing with him."

"I don't know, Toni. Maybe he did decide to take the girls with him. Maybe he left a note."

"No, Louis. I'm sure he wouldn't have done that." I am beginning to become irritated with him.

"Okay, then," Louis says. "We'll talk again in one hour. If the girls aren't found by then, we'll make a different plan."

I hear a rustle of movement and turn to see Ben sitting on the steps. At a quick glance he could be mistaken for Griff, with his broad shoulders and strawberry hair. Except for the eyes. Ben has soft, quiet eyes.

"Ben," I say, "Calli and Petra went off somewhere and we need to find them. Where could they have gone?"

"The woods," he says simply. "I'm going to go do my paper route. Then I'll go look for them."

"I'll call to have some officers check out the woods near the backyard. One hour," Louis says again. "We'll talk in one hour."


This morning I woke up real fast, my heart slamming against my chest. I was dreaming that stupid dream again. The one when you and me are climbing the old walnut tree in the woods. The one by Lone Tree Bridge. I'm boosting you up like I always do and you're reaching up for a branch, your nail-bitten fingers white from holding on so tight. I'm crabbing at you to hurry up because I don't have all day. You're up and I'm watching from below. The climb is easier for you now; the branches are closer together, fat sturdy ones. You're going higher and higher until I can only see your bony knees, then just your tennis shoes. I'm hollering up at you, "You're too high, Calli, come back down! You're gonna fall!" Then you're gone. I can't see you anymore. And I'm thinking, I am in so much trouble. Then I hear a voice calling down to me, "Climb on up, Ben! You gotta see this! Come on, Ben, come on!"

And I know it's you yelling, even though I don't know what you really sound like anymore. You keep yelling and yelling, and I can't climb. I want to, but I can't grab on to the lowest branch, it's too high. I call back, "Wait for me! Wait for me! What do you see, Calli?" Then I woke up, all sweaty. But not the hot kind of sweaty, the cold kind that makes your head hurt and your stomach knot all up. I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn't.

Now you've gone off somewhere and somehow I feel guilty, like it's my fault. You're okay for a little sister, but a big responsibility. I always have to look after you. Do you remember when I was ten and you were five? Mom had us walk to the bus stop together. She said, "Look after Calli, Ben." And I said okay, but I didn't, not really, not at first.

I was starting fifth grade and I was much too cool to be babysitting a kindergartener. I held your hand to the end of our lane, just to the spot where Mom couldn't see us from the kitchen window anymore. Then I shook my hand free from yours and ran as fast as I could to where the bus would pick us up. I made sure to look back and to check to see if you were still coming. I have to give you credit, your skinny kindergarten legs were running and your brand-new pink backpack was bouncing on your shoulders, but you couldn't keep up. You tripped over that big old crack in the gutter in front of the Olson house, and you went crashing down.

I almost came back for you, I really did. But along came Raymond and I didn't come back to you, I just didn't. When you finally got to the bus stop, the bus was just pulling up and your knee was all bloody and the purple barrette that Mom put in your hair was dangling from one little piece of your hair. You budged right in front of all the kids in line for the bus to stand next to me and I pretended you weren't even there. When we climbed on the bus, I sat down with Raymond. You just stood in the aisle, waiting for me to scootch over and make room for you, but I turned my back on you to talk to Raymond. The kids behind you started yelling, "hurry up" and "sit down," so you finally slid into the seat across from me and Raymond. You were all nudged up to the window, your legs too short to reach the floor, a little river of blood running down your shin. You wouldn't even look at me for the rest of the night. Even after supper, when I offered to tell you a story, you just shrugged your shoulders at me and left me sitting at the kitchen table all by myself.

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