Missing Children

Not even a breeze. There is the next door neighbour’s music bleating through the hole in the fence. The sound of a toaster popping. No crumbs, though, and no sticky hands. Morning comes but you don’t notice. The phone rings. You embrace the emptiness. The sky bleeds. Christmas is here. So what. In the housing estates, other peoples’ children play in their small grass compounds. Silence is your bell. Not a photo. You didn’t have time. Your eyes are useless cameras now. The shutter falls and a tear creates a blur. Wipe it away. It means no harm. All that effort expended on a smoke alarm. Something you heard on A Current Affair, blaring from the next door neighbour’s plasma screen TV. You took notes. You could hear their cries from the bedroom. Your quiet envy, disguised with a smile. Maintain dignity. Don’t let on. The interview went smoothly. You were numb. It’s still not quite believable. You find yourself sweeping the carpet with a broom. Something about the power being cut off. Waking up with your face stuck to a board game, a tiny plastic token embedded in your cheek. Not that tiny hand. You have forgotten it. A tricycle. The endless schemes and plans. Futures. She has broken down. You held onto each other in the night but once you were asleep your hands lost their grip. Hands that sweated with hidden stress. The giant ache inside your mouth. Not laughter. Ashtrays on the front porch now. Cracks in the windows and ceilings. Round and round the house you go. She may call tomorrow. They never call. Their silence speaks of novels yet to be written. The club memberships, eradicated enrolments. No parties. Not a candle. The day she left in a van. You remain in contact with her mother but the world has ended. All her stuff – her clothes, trash fiction, jewellery – is still here. You sweep it into small piles. Not a match. No sharp knives. They’re still in the top cupboard, along with the poisons and powder. No tiny breathing sounds down the line. They advise you to return to normality but when you get there it’s closed. She knew that already. She thought up the names. Those arguments, her good humour. No grace now. No feelings left. They’ve gone. Only Neighbours has the power to make you cry now. Poor Steph. She’s dying. Little Charlie doesn’t know it yet. You sit on a camp chair next to the fence and listen to it on the next door neighbour’s TV. It’s louder than the summer evening. No rhymes. No silly games. No memories of the hospital, the first weeks. No heavier than a stick of butter, then. Who knows how heavy now. Maybe in the ground. The branch’s whipcrack as it separates itself from the gum tree. No need to mow the lawn. No stars. The sneaky influence of prescribed chemicals. A kind of screen between you and the world. No birds. No morning noises at all. Two months now. Not a single lead. Not even a chirrup.

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