Elizabeth noticed the silence that bled through the walls. Eventually, she got herself ready and made her way downstairs. There was no one home and no cars in the driveway. She put on the kettle and made herself a cup of tea. By the front door, she noticed her father’s work boots sitting by the shoe rack. Confused, she walked over to the living room window, expecting someone to pull into the driveway. After a few moments of gazing into nothingness, Elizabeth took herself upstairs.
Gabrielle’s bed was empty and unmade. The room was eerily still to Elizabeth, all but for the lifeless branches outside the window that contorted in the wind. Elizabeth had no idea where her parents were, but didn’t allow any negative thoughts to enter her mind. An unrealistic picture of her parents enjoying an early morning cappuccino at a cafe made her smile.
Elizabeth softly tapped on Jordan’s door.
She opened it a crack so she could just get her head in.
“Jordan, we have to get the bus today.”
The movement under Jordan’s covers let Elizabeth know he was awake.
Elizabeth applied her makeup as best she could. Between almost every brush stroke she looked at the time and hoped that her mother would arrive home before they had to leave. She hated that she was embarrassed the day before, but at least, she thought, she wasn’t embarrassed at school.
Gabrielle never returned home.
Elizabeth and Jordan left the house together and made their way to the bus stop. They lived on the edge of Blackwater, where the last row of houses met tree-covered hills that cast shadows over the town for most of the morning.
“Where’s mum?” Jordan asked, breaking the silence between them.
“I don’t know. No one was home when I got up.”
Jordan shook his head, his hair covering his downcast eyes.
“But, I heard dad home this morning when I was still in bed.” Elizabeth explained, “He probably just came home for a change of clothes before another job, or something…”
Jordan remained silent for the rest of the walk.
When they reached the bus stop, Elizabeth sat down on the cold steel bench. Jordan continued walking.
“Where are you going?”
Jordan replied over his shoulder, “To find Whisper,” and he wheeled around to add, “Don’t tell mum.”
“Wait! Give me some posters.” Elizabeth cried.
Jordan reached into his bag and handed her some missing dog posters and a roll of tape.
“Don’t waste them.” He said in a threatening tone and then disappeared down the street.
Elizabeth prayed to herself that Whisper would be found. Whisper had been gone for three days so far and nobody had seen her.
From the corner of her eye, Elizabeth noticed April Blackburn approaching. She tried to ignore April every morning, but would always cast a quick glance in her direction.
“Hey,” Elizabeth said awkwardly, April looking at her surprised, “Can I give one of these to you.”
“Oh,” April said looking over the poster for a brief second. She held it between one finger and her phone, the wind threatening to take it away any second. April gave Elizabeth a fake half-smile and that was the end of their conversation.
The bus rolled in and Elizabeth sat somewhere in the middle as April made her way behind her. She wasn’t sure, but Elizabeth could feel the eyes upon her. She felt like she was being ridiculed every time the popular girls laughed, even if she couldn’t hear their exact conversation. Today, she heard every word.
“Get her to turn around.” Came the voice of Susan.
“Oi, Beth! Hey, Elizabeth!”
Elizabeth took in a deep breath and turned around.
“Did we have any English homework due today?”
“No. It’s due Friday.”
Elizabeth’s peripheral vision was focused on Tara, a particularly nasty girl in April’s clique. Her hair was a beach blonde, sharply straightened, bangs hanging down that almost touched the eyelashes that disguised cruel, vindictive eyes. The growing smile on Tara’s face created a feeling of embarrassment and hatred in Elizabeth’s heart. The bus came to a stop and Sarah jumped on, taking her place next to a secretly upset Elizabeth.
“Hey, so I had this idea for a game, but tell me if you like it.” Sarah began eagerly, not noticing Elizabeth’s mood. “So it’s a board game where everyone is on the same team, but they have to get to the end before the government.”
“Why doesn’t she wipe some of her face onto Sarah’s neck to cover that birthmark,” Tara said to April, getting a cackling reaction. Sarah was oblivious to this.
“See, the government gets to tax every dice roll, so the more people who play, the harder it is!”
Elizabeth smiled and nodded, having only heard the last sentence of Sarah’s explanation.
“Lucy will love that,” Elizabeth replied as if she had been listening.
“Right!” Sarah said with excitement.
It wasn’t that Elizabeth didn’t enjoy board games and discussions about philosophy, but ever since April left, she felt their group was missing something. Now that April’s keen wit was evidently aimed at Elizabeth and her remaining friends, she felt even worse. She took a quick side glance at Sarah’s birthmark.
“We can’t hide who we are,” thought Elizabeth as she closed her eyes. She felt she was more underneath the surface, but she hid whoever that was so deep that, perhaps, who she really was was simply a child who hides. The bus came to an abrupt stop and Elizabeth opened her eyes.
The kids all jumped up and pushed each other off the bus. Sarah stood up, but waited for the isle to clear before even attempting to leave. She turned to Elizabeth.
“You look nice, by the way. Not too much. I like it.”
Elizabeth looked out the window at the school full of students and saw a faint reflection of herself in the window. She took a deep breath and accepted that there was no way to hide her makeup. She agreed with Sarah and that was that.
Meanwhile, Jordan’s skin was ice cold. The early morning sun pierced through the trees in warm patches he walked through. He scanned the pavement as he walked.
He hailed down the 813 bus that headed into Narrow Point. The bus driver was about to berate him with twenty questions as to why Jordan was travelling away from town in the local school uniform, but Jordan simply gave him a lost dog poster. It was a free ticket anywhere.
“Stick it on the door, mate.”
Jordan did as he was told.
“And if I see it on…”
Jordan cast a side glance at the bus driver.
“Never mind. I’m sure she’s fine.”
The suburb beyond, Narrow Point, was a dense town of dingy apartments, a shopping centre and an old hospital. Whereas Blackwater was a sleepy coastal town surrounded by hills of dense trees, Narrow Point was an urban jungle, inland enough to deprive the population of any connection to nature beyond their boxed existence. There was a train station that Jordan imagined was the main artery that provided cancer to the town. Or, perhaps Blackwater was the tumour that needed removing, he couldn’t tell.
Jordan thanked the bus driver and jumped out at the station. He plastered his poster on every pole and surface that drew his attention. The sun was halfway in its morning arch, the time of day when people lined up for morning coffee before they entered bland office buildings.
A row of nurses sat on an old park bench, each with a cigarette. Jordan felt the urge to sketch them out. A perfect picture of irony. Three lifesavers, killing themselves due to the pressures of saving lives. Looming over them stood the hospital. Built like a prison, unmovable and unavoidable.
“A red-headed witch was here before you, young sir.”
The smell was horrible. A mix of urine, whiskey and terrible body odour. The smell was so repulsive that it seemed to have a lukewarm temperature, like swimming in a public pool and passing through what you wished you didn’t.
The homeless man was staring up at Jordan. Eyebrows thick and drawn together in thought one moment and confusion the next. This grey worn-out creature with missing teeth and weathered skin was lying on a park bench beneath an old sleeping bag.
“You look like her. Ah yes, now that you see me I see you. I saw in the way you looked about you, but now I see it in your features.”
Jordan began to walk away from the rambling homeless man, when he caught something.
“I get visits, you know. She comes to me.” As he was talking, the man pulled out one of Jordan’s posters from his pocket.
“Yes, I will miss her. That bitch. Twenty-eight, zero, four, ninety-eight!”
Jordan knelt down and looked into the old man’s broken eyes.
“When did she visit?”
He began to roll around, trying to get into a sitting position. He looked about him, searching for something he’d never lost.
“Hey!” Jordan yelled, losing his temper, “Where is my dog?”
The old man stared at Jordan and gestured he come in close.
“I killed her.”
He burst out laughing, the spit hitting Jordan’s face like acid. He leapt back, almost tripping over, wiping his face vigorously. The homeless man lay back down, half laughing, half crying.
He kept repeating, “Twenty-eight, zero, four, ninety-eight,” over and over again.
Jordan left him alone and headed toward the hospital.
The entrance to the hospital was nothing like the rest of its exterior. It was newly renovated with automatic glass doors and clean signage. Jordan stood across the road, unable to go any further.
“Ward C, third floor, bed twenty-three.” Jordan said under his breath.
In one of the hospital rooms, Mr Williams was in a coma.
Jordan could only imagine what state he was in. Dark and cascading rhythms of a heavy song started to ring in Jordan’s ears as he pictured Mr Williams trapped inside the prison that is his unconscious mind. Unable to communicate and with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Something about the beat running through Jordan’s head forced him to sprint across the road, jump up the small steps and slap a poster on the glass walls of the hospital’s entrance. He immediately retreated back across the road to where he had dropped his bag.
He went to a park bench, one that didn’t smell like his homeless acquaintance, and collapsed down. Pulling out his sketchpad he began to draw to get his imagination away from Mr Williams state of being. Soon, three nurses, hair falling from their cancer-infested scalps sat smoking their lives away outside a half-destructed hospital building.
After another mundane day, where nothing changed in Elizabeth’s life, she found herself skipping the bus ride home, not because she wanted to walk, but because she wanted Jordan to be reunited with his dog. Elizabeth didn’t really care much for her, but she couldn’t imagine not helping to find her.
Instead of taping the posters to telegraph poles, Elizabeth thought it was more efficient to drop them straight into mailboxes. She figures that if people wouldn’t know what was missing if they weren’t shown specifically.
The bag on her bag weighed her down and only after one street, Elizabeth was exhausted. Her legs ached and she could feel the sweat drip down her face under the harsh sun. What she wanted, more than to be outside working for Jordan, was to be under a cold shower, to be wrapped in a blanket and to be watching whatever Gabrielle was halfway through by the time the house was ready to fall into sleep.
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