Greg couldn’t sleep. He’d tossed and turned and turned and tossed. It was 3 o’clock and it wouldn’t be too long before the first blush of dawn would be hinted at in the east. He decided to get up and out of the house for some fresh air instead of keeping on with the futile endeavour of falling asleep.
When he had donned a pair of sweat pants and hooded sweater and stepped out the front door he felt compelled to walk. So he began walking. He walked to the end of the neatly kept driveway with all its blooming glory coaxed to perfection by the skilled hands of the gardener and then turned south, toward the downtown core.
As he walked he reflected some on his life. He had it all made. At least, that’s what people thought. More wealth than he could reasonably go through in one lifetime and all the luxuries that came with that. And yet he felt empty. It was hard to know whether he had any true friends or whether the small number of people he had allowed into his personal life were simply bought companions for a golf round or a shared meal every so often.
But that wasn’t really the most discouraging thing about life. He really didn’t mind being alone – there was safety in keeping himself distanced from people. No one could hurt him if he didn’t let them near enough, after all.
No, what kept him up at night and plagued his thoughts was the constant, keen knowing that he was an only child when he really wasn’t an only child. And it was odd to be thinking the same thoughts and feeling the same feelings for two decades now. It was as if he had grown up but had never grown past the childhood trauma that had come into his family. He had never grown past the abduction of his sister all those years ago. Everyone else seemed to have moved on and even forgotten she ever existed but Greg felt her absence like a festering wound on his heart every day.
On the outside, he, too, appeared to have moved on. He worked hard to keep running the family enterprise up to the standards of his father before him. He never talked about her anymore. But the thoughts, the thoughts were the same as they had always been and they held him captive.
She had been getting ready for a party the last time he had ever seen her. Kelly was a tall, blonde, vivacious sixteen year old. Greg had been ten and the most insufferable thing in the world were girls being girls, to his way of thinking. They were forever changing clothes and putting on makeup and fixing their hair this way and that. Also, they never actually did anything fun. Catching frogs, building tree houses, ball games and any kind of competition – any of that was fun. Girls didn’t want to do any of that and so he had no use for girls whatsoever.
One thing, however, greatly pleased him and that was to pester his sister when she was spending endless hours in front of her bedroom mirror doing girl things with her face and hair. To that end, he had caught a frog near the pond at the back of their property – a nice, plump, full-grown beauty of a frog. He had spent some time thinking of the perfect place to put the little guy to gain maximum freak-out value and finally decided that the most perfect place would be in the pink plastic bin Kelly kept her make-up products in.
Greg had put the frog into the bin and put the lid on the bin. He sat in the hallway outside Kelly’s bedroom door, pretending to tie his shoe, and waited. A few minutes later Kelly sauntered past him with a rather superior expression on her lovely face as she entered her bedroom, closing the door with just a bit more force than the task really called for. Greg grinned at the closed door with eager anticipation. He didn’t have to wait long.
A series of frantic shrieks preceded the forceful opening of Kelly’s bedroom door and a split second later Kelly burst through, a dervish of hot pink tee-shirt, blue jeans and blonde hair. She nearly collided with the snickering Greg as she raced toward the steps still shrieking.
Greg had been berated in no uncertain terms by his mother for that stunt and Kelly had given him the cold shoulder, never even acknowledging in any way that he even existed. Greg had rescued the poor frog from that pink plastic coffin and returned it to its natural habitat. Kelly had gone back to dolling up for her big party and Greg had relished the idea of her fearfully checking each nook and cranny for stray frogs.
It was the last time he had ever seen her. She had simply disappeared. She never arrived at the party and no one had seen her in between home and there either. It was as if she had vanished into thin air.
Except for that one time, six years after she had disappeared, Greg was sure he had seen her on that crowded street corner as he had been aimlessly wandering through the city near the downtown section. He had frozen for a moment watching her be escorted by a big swarthy man. Greg had been on the opposite side of the street and the light was red and traffic was whizzing by so he had yelled. He had yelled Kelly’s name as loudly as he could and he was sure she had started to turn toward him. But the man at her side turned her abruptly so that their backs were to him and walked on. By the time Greg had been able to cross the street there had been no sign of them. He had searched frantically, called the police and his parents, but nothing had ever come of it. That was about the time that everyone just gave up and made an unspoken agreement to assume Kelly dead and move on with life, Greg thought.
Greg had been so lost in reflection that he had not even taken note of how far he had walked nor where it was he was walking. He found himself now just down the street from that fateful intersection where he believed he had seen Kelly. His melancholy was only heightened at the realization of where he was.
Morning was about to dawn, he realized absentmindedly. He had been walking for over an hour. He decided to keep on walking and visit the intersection, as he had done from time to time over the years. He wondered again why he was stuck holding on. Holding onto the past, to Kelly. Everyone seemed to have forgotten, save he alone. He bore the weight of responsibility in keeping her memory alive. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way anymore. Maybe he could open up and live if he let her go too. It had worked for everyone else, hadn’t it?
Greg was at the intersection now and he just stood there for a long time at the exact spot where he thought he had seen Kelly. But maybe he hadn’t. That’s what they had told him – the police, his parents, everyone. It had been someone else, it had to be, because you couldn’t see a person clearly when the sun was blinding your eyes and their backs were turned to you, after all. And across a busy four-lane intersection at that. He had only seen her profile, after all, and there were thousands of women in the city alone that would have the same build and colouring as Kelly. It would have been so easy to have simply imagined that it was Kelly when it really never had been.
Greg released a deep sigh, full of the weariness of soul he had been living with for more than two decades now. Yes, it might be time to let her go. The best way to honour her memory would be to let her go. It was just that he felt so responsible somehow. Because of the prank he had played on her with the frog – the last interaction they had ever had with one another. He knew, as an adult, that it hadn’t been his fault, that the prank hadn’t caused Kelly’s disappearance, but yet he had always had that guilt weighing down on him, suspending him neatly somewhere in between the past and the living. Perhaps it was time to join the living and bring his whole self into the present.
Feeling somewhat as if he were betraying his sister by thinking these thoughts, he decided to go get a bottle of water and make his way home. Maybe he would call the family driver to come pick him up, he thought, stretching his arms over his head.
There was a variety store just down the street a ways and he directed himself in that direction. He gave a nod of his head to the store clerk behind the counter and made his way directly to the refrigeration section at the back wall and selected a bottle. Turning around to pay, his eyes fell upon a small, thin man with a hawkish nose and eyes that looked, well, piggish, as he entered the storefront from the back door. The thought made a grin begin to form on Greg’s face and he tried to stifle it, succeeding with some effort. The man appeared somewhat agitated, Greg noticed. He was now walking with clipped and precise pace toward the check-out counter, where he spoke in hushed tones with equally precise and clipped syllables.
Greg couldn’t help but hear bits of the conversation. “…door unlocked…. gone…. girls….” He decided to keep a respectful distance until the conversation was done. The little man walked with the same precision back whence he had come and Greg made his way to the counter to pay for his water.
The clerk looked agitated now too, Greg noticed. As soon as he had been given his change and made his way out the door, he heard a click and, turning to look behind him, saw that the door was locked and a ‘Closed’ sign was swaying it’s dismal announcement at eye level. Odd, thought Greg, it was an all night convenience store.
Greg took a swig of the cold, clear water and reached for his cell phone. He was much too tired to walk all the way back to the suburb his home was located in. He called the family driver to come pick him up and started searching for a nearby bench to wait.