One could say the question “What holds a home together?” unifies the submissions that won First Place in New Wave and The Art’s Second Chance Contest, a novel excerpt by Rebecca Demarest and a poem by Edward Spade, in the second issue we’ve published from our LA tour. Upcoming Memoir Contest Hint #4: If you’ve already downloaded the affliction-memoirs by judges Amanda Miller and Sebastian Briglia, forward your confirmation emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and get ready for the perks of entry. Keep checking in for the official guidelines and dates of the upcoming Memoir Contest. The list of Second Chance Contest winners and their rank follows the First Place submissions we have published below:
by Edward Spade
I am leaving home.
It is a place you could never understand.
Not because it is incomprehensible,
but because it is not yours.
Where you might have shaved
We washed the red and blue caps of milk cartons.
Where some slept, others ate,
And who was sleeping in the bed
Changed between nights and winters alike.
Some read Wonderland next to war-lovers,
Others left first but stayed behind.
We only cleaned the sheets we didn’t sleep in,
Treating light the misfortunes to make them true.
And on warm nights we did what you would do if you were us.
I am leaving home.
And that, at least, you can understand.
Ted Spade is a young writer from the Northeast who likes the heat and the rain of worlds he hasn’t been. After literature and philosophy, both of which he studied as an undergraduate at Rutgers University, his next love has always been the pursuit of an extraordinary life, but writing is certainly much harder than that. For the time being, he is currently residing in Disneyworld.
by Rebecca Demarest
On “That Day,” as he had come to think of it, the wooden box in Ben’s hands was smooth, the inlays dating it to at least the 1800s, but someone had replaced the hinges recently, and poorly. He probed at the loose nails, deciding he would need to pry the hinges out completely, use filler, and then attach something more period appropriate than stainless steel craft hinges. He hated when people couldn’t be bothered to take the time to do something right.
“Da-ad. Can I see the box? Can I?” Benny knelt on the stool behind the counter of his parents’ antique shop. More properly, his mother’s shop, but Ben was the one who did most of the buying and selling, as well as all of the repair work. The five-year-old teetered as he made a grab for the box in his father’s hand, steadying himself against the counter.
Ben lifted the box out of his son’s reach, still focused on the repair job at hand instead of his son. “It’s a box. There are plenty of others in the store to go look at. I need to fix this one.”
“But I’ve seen all the other boxes. They’re boring. That one has cool patterns on it. Kinda like the Republic symbol from Star Wars.” He made lightsaber noises as he caused the stool to sway onto only two legs before it resettled with a thunk.
His son’s words didn’t quite make it through to his attention and he asked, “The what?” He pulled pliers from his back pocket and started to gently work the nails loose from their seating.
“You know, the circle with the thingy in the middle that the Republic has on all their uniforms and ships and everything.” His fidgeting started to tip the stool to the side again, and Ben placed one large hand on top of his son’s head to steady him. He was amazed that his son had only had two trips to the emergency room for stitches by this age, considering how often Ben had to stop him from falling while doing something stupid like rocking the stool off its feet. It wasn’t like he got that reckless behavior from either of his parents, but the boy just didn’t care about pain or danger.
“Enough. Sit down properly. Come on, feet out from under you.”
Benny sighed, squirming until his feet drummed on the legs of the stool and his butt was firmly placed on the seat. “Now can I see it?”
“When it’s fixed. Can you watch the counter? I need to go in the back and get started on this. It’s almost closing time; there shouldn’t be anyone in. But if they do—”
“I know. Call for you as soon as they come in.” He crossed his arms and kicked harder at the stool as Ben went into the back workroom.
He was careful to avoid nicking the beautiful wood of the box as he pried out the bad hinges. The wood filler was still out on his workbench from a project the day before, and he took his time filling the holes, ensuring that every last air pocket was accounted for before using a soft cloth to wipe up the excess and then place the two halves of the box on his drying rack. This was the kind of work that he loved doing, setting everything to rights, bringing out the beauty in an old craftsman’s work. It was a kind of meditation to him, finding all the cracks and filling them, refinishing wood so the stains don’t show, making each piece beautiful and tidy.
Since his son had not called out to him yet, Ben went to his odds and ends shelf and started poking around for a set of hinges that would work with the mahogany and mother-of-pearl inlay of the box. It took him another five minutes to find the ones he wanted, a set of brass hinges that had been too small on the tea caddy they had originally closed. Tossing them on his desk to attach to the box in the morning when the filler had dried, Ben returned to the front of the store.
His son was not sitting on the stool behind the counter. This in itself was not unusual;
Benny was like any five-year-old and had a hard time staying in one spot for long.
“Benny, where’d you go, champ?” There was no answer. Worrisome, but not moreso than usual.
“Benjamin Grant, you come out here right now. No games. It’s time for me to start locking up. Do you want to lock the front door?” Still no answer. And Benny loved being allowed to lock the front door.
At this point, Ben started searching around the store in earnest, opening chests and wardrobes, a soft fear catching in his chest and making his breath a little shorter and sharper.
“This isn’t funny, young man. Stop hiding. Where are you? You’ll force me to call your mother.” When this threat failed to get the usual panicked response, Ben really started to worry. He went to the front door but there wasn’t any sign of the boy on the street, just a few shopkeepers on his small side street starting their own closing routines.
“Bernard! Did Benny come out here?”
The grocer across the way shrugged and shook his head. “Haven’t seen the little terror. Lose him?”
“He’s probably hiding someplace in here and I just haven’t found yet, thanks.” There was no reason to panic anyone else yet, in fact there was probably no reason for him to panic either.
He was sure his son must have just wandered upstairs or something. Please let it be something. Ben retreated into his store and went straight to the phone. He dialed the extension that rang the apartment upstairs while he continued to walk around the store looking in and behind things.
“What’s up?” Ben could hear the TV on in the background blasting one of her fitness workout tapes.
“Jeannie, did Benny come upstairs?” Jeannie either paused or muted the tape as the sound stopped abruptly.
She paused and Ben could almost see her scanning the apartment above. He prayed she would tell him yes, Benny was up there making fun of her again while she worked out. “No, I don’t think so. He wanted to help you close up tonight.”
Ben hesitated before admitting, “I can’t find him.”
“I’m sure he’s just hiding in the furniture again. Remember when he fell asleep in that wardrobe?” Of course he remembered. Benny had been three and Jeannie had panicked. They were about to call the police when Ben had opened the 1894 teak wardrobe and found his son curled up on a fur coat he had pulled off of a hanger.
“I’ve looked in everything. He’s not here.”
Jeannie hung up without answering and in a moment he could hear her clattering down the back stairs. She came out of the workroom and briskly started the same search, flipping open lids and doors around the perimeter of the store. Ben headed into the center of the storefront to see if Ben was just hiding under the desks and tables grouped there.
“Weren’t you watching him?” And there it was. He had wondered how long it would take her to come around to accusations. Less than a minute, record time.
Biting his lip to prevent a harsh comment, he responded, “I stepped in the back to repair that jewelry box – you know, those hinges? The one you asked me to fix because no one would buy it like it was.”
Jeannie turned from the tin sea trunk she was peering into. “You shouldn’t leave him out here by himself; you know how he gets into trouble.” She let the lid slam down and continued on to the 1920s pine dresser.
“It was just for a moment. I wanted to get the wood filler on it before we closed up for the night and there was no one here. And he always listens to me when I tell him to stay put.”
Jeannie snorted but didn’t pursue the matter. “Did he go outside?”
“Bernard didn’t see him.” Ben slid the heavy oak chair back into the leg well of the desk he had been checking.
“That man is blind to anything beyond his awnings, you know that.” She opened and slammed every drawer in the dresser, even though they were entirely too small to fit a five-year-old boy.
Losing patience with her sniping, Ben slammed the next chair under its desk. “I didn’t see him out there. I’ll take a walk down to the park, just to be sure. I think you should call the police.” By now they were opening the same pieces of furniture for the third time, just in case. The store was not that big and there were not that many pieces of furniture for a young boy to hide behind. And he needed to get away from the anger radiating from his wife. She was acting like he wasn’t worried at all, like he didn’t care that his son was missing.
Jeannie closed the brass-bound hope chest she had been looking in and held her hand out for the cordless phone still in Ben’s hand. “Go.”
Ben jogged out the door and turned to the little park at the end of the street. Benny liked to come and terrorize the squirrels and pigeons that occupied the unkempt green space, though he had always been told to never leave the store by himself. The park was empty except for a pair of teenagers necking on a bench. When he asked them if they’d seen his son, they looked annoyed at being interrupted, but promised to keep an eye out for him. But as soon as he turned away, they went right on back to swooning at each other.
His wife was still on the phone with the operator. “Yes, yes, we’ve looked everywhere.” She covered the phone with her hand, mouthing, They’ve sent someone out. Anything? Ben shook his head. “My husband just came back in. He says Benny’s not at the park or on the street.”
A patrol car pulled up in front of their store and two officers climbed out. They conferred for a moment and then came into the store.
Jeannie disconnected the phone with a “Thanks, they’re here,” but clung to it instead of putting it back on its charger.
The shorter of the two officers addressed Jeannie. “I understand your son is missing?”
“Yes, thank you for coming. We can’t find him anywhere.” She turned to Ben and slipped under his arm. At least her anger seemed spent for now, taken over almost entirely by her worry. He pulled her close, taking as much comfort from the contact as she did.
The officers asked all the questions he was used to hearing coming from the cop dramas on his TV shows, did they have a recent photo, how long had he been gone, and he answered them woodenly as Jeannie ran for a picture. It didn’t seem real that those TV cops had stepped into his world now, that the questions actually were meant for him.
Jeannie came clattering back down the stairs, a wooden picture frame in her hands. She was struggling to get the back off the frame as she came down and nearly missed the last step, stumbling into the shop. “Here, this was from soccer this spring. He’s grown a half inch since then.”
The shorter officer passed the photo to the taller one. “That’s fine. Does he have any unique identifiers right now? Cuts, scrapes? Missing teeth?”
“No, no, he got a cast taken off a month ago now. He’d broken his arm on the jungle gym at school.” Jeannie moved back to lean against her husband.
Ben’s mind was only half there, the other half was a mess of questions, like, had he seen anyone on the sidewalk before going back to work on the box, had he heard the front bell chime? He just couldn’t remember, and the harder he pushed at the recent memories, the more indistinct they seemed to become.
“The right or left arm, ma’am?”
“Thank you.” The taller officer had moved off to speak into his radio while the shorter one continued to talk with them. “We’re going to call in a few more officers to help us look around the neighborhood while my partner and I start looking around here and your apartment; is that alright?”
Of course it was okay, why wouldn’t it be okay? If the officers found him sleeping under his bed or hiding in the pantry, Ben would be ecstatic. The men wasted more time asking questions about security cameras (there were none) and giving Ben and Jeannie instructions about calling their friends before starting their search. The taller one started in the store while the shorter one headed up to the apartment.
Jeannie turned and buried her head in his shoulder, shaking more than ever. “Ben, where do you think he is?”
“I don’t know, but we’ll find him, I promise.” Ben steered her to the stool behind the counter and sat her down, handing her the phone. “Start calling our friends like the officers asked.”
She clutched at his arm as he moved away. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to go see if there is anything else I can do to help. I have to do something. I feel like I’m going to explode if I just sit here.” When she didn’t let go, he added, “I’ll be right back. Call.” He gently removed her hand and headed over to talk with the tall officer. “Officer, are you sure there isn’t anything I can do? Go check other places or something?”
The taller man simply looked at him, and Ben felt as though all his faults were laid bare in that moment, the officer passing judgement on him as a man and as a father and finding him wanting. “No. You need to stay here, just in case. I’ll let you know if there is anything else you can do. For now, go help your wife call your son’s friends.”
Ben seethed at the officer’s dismissal as he turned away and resumed his search. They only had the one phone with all the numbers programmed in it, so it was no use trying to help Jeannie call around. Instead, he paced around the shop, straightening the antiques, brushing dust off of desktops and shelves. It was not what he wanted to be doing, but at least it kept him moving. As the search team started to arrive, Ben moved to the back workshop to get out of the way since they made it clear he wasn’t going to be allowed to join them. His wife was still on the phone, with one of her church friends it sounded like.
Their friends started arriving ten minutes later and were quickly absorbed into the search force. Everyone was given a copy of Benny’s photo which an officer had taken to the copy center down the street earlier. They dispersed to their respective search quadrants, milling in and out all evening and well into the night.
Every time the door opened, Ben’s head shot up and he started to head over. When he realized it was just another searcher coming in for a break or new assignment, he settled back in behind the counter, his mind running over and over the five minutes right before Benny had vanished, trying to tell if there was anything at all that might help the search effort.
All night, instead of being allowed to go out with the search teams as he wanted, Ben kept himself busy, making coffee, tea, and pulling out snacks to keep everyone fortified. Bernard brought some party platters over from the grocery that had been meant for a customer the next day. When asked, he shrugged and simply said he’d make others. At its peak, the search force numbered fifty officers and volunteers combing the Savannah streets around the store but they found nothing. Five separate officers searched the apartment and store and declared definitively that the boy was not hiding there. Around two in the morning, the police officers called the volunteers in and told them to go home and rest. Some of them had been on their feet for nearly seven hours. And through all of it, Ben hovered at the side of the men with the walkie talkies, straining to overhear the crackling conversations, his heart leaping at each possible suggestion of a sighting. He forced coffee and finger sandwiches into the hands of people he swore he knew but couldn’t recognize through the pity on their faces.
Jeannie thanked them as they left and then sat in a chair by the door, staring out into the black streets. Ben approached the two officers who had led things all afternoon. “What do we do now?”
“We’ve put a call in to a detective, he should be here soon, and they’re going to release an Amber Alert on the morning news.”
“Isn’t there something more we can do now? Someone else we can call?”
“If we had caught a single whiff of your son, maybe, but we haven’t found anything. Nobody saw anything. There are no cameras on this street that can see your store. We need to stop and regroup. Detective O’Connor is a good man; he’s found a lot of missing people. Just hold tight a little longer.”
Ben ferried empty platters and cups and mugs up to their apartment, ignoring Jeannie’s silent stare every time he came back down the stairs. The vacancy of it is what frightened him; he knew how to handle her when she was screaming mad and when she became neurotic, but he had no idea how to approach this silent incarnation of his wife.
The detective, when he finally arrived, was a brisk man, going grey, but his eyes were alert and focused despite the late hour. “I know you’ve gone through this more times than you’ve cared to today, but please, one more time, what happened this afternoon?”
Ben shifted impatiently and Jeannie was rubbing her hands over her face; they were desperately tired but Ben knew that neither of them were going to be able to sleep anytime soon. So Ben retold the beginning of the story while Jeannie summarized the evening’s search efforts.
She finished and briskly wiped a tear off her cheek. Not the first that evening. “He’s only five, Detective. Where could he be?”
“I don’t know, but it’s my job to find out. Now, I want the two of you to go to bed tonight. Try and get some sleep. I know it sounds hard, but you’re probably so exhausted at this point that you’ll fall asleep as soon as you hit the bed. We’ll start fresh in the morning. Give me a call when you think you’ll be up to answering some questions.”
Ben stood and offered his hand. “Thanks, Detective. Will do.”
The detective left and Ben and Jeannie headed toward bed. They lay there silently, barely touching. The detective’s prediction held true and Ben fell asleep quickly, though he kept waking up all night, convinced Benny was calling from his room for a glass of water or to go to the bathroom. His boy was terrified of getting out of his bed at night. There were monsters underneath that would grab his ankles and haul him away.
At seven, Ben sat up, at first unable to figure out what was wrong, what was missing.
Jeannie wasn’t beside him and he padded down the hall to find her curled up, still fast asleep, in Benny’s too-short bed. His chest felt tight and he had a moment of irrational jealousy for his son’s bed, the fact that it could offer his wife some sort of comfort while he could not.
He closed the door, careful not to wake her, then made himself some coffee and toast and called the detective’s number. A recording picked up and Ben left a message, saying simply that he was up and ready to get to work whenever the detective was.
Jeannie came out to the kitchen a half hour later, giving Ben a tight smile, but not saying much. She pulled out the SpongeBob SquarePants bowl and filled it with Benny’s favorite cereal, without milk, and sat down at the table, poking at it with a spoon and only occasionally taking a bite.
Detective O’Connor rang their bell at nine sharp and Ben hurried down to let him in. Jeannie placed three mugs, creamer, and sugar on the table, still without saying anything. The detective thanked her.
Ben watched his wife putter, wishing she’d say something, anything really, even if it was more recriminations aimed at him, before turning to the detective. “Anything?”
“Not yet. It’s only a matter of time. I have uniforms out canvassing a four block radius. Someone had to have seen something yesterday, so we’re checking everything. Cameras on ATMs, store cameras, every last thing we can think of. We have pictures circulating on the news every fifteen minutes, and the tip lines have been open since late last night. We’re moving as fast as we can. But we don’t really have anything to go on.” The second pot of coffee finished brewing and Jeannie filled the mugs. “I was hoping we could start today with a more comprehensive history of you and your son.”
“Absolutely.” Jeannie had started washing the dishes from all of the volunteers the night before. “Honey, come sit down, please.” She shook her head and kept washing.
Ben watched the detective watch Jeannie. “It’s alright. I understand the urge to keep doing normal things. All I ask is if you think of something while I’m asking the questions that you speak up.” He got a shrug in return. “We already have all of the basics of what happened yesterday. Let’s go over his favorite places to go, in case we forgot any yesterday.”
Ben waited for his wife to speak, but when she didn’t, he responded, “He loves the zoo and that corner park. He always wants to go to McDonald’s, you know the one with the great big play area on Montgomery?” The detective nodded and made a brief note in his ragged notepad. Ben noticed that most of the book was already full. How many of those notes were about children? How many were still missing? “We did his last birthday there.”
“Anywhere else in particular?”
Again, Ben waited to see if his wife would say anything before answering. “Not really, he likes being in the store and at school, I guess.”
Another small notation in the account ledger of the missing. “Did he ever have any conflicts with the kids at school?”
Ben couldn’t remember, but he thought he would know if anyone had been picking on his son. He was as transparent as a window when something was bothering him. “No, he’s a great kid, got along with just about everybody.”
Detective O’Connor didn’t write anything down about school. “Just about?”
“All kids get into scrapes on the playground, tussles over balls or the like. Nothing major though, no problem cases.” Ben vividly remembered convincing his son to sit still while he applied hydrogen peroxide to his elbow from a particularly rough spill. He had to tell his son that even stormtroopers in Star Wars were man enough to endure the sting of the foaming liquid.
After that he had behaved: stormtroopers were the pinnacle of manliness that month.
“Alright. Anybody ever show an undue interest in your son?”
Ben wrenched his mind back to the conversation. “Undue interest?”
The detective gestured vaguely with one hand. “Men in the park coming up repeatedly, customers who paid too much attention to the boy.”
Ben tried to think back. All he could remember was a faceless mass with an occasional encounter with a friend. “I never saw anything. Honey? Did you?”
Again, all the men got was a head shake. Ben opened his mouth to say something about her taking an active interest in the conversation but thought better of it. On any other day that would have brought her full attention to bear, mainly on berating him, but he wasn’t sure it wouldn’t chase her off now.
“Ben, how was your son at home? Any trouble?” The little notebook was nearly full at that point. How many pages did each child get?
“What? No. He is a good kid.” Except for his constant pestering for a puppy. When he came back, they would have to remedy that. A small one that wouldn’t break things in the store.
Or chew on things. He thought he knew where the county shelter was.
“How was discipline in the house? Strict?”
“Well, yes, I guess. He doesn’t get away with things if that’s what you’re asking. He knows the rules.” First rule, listen to your parents. Second rule, don’t talk to strangers. Had Benny listened to those two?
The detective had filled a page of notes and turned to the back of the sheet. “How did you enforce them?”
Ben shrugged. “Oh, time-outs, no dessert, the like.”
“You never hit him?”
A glass bowl shattered in the sink and Jeannie leaned hard against the sink. She didn’t raise her voice and a cut on her wrist formed a slender line of blood, which began to drip onto the floor. “Never.” Ben immediately started from his chair and grabbed a towel to press to his wife’s wound, though the detective didn’t move.
“I have to ask these questions, ma’am. You’d be surprised by the number of young kids that run away from home because they feel they have been treated unfairly.” Detective O’Connor didn’t meet her gaze, instead he focused on his full coffee cup, which he turned in circles on the table. “Forgive me if what I ask seems harsh. It’s necessary.”
Jeannie didn’t seem to notice Ben’s attentions. “This is a good household. We’re good people.”
“By all accounts, you are. But your husband was the last one to see your son, Mrs. Grant, and we have to rule out all possibilities.”
Ben rooted through the junk drawer for the box of Band-Aids and antibacterial ointment while the detective and his wife stared each other down. Finally Jeannie looked down at her arm as Ben adhered the bandage. She ran her fingers over the spot, as if noticing the pain for the first time.
“We’re a good family,” she whispered. She wandered back toward the bedrooms, and Ben had the unsettled feeling that he would find her curled back up in his son’s bed when he went to look for her later.
“Do you have any more questions, Detective?”
“No, not for now, thank you. You should look after your wife; she’s taking this hard.”
Ben stared down the hallway. “I’ve never seen her like this before.”
“Difficult times bring out odd faces in everyone, Mr. Grant.”
The days after that seemed a blur for Ben. There was a string of no-progress reports from the police, Detective O’Connor always hopeful, but never too hopeful. Jeannie spent the majority of her time sitting in Benny’s room, making and remaking his bed with the Transformers sheets and reading the picture books on his shelves: Tikki Tikki Tembo; Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. After a couple days of sitting around the house and waiting for word, Ben insisted on opening up the shop again. He needed to be doing anything other than waiting.
He straightened up the shop, unlocked, and drummed his fingers on the counter. A few customers came in, but it was mainly friends stopping by to ask how they were holding up. He didn’t want to even turn on a radio because at every news broadcast they were still asking for information on little Benny Grant, now missing three days. If you know anything, anything at all, please call the tip line.
All day, every time the door opened, Ben was sure he saw Benny walk into the shop before he noticed the customer or a friend bringing another casserole. Shop business seemed more brisk than usual, or maybe he was just so used to not doing anything that it just seemed noisier and more crowded than before. It was only after the third person he didn’t recognize expressed condolences and pity for his missing son that he realized what was happening. They were gawkers. Vultures. They came because they heard on the news about his store and his son going missing and they had come to feed on his suffering. He threw everyone out of the store and locked up early. He decided instead to work on the pieces on the store floor that needed a bit of touching up and brought a banjo to the backroom to clean. Its metal needed shining and a rust preventative.
He stopped as he realized his workbench was still taken up by the disassembled box and hinges. The design on the cover was slightly raised under his fingertips. Benny was right, it did look a bit like the symbol for the Republic.
Benny was out there and Ben was in here, unable to do anything, apparently, but wait. That wasn’t in his nature, he wasn’t a patient man, content to let others do the work that he, as Benny’s father, ought to be doing. He clenched his hand tight around the box and hurled it at the reinforced concrete of the back wall. The delicate inlay cracked on impact.
Ben stalked upstairs and sat down at their computer. Ten minutes later he was printing out a flyer that read, “Have you seen this boy?” above a picture of Benny. The tip line was printed underneath. Jeannie was still in Benny’s room and didn’t even acknowledge Ben when he informed her he was going out for a while.
He caught the copy center right before it closed its doors and he made one hundred copies of the flyer. With a roll of duct tape around his wrist, he prowled up and down the streets around his house until he had run out of flyers, posting them at eye height on light poles, postboxes, fences, whatever came to hand. When he was done, he realized he was hungry for the first time since Benny had disappeared.
Back in the apartment, Ben pulled out a frozen dinner and popped it in the microwave. Jeannie drifted out of the back hallway clutching Benny’s charcoal-colored teddy bear as the timer chimed. There were fresh tear tracks on her face and Ben wondered, not for the first time, why she would cry in Benny’s room, alone, but refused to cry in front of him.
“Where were you?”
“I was out, putting up flyers. I couldn’t sit around here and do nothing. I decided I could help this way.” He sat down and dug into the steaming meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
“Do you really think it’ll help?”
There was a tentative hope in her eyes, a quiet, desperate need for him to promise that everything was going to be all right. This wasn’t his wife, the fiery, argumentative woman he’d fallen in love with and continued to argue with for years. This was a woman broken and scared and he couldn’t think of anything to do but try and reassure her. “I’ll find our son, I promise. I won’t stop until I do.”
She attempted a smile but then pulled away and drifted back down the hall to Benny’s room. Ben watched her go, frowning. He couldn’t remember whether she had eaten that day or not.
There was still no new information. Weeks had gone by and there was never any new information. It was almost as if Benny had disappeared from the face of the earth. The news agencies had lost interest and the search was now a footnote buried in the middle of the broadcast. Then he wasn’t mentioned at all.
“Can’t you do something? Find a new lead?”
Detective O’Connor sat at their kitchen table, spinning his cup of coffee around and around. “We’ve tried just about everything at this point. If there was a lead, we would have miles more than we do now. But we don’t have anything. We’ll just have to wait and see if time turns something up. I know that’s hard to hear, but – ”
“Hard to hear?!” Ben shot a look down the hallway to where his wife was still hiding and struggled to modulate his voice. Any raised voices right now made Jeannie scurry for cover. “It’s fucking impossible. A five-year-old isn’t smoke. He can’t just disappear. What about the tip line?”
“There’s a lot of chatter, but none of it is useful. Dammit, I’m as frustrated as you are right now.”
“Could I get a copy of it, maybe try and go over it? I know you guys are busy, have other cases…”
The detective was shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Ben, it’s against regulations. I can’t let you have that record.”
“Why? You guys aren’t getting anywhere; I should get a crack at it!”
“I’m sorry, no. And, Ben? You two should be settling in for a long haul on this. It’s not going to be quick and easy. In fact, the odds now are just not good for you. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
The coffee tasted foul in his mouth and Ben scowled. “You’re saying you’re giving up hope.” It was their job to be looking, they couldn’t give up, not on his son.
“No, I’m…trying to be realistic. You should too.” The detective stood. “If anything comes up, I’ll let you know.”
Ben didn’t even show the detective out; he knew the way by now. After rinsing the coffee cups at the sink, Ben grabbed a fresh stack of flyers from the counter and headed into the streets of Savannah. Each night he was roaming farther and farther from home trying to paper the city with his son’s face. It was better than nothing.
He got home a little after midnight and went into Benny’s room to try and coax his wife out of it once again. He shook her shoulder and when she didn’t respond, he rolled her over onto her back. A pill bottle fell to the floor, empty. It was the tranquilizers the doctor had prescribed for her a couple days after the disappearance.
He didn’t remember getting the phone or calling 911. All he remembered was the paramedics coming up the back steps and bundling both of them into the back of a wailing ambulance.
Ben spent the evening pacing in the emergency room. When the doctors came out, they said they had pumped her stomach and given her something to counteract the drugs; she was still unconscious, but they were hopeful. She would need to be watched closely for the next couple weeks and they suggested she stay with them, at least for a few days after she woke up. Ben nodded, too tired to argue, too tired to even think anymore, and took a cab back to their apartment to curl up alone in bed.
When she was declared to no longer be a threat to herself or others, Ben helped Jeannie back into their apartment, carrying her bags from the clinic.
“It’s so good to be home.” Her smile seemed real enough, though it trembled with the effort to sustain it for anything more than a brief flash. But it was more life than he’d seen in her in weeks, and it made him happy to see it. As happy as he could be, considering.
Ben kissed her on the forehead. “It’s good to have you home.” He took the duffel back to their bedroom and came out to find her flipping through the mound of papers he’d left on the kitchen table.
“What’s this, Ben?” She paused to read a passage aloud. “It sounds like bad movie dialogue—I seen him, the other day, at the 7-Eleven on Main Street. Saying he’d been raised by wolves and right sure they wanted him back.”
“It’s the tip line. I got a copy of it, thought I could help look through it a bit, see if I catch anything the police missed.” He started straightening the mess of papers, gently taking the one out of her hand to put it back in its place in the pile. He had developed an order and process while she was still in the hospital and he wanted to make sure the lone paper was properly sequenced.
“I’m a little hazy about some things on…that day, but don’t I remember overhearing that you couldn’t have this?”
“Well, that’s what he said, but you remember John, in my fraternity at school? The one who became a district attorney. Well, he was kind enough to get me a copy of the tip-line transcripts. I had to lean a little heavy on the whole brotherhood thing, but he finally caved.” Ben moved all of the papers off the table to a single stack on the counter and put his notepad full of notes on top of it. “You wouldn’t believe how many people called in.”
“Looks like hundreds.”
“More like thousands. From all over the state and even around the country. I don’t put much stock in those, but there are some interesting patterns in the other stuff. I go out and post flyers every day, spend my time down in the store looking through the tip line. I feel like I’m getting close to something. At least I’m still doing something, unlike the police. They’ve basically given up at this point.”
“But not you.”
“No, not me.”
Jeannie saw a therapist three times a week, then twice, and finally down to once a week. She seemed more optimistic, though she still slept in Benny’s room every night. She would come home from her sessions talking about carrying on for Benny, making sure he had a life to come back to, making sure she was healthy and whole for him. She was coming back to life a little bit at a time, color returning to her cheeks, and she even laughed at a joke on one of the late night shows.
But she refused to have anything to do with Ben’s tip-line project or the papering. She needed to focus, she said her shrink said, on organizing herself instead. She meditated every morning and wrote letters to Benny that she religiously saved in a shoebox under her nightstand.
Ben wasn’t sure how any of that could help. He was sure that finding his son was the only real way to make things go back to normal so he continued to go and hand out flyers, posting them wherever he could. He scoured the tip line for any reference to their son, begging more recent transcripts from the missing child hotline.
One Saturday afternoon, Jeannie came into the shop while he sat at the counter working on the transcripts and declared she was ready to go back to work.
Ben carefully marked his place before turning to his wife. “Are you sure?” She was still prone to breaking down at every commercial featuring a young blonde boy and she still wouldn’t let him touch her. What if a customer walked into their store with a young boy? How would she react?
She took a ragged breath and nodded. “Absolutely. Doc said it was okay if I wanted to, and I want to do this. It’s all part of keeping my life together for Benny. For when he comes home.”
Ben considered this a moment more, then decided that if her shrink said it was okay, she could probably handle it. “Alright then. Want the till?”
“Sure.” She settled on the stool behind the cash register and ran her fingers over the buttons. “Been a while.”
“We’ve been doing okay.” Ben hadn’t told her about the constant stream of sightseers, but the vultures had been careful to buy things as well so they didn’t feel guilty for gawking. He wasn’t going to complain about the extra money.
“Sure, we always do well enough. Ben, why don’t you go take a break, go get a coffee, or just go for a walk, something. I got this.” She crossed her arms, hugging her sweater to herself.
“Ok, if you’re sure. I’ll be right back.” Ben started to head to the front door, happy to get a chance to go paper the city in the daylight, but Jeannie called him back.
“Ben, wait, can you take these someplace else first? I can’t – it’s hard, looking at it. Thinking about it.”
“Yeah, of course.” He gathered the papers and took them into the backroom. “Better?”
No leads came in, nothing Ben offered to Detective O’Connor seemed to be of any use. Jeannie was getting calmer, more put-together, insisting that she was focused on making sure the home for Benny to come back to was whole and healthy—always that phrase, whole and healthy. She ran the front of the store while Ben retreated more and more often into the backroom under the pretext of fixing pieces of furniture.
In reality, he spent most of his time at a wall that was usually covered by a rolling cabinet. He had taped up a map of Savannah and had started mapping the tip-line calls and their content. He had gathered newspaper articles, radio transcripts, anything at all that he could find that referenced his son. When Jeannie came back, he was quick to cover everything. He was sure that if she didn’t like even looking at the transcript of the tip line, she would really hate what he was doing now. But it was necessary. He was going to find their son; he had promised he would.
Eight months had gone by since Benny had vanished, and Detective O’Connor was due for his monthly no-progress report. He wanted to have something new to show the detective when he came. He thought that one of the tips sounded good, it had come from two blocks away and the caller had actually given her name and contact information.
“Detective O’Connor, hello.” His wife’s voice echoed from the front of the store.
Ben shifted the cabinet back into place and went out to join them. “Detective.”
“Ben. Jeannie. I’m afraid it’s the same as every other time. There just isn’t anything.” The man had his hands clasped behind his back and his feet planted solidly on the floor in front of the counter.
“I understand.” Jeannie was staring down at her clasped hands, fighting not to cry.
Ben swallowed the tightness out of his throat before asking, “What about that molester you guys found last month?”
The detective frowned. “The priest?”
“Yeah, could he have…?”
“No, I really don’t think so. Those allegations are incredibly weak and they’re coming from one family within the parish who has had an ongoing feud with the man over his sermon material.”
“Oh. Well.” Everyone was silent a moment.
Jeannie excused herself and went up to the apartment, probably to brew another of her numerous cups of chamomile tea. It was supposed to be calming. All he knew is he had come to hate the smell of chamomile.
Ben took advantage of her absence to broach the subject of a new possibility in the tip line. The two men went back to the workshop and Ben shifted the cabinet back out of the way.
“This one, here, from Marjorie Leek. It seems legit. Did you guys check it out? Should I stop by and talk to her?”
The detective sighed and rubbed a hand over his mouth before replying. “Ben, Marjorie has Alzheimer’s. She calls any tip line that comes up on her television screen and insists she has seen the person they’re looking for. She never has.”
“Maybe this time she did,” Ben insisted.
The detective sighed. “She’s called us over a hundred times.”
Ben tried to control his mounting frustration. “But you didn’t –”
“Ben, what is this?” Jeannie’s voice cut through their argument and Ben winced.
He turned to face his wife, knowing that the wall of information was scattered and disorganized. Not ready for her yet. Once he found something concrete he was going to show her, prove…well he wasn’t sure what he was going to prove to her, but he knew this wasn’t going to sit well with her. “I’ve been thinking, working with the tips and the information…”
“But, what is all this doing on the wall?”
Ben started over to her. “I needed to organize the information, see it all laid out.”
“Get rid of it.” Her hands were wrapped hard around the steaming mug and they trembled hard enough to slosh tea over the edge.
She couldn’t ask that of him, it would be like him asking her to stop believing Ben was coming back in just a few days. This is how he was going to find their son and she wanted him to just stop? “Jeannie, I’m trying to find our son!” He gestured wildly at the wall, dislodging a pin. Cursing, he stuck it back in its proper place.
“Get rid of it.” Her voice cracked. “Right now.” She left the workroom and returned to the front portion of the store.
Ben moved to put the cabinet back in place and started to follow his wife.
Detective O’Connor stopped him. “Are you going to do as she says?”
“Why? She’ll get over it. I’m doing the best I can to find our son while she sits there and pretends that nothing is wrong.” Ben’s throat burned again. He cleared it, coughing a few times.
The other man paused before speaking. “I think she’s right; this isn’t healthy for either of you.”
“Not healthy for your job you mean, if I find my son before you, with all your special detective training.” Ben regretted it as soon as he said it. But he couldn’t take it back, so he instead glared defiantly at the police officer.
The other man was silent a moment, his eyes calm. “You need to take a break from this,
Ben. It’s wearing you down. Do as your wife says and take that rat’s nest of a mess down.”
“Fine. Later.” But he knew he wouldn’t. Both of them did and the detective only let out a slip of a sigh before taking his leave.
Ben continued to work on his project, mainly at night, once Jeannie had taken her sleeping pill and would be guaranteed not to stumble in and yell at him once again to take down his map. It had grown to the point that it now hid behind two rolling cabinets in the storeroom and encompassed over two hundred separate pieces of paper with scribbled notes, photographs, or bits of news reports.
His eyes were blurred from fatigue, but he couldn’t sleep. Not until he’d spent some time on this spider web of a chart, making whatever connections he could find, organizing and reorganizing the tip line on different hunches to see if a pattern emerged. To give his eyes a break, he picked up the beer bottles that littered his workbench and took them out the back door to the recycling bin. There almost wasn’t room in them due to the stack of bottles already there, though he could have sworn that the recycling truck had come by two days ago.
Once inside, he pulled over a stack of notecards, which held the most believable tips, and shuffled them together. He found that this method of randomization often formed interesting patterns that seemed worth pursuing. After five shuffles, he spread them out on the table and started moving them around, blindly pushing them back and forth, already knowing most of their content by heart. His eye started twitching and he rested his head on the desk for a moment to wait for the twitch to subside.
“I can’t believe you.”
Ben’s head jerked off the table and he nearly fell off his stool. Light was streaming in the workshop windows and he had an index card adhered to his face with spit. Brushing it off, he turned to confront his wife.
“What do you mean?”
“This!” She gestured at the wall covered in paper, the note card drifts on his workbench.
“I thought you were going to get rid of it, I thought you were supporting me, us.”
Ben scrambled to wake up enough to defend his project, cursing himself for falling asleep at the desk before covering up his work. “I am. This is the only way to find our son. No one else is doing any work. I have to!”
“No, you’re obsessing. And I can’t be healthy here if you keep this up. The last time I asked if you had thrown this all out, you told me you had and I believed you. If you’re lying to me about this…”
Ben approached her with his arms out. “Jeannie.”
“No, Ben.” She backed away until she was in the doorway again. “Not – I can’t.”
“You haven’t let me even hold you for months! All you do is sleep in Benny’s room and I can’t even put a hand on your shoulder. You call that being healthy?”
“I’m healing, and you’re not helping, not with this – this idiocy!”
Neither of them said anything for a moment. Ben’s hands clenched and unclenched in frustration; he didn’t know how to make his wife see that what he was doing was for them, for their family. He was so caught up in trying to figure out a way to get her to understand that he missed the next thing she said.
Jeannie repeated herself, stronger this time. “I want you to leave.”
“But, Jeannie, please.” He moved toward her but stopped when she took a step away and shook her head.
“No. This is bad. It’s bad for you, and it’s bad for me. Hopefully this will make you see that.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself more than anyone else.
“Where am I supposed to go?” Ben couldn’t think, couldn’t process this.
“I don’t know. But I want you to find someplace else.” She paused. “I don’t want to see
you around the store, either. It’ll be too difficult.”
He slammed his hand onto the metal desk and she jumped. “Dammit, Jeannie! Not only do
I need to find someplace to live, I need to find work, too?”
She flinched, but stood firm. “You can have some of our savings to hold you over.”
“Fat lot of help that is.” All he was trying to do was find their son. She couldn’t see that. She couldn’t understand. She didn’t want to understand. And he knew it was because she blamed him, even if she wouldn’t admit it.
“Ben, I’m sorry, but it’s the only way – ”
“It’s the only way for you to put your head so far in the sand it hits bedrock. I get it. I’ll be gone by this afternoon.” He turned to his web of information and started carefully dismantling it, making sure each piece of paper and pin was carefully stowed.
The apartment manager had to jiggle the key to get the door to 205 open. Ben followed him in, easily able to see the entryway over the short man in front of him. It was a standard low-commitment apartment in that it had off-white walls, square corners, and not a single unique architectural element. The kitchen was off the entryway to the right, divided from the main living space by a counter and hadn’t been updated since the late 70s when it was first installed.
But the rent was cheap and it was right down the street from his new job, so it would cut down on the time he would have to spend commuting. Any saved minute was precious to him; it was another minute he could spend on his hunt. If he could just find the right people—there had to be witnesses out there somewhere.
He pulled out his checkbook and wrote the check for the deposit then and there before he could change his mind and retreat to the room at the efficiency motel he had been staying in. The manager handed over the key and left, leaving Ben standing and staring fretfully out the sliding glass door and past the rotted deck to the kudzu choked woods that bordered the complex. He had hated kudzu from the moment he had moved down here after college with his fiance, Jeannie. It took over everything, strangling and choking the life out of whole forests.
After the door closed, Ben turned to the one uninterrupted wall of the living room. He ran his hand over it, grimacing at the layer of dust that came away. Rubbing it off on his jeans, he retrieved his messenger bag from the kitchen counter and pulled out a worn printout of a flyer. He hunted through the bag until he found a stray pushpin, using it to tack the poster of Benny to the center of the wall. Then he went out to his car to retrieve the rest of his stuff. There was one suitcase of clothes and the necessary toiletries and such. A few sundries that he picked up along the way; a handful of glasses in shot and water sizes; a queen sized air mattress he’d rescued from their storage unit; disposable kitchenware that had already been reused multiple times; a box of liquor and beer; a broken down Ikea desk and chair.
The rest of his car was filled with bags and boxes of paper, wherever it would fit. He carried them carefully into the house so as not to lose any of the loose paper, and carefully arranged them against the blank wall of the living room. This is why he’d had to move out of the grubby little motel. It hadn’t had a wall big enough to piece together all the information. It had been broken down into parts and scattered in the few areas of plaster that weren’t crumbling away.
Now he could put all the information up side by side and really see how things connected, where the true clusters of sightings and tips were. He worked late into the night, trying to get everything connected back the way it was supposed to be.
Winners of New
Rekha Shankar –
A Period Piece
Tara Le Reynolds –
Sticks and Stones
Breed Wilson –
Geography of a
L.S. Engler –
Michael Farley –
to a Homeland
Tamara Harpster –
City Mouse, Country Eagle
Tara Le Reynolds –
FAQs: A Summary of
Amanda Miller will be at the Rochester Fringe Festival performing One Breath, Then Another: An Interactive Yoga Show, based on her memoir, from September 18th to September 27th. Tickets are available by clicking here. On September 30th she will host Lyrics, Lit and Liquor, a music and literature party in New York’s Lower East Side where Sebastian Briglia will do a reading.
Amanda Erin Miller is an actor, writer, yoga instructor and massage therapist. She is intrigued by the ways these practices inform each other. Amanda recently published her memoir One Breath, Then Another about her quest for healing to avoid her father’s self destructive path on her own Lucid River Press.
She has adapted the book into an interactive solo show about studying yoga on an ashram in India, which premiered at Dixon Place in New York City on March 9th, 2013. Excerpts from One Breath, Then Another have been featured in Underwired Magazine, Om Times, Love Your Rebellion, Runaway Parade and So Long: Short Memoirs of Loss and Remembrance, a memoir anthology. Her writing has also appeared in The Rumpus and UC Riverside’s Cratelit.
She hosts and books the monthly literary/ music series Lyrics, Lit & Liquor at The Parkside Lounge. She has also created a two-person comedy show called Please Don’t Let Me Die Alone with her collaborator Shawn Shafner about the perils of love and dating. They have performed this show around Valentine’s Day every year since 2010 in New York City at The Tank Theater, The Magnet Theater and The People’s Improv Theater. Amanda earned her BFA in Acting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. For more information, visit her website http://www.onebreaththenanother.com/.
AS A CHILD Sebastian Briglia wanted to be American, and luckily for him at the time, so did his parents. They emigrated from Bulgaria in 1991, not long after the fall of communism. As an adult, he wanted to be Bulgarian again, mostly because of his mounting legal troubles in America, though unfortunately for him at the time he was estranged from his parents and Bulgaria as he remembered it did not exist anymore. Later he began to suspect that Bulgaria as he remembered it never existed.
He has attempted to reach a balance between what he thinks he wants and what he thinks he needs by exploring spirituality and materialism both on and off drugs and new wave music, in urban as well as rural environments. All of this, of course, has been to no avail. His New Wave and the Art of Heroin Maintenance series reflect this struggle.
Two excerpts of New Wave and the Art of Heroin Maintenance, “Raven on Heroin” and “Raven in the Motel Room,” have been featured in Horror Sleaze Trash Magazine. As a journalist, he has only written under his real name at The Italian Tribune News in Newark, NJ, where he worked as a staff writer over a decade ago. The rest of his journalistic and feature writing has been published under a pen name. He currently works in public relations and plays guitar in the New York band Like Herding Cats. Their eponymous EP had just won The Deli Magazine’s NYC Artist of the Month Award when he joined.
Rejection can be the most exhilarating roller coaster you can be on emotionally, provided you remain the ultimate judge of your own failure.
Maintaining awareness during the working process can be very helpful in keeping rejection in perspective. Below is a post written by Sebouh Gemdjian that delves into some meditation techniques that can be practiced while working: