Home > The Weight of Silence(9)

The Weight of Silence(9)
Heather Gudenkauf

"It crossed my mind," I admit. We had no leads in last year's abduction and subsequent murder of ten-year-old Jenna McIntire. That little girl haunted my sleep every single night. As much as I want to push aside the idea that something similar may have happened to Petra and Calli, I can't. It's my job to think this way.

PETRA

I can't keep up with them, they are too fast. I know he has seen me, because he turned his head toward me and smiled. Why don't they wait for me? I am calling to them, but they don't stop. I know they are somewhere ahead of me, but I am not sure where. I hear a voice in the distance. I am getting closer.

CALLI

The temperature of the day was steadily rising and the low vibration of cicadas filled their ears. Griff had become uncharacteristically hushed and Calli knew that he was thinking hard about something. Anxiety rose in Calli's chest, and she tried to push it down. She focused her attention on trying to locate all the cicada casings she could find. The brittle shells clung to tree trunks and from limbs, and she had counted twelve already. Ben used to collect the shells in an old jewelry box that once belonged to their grandmother. He would spend hours scanning the gray, hairy bark of shagbark hickory trees for the hollow skins, pluck them carefully from the wood and drop them into the red velvet-lined box. He would call out to Calli to come watch as a fierce-looking, demon-eyed cicada began its escape from its skin. They would intently watch the slow journey, the gradual cracking of the casing, the wet-winged emerging of the white insect, its patient wait for the hardening of its new exoskeleton. Ben would place its discarded shell on her outstretched palm and the tiny legs, pinpricks of its former life, would tickle her hand.

"Even his wife knows something is going on," Griff muttered.

Calli's heart fluttered. Thirteen, fourteen...she counted.

"Even his wife knows he's too interested in her. Toni runs to him when she's in trouble," Griff's voice shook. "Does she come to me? Off she runs to Louis! And me playing daddy to you all these years!" Griff 's fingers were now digging into her shoulder, his face purple with heat and dripping sweat. Minuscule gnats were orbiting his head. Several stuck to his slick face like bits of dust. "Do you know how it makes me look that everyone, everyone knows about your mother?" He unexpectedly pushed Calli roughly to the ground and a loud whoosh of air escaped her as her breath was slammed from her.

"So, that gets a little noise outta ya? Is that what it takes to get you talking?"

Calli scrambled backward, crablike, as Griff loomed over her. Her head reeled, silent tears streaked down her face. He was her daddy; she had his small ears, the same sprinkle of freckles across her nose. At Christmas, they would pull out the large, green leather picture album that chronicled Calli's and Ben's milestones. The photo of Calli at six months, sitting on her father's lap, was nearly identical to the photo of Griff sitting on his mother's lap years earlier, the same toothless smile, the same dimpled cheeks looking out at them from the pictures.

Calli opened her mouth, willing the word to come forth. "Daddy," she wanted to cry. She wanted to stand and go to him, throw her arms as far around him as they could reach, and lean against the soft cotton of his T-shirt. Of course he was her daddy, the way they both stood with their hands on their hips and the way they both had to eat all their vegetables first, then the entire main dish, saving their milk for last. Her lips twisted to form the word again. "Daddy," she wished with her entire being to say. But nothing, just a soft gush of air.

Griff stepped closer to her, rage etched in his face. "You listen here. You may be livin' in my house, but I don't gotta like it!" He kicked out at her, the toe of his shoe striking her in the shin. Calli rolled herself into a tight little ball like a woolly bear caterpillar, protecting her head. "When we get home I'm gonna tell your mom that you went out to play and got lost and I came out to find you. Understand?" He struck out at her again, but this time Calli rolled away before he connected. The force of the kick caused him to falter and trip off the trail and into a pile of broken, sharp-tipped branches.

"Dammit!" he cursed, his hands scratched and bloodied. Calli was on her feet before Griff, her legs taut, ready for flight. He reached for her and Calli turned on the ball of her foot, a clumsy pirouette. Griff's ruddy hand grabbed at her arm, briefly catching hold of the smooth, tender skin on the back of her arm. Then she pulled away and was gone.

ANTONIA

I sit at the kitchen table, waiting. Louis told me not to go into Calli's room, that they may need to go through Calli's things to look for ideas of where she may have gone. I stared disbelievingly at him.

"What? Like a crime scene?" I asked him. Louis didn't look at me as he answered that it probably wouldn't come to that.

I'm not as worried about where she is as Martin is about Petra, and I wonder if I am a horrible mother. Calli has always been a wanderer. At grocery stores I would turn my head for a moment to inspect the label on a jar of peanut butter and she would be gone. I would dash through the aisles, searching. Calli would always be in the meat section, next to the lobster tank, one pudgy finger tapping the aquarium glass. She would turn to look at me, my shoulders limp with relief, a forlorn look on her face and ask, "Mom, does it hurt the crabs to have their hands tied like that?"

I'd rumple her soft, flyaway brown hair, and tell her, "No, it doesn't hurt them."

"Don't they miss the ocean?" she'd persist. "We should buy them all and let them go into the river."

"I think they'd die without ocean water," I'd explain. Then she'd gently tap the glass again and let me lead her away.

Of course this was before, when I didn't have to wonder if the next word would ever come. Before I woke up from dreams where Calli was speaking to me and I would be grasping at the sound of her voice, trying to remember its pitch, its cadence.

I have tried Griff's cell phone dozens of times. Nothing. I consider calling Griff's parents, who live downtown, but decide against it. Griff has never gotten along with his mom and dad. They drink more than he does and Griff hasn't been in the same room with his father for over eight years. I think this is one of the things that drew me to Griff in the beginning. The fact that we were both very much alone. My mother had died, my father far away in his own grief from her death. And Louis, well, that had ended. Not with great production, but softly, sadly. Griff had only his critical, indifferent parents. His only sister had moved far away, trying to remove herself from the stress and drama of living with two alcoholic parents. When Griff and I found each other, it was such a relief. We could breathe easily, at least for a while. Then things changed, like they always do. Like now, when once again, I can't find him when I need him.

I nervously fold and refold the dish towels from the kitchen drawer and I think I should give my brothers a call, tell them what's happening. But the thought of putting the fact that Calli is lost or worse into words is too frightening. I look out the kitchen window and see Martin and Louis step out of Louis's car, Martin's shirt already soaked with the day's heat. The girls are not with them. Ben will find them. They are of one mind, and he will find them.

DEPUTY SHERIFF LOUIS

Martin Gregory and I approach Toni's front door. Martin has had no luck in locating his daughter or Toni's, and I am hopeful that the girls will be sitting at the kitchen table eating Toni's pancakes, or that they have shown up at the Gregorys' where Fielda waits for them. I am still distracted by my quarrel on the phone with Christine and I try to dismiss her harsh words from my mind.

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