Authors: Dori Hillestad Butler
n Thursday morning I finished the book I was reading, fixed my hair, practiced my flute, and then, because it was too stormy outside to do anything else, I actually did what my mom wanted me to do. I took a bunch of empty boxes down to our dingy old laundry/storage room in the basement and started boxing up stuff that we probably wouldn’t need until after we moved. The blender. The Crock-Pot. Extra Tupperware. I hoped my mom wouldn’t decide two days from now that she needed some of this stuff after all. But at least she couldn’t complain that I never made any effort around here.
I hated this room. It was dark and gloomy. The only light came from a single lightbulb that hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room. The whole place smelled like old, wet rags. Probably because the only “carpet” down here was a big rug that really was made from old rags. I think it was my grandma’s. Plus there were spiders. Tons of them.
I could hear the low rumble of thunder and the
plink plink plink
of rain against the little window above my head. The bulb flickered, but it didn’t go out. So I kept working.
Once I cleared the shelves by the washer and dryer, I moved on to the ones across from the deep freeze. Most of this stuff was already boxed up. I probably didn’t have to do anything with it, but I pulled out one of the boxes and peeked inside just to see what was there. The whole box was full of old Barbie stuff.
I smiled. I used to love Barbies. Playing Barbies was one of the few things I remembered doing with my sister. In fact, I could even remember my mom getting down on the floor and playing with us, too. She was fun then. We’d dress all the Barbies in fancy clothes, then send them to Cinderella’s ball. Wow. I had no idea my mom, Ms. Let’s-Go-Through-the-House-and-Get-Rid-of-Stuff, saved all this. Who knew what else was down here?
I shoved that box back where I found it and pulled out another. This one was a lot heavier. I had to pull hard to get it out. When I opened it up, I discovered it was full of old Dr. Seuss books.
The Cat in the Hat. Hop on Pop. Green Eggs and Ham.
There were more boxes way in the back. Unlike the ones in front, these were all sealed up with several layers of strong packing tape. I ran upstairs to get a sharp knife, then came back down. There was so much tape on the one box, it was hard to cut through. But eventually I got through it all and yanked open the flaps. Inside were a few ribbons that belonged to my mother, a dried corsage, and an old Clearwater High School yearbook.
Well, this could be interesting. I pulled out the yearbook and looked up Suzanne Sperling in the index. I wondered how dorky my mom looked in high school. It turned out she looked pretty much the same as she does now. Same hairstyle and everything. My mom was in band, yearbook, cross country (my mom ran cross country?), and Future Scientists of America. That last one was even more surprising than the cross country.
My mom and dad graduated from high school together, I knew. They were in the same class, even though Dad was a year older. With trembling fingers I flipped ahead to the W’s. But there was no Joseph Wright listed. The W’s went from Terry Warner to David Wyatt. After all the senior portraits, there was a list of students not pictured: Michelle Mallory, Samuel Roth, and Joseph Wright. Why was I not surprised? I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen a photo of my dad.
I started packing everything back into the box when I realized I’d almost missed a small black velvet box like the kind you get from a jewelry store. I opened it up and just about choked. Inside was a ring. A
ring. At least, I was pretty sure it was a wedding ring. It had a simple gold band with a diamond sticking up. Was this the ring my mom wore when she and my dad were married?
I was about to lift the ring out of the velvet casing and take a closer look when…
The sound of the doorbell startled me so much I nearly dropped the ring. I set the box down, then scurried up the stairs two at a time.
I opened the front door and found Angela standing on my front porch. She had on a soaking wet yellow raincoat. Her hair hung in wet curls around her shoulders.
“Hey,” I said, opening the screen door to let her in.
“Hey yourself.” She stomped her feet on the doormat and water splattered all over my feet. “Get your shoes and coat. It’s a great day to go to the mall!”
I stared at the sheets of rain pounding the driveway. “You’ve got to be kidding. You want to go to the mall now?” Both our moms were working, so there was no one to drive us. We’d have to walk. In the pouring rain.
“Why not?” She grinned. “Ben Willard might be there.”
I could feel my face heating up. Ben Willard is hot. He used to have this thick curly hair, but all the jocks got buzz cuts for the summer. Ben and his friends hung out at Tilt, which was this place at the mall with video games and skee-ball. But it wasn’t like they ever noticed us. And to tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure I wanted them to notice us after we’d just walked a mile and a half in the pouring rain.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m kind of busy.”
“Busy? Doing what?”
“Come on. I’ll show you.”
Angela slipped off her raincoat, kicked off her shoes, then followed me downstairs.
I showed her the ring. She took it out of the box and held it up to the light to inspect it. “Nice.”
“I think it’s my mom’s old wedding ring.”
“Really?” Angela squinted at the inside. “Is it engraved?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just found it before you got here.” I peered all around the inside of the gold band, but I didn’t see any engraving.
“My mom’s ring says, ‘Always, Tom.’” Angela snorted. “What a joke!”
“I should put it back,” I said, taking the ring back from Angela. I put the velvet box back inside the big cardboard box and looked around for some tape to seal it back up.
“You found a diamond ring packed away in an old box down here?” Angela asked.
“Yup,” I said. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any tape, so I just folded the flaps under one another and slid the box back onto the shelf.
“My mom doesn’t wear her old wedding ring, either,” Angela said as she slowly lowered herself to the floor. “But she keeps it in a dresser drawer. Not in a box in the basement.”
“Well, I’m surprised my mom kept her ring at all. She got rid of everything else that had to do with my dad. Pictures. Videos. Everything.”
“Everything?” Angela asked, wide-eyed.
“Wow, she must really hate him.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess so.”
Angela leaned back against the washer and stretched her legs out in front of her. “So what are you going to do if you actually find your dad?” she asked.
I pulled out another box. “What do you mean?”
“Well, what will you tell your mom? I can’t imagine she’ll just smile and say ‘Oh, how nice for you.’ Do you think she’ll even let you see him?”
I had to admit, I hadn’t thought about that.
“I don’t know,” I said, resting my elbows on the box. “Maybe I won’t tell her. Maybe I’ll just go run away and live with him.”
“What?” Angela cried. “You don’t even
him. What makes you think you’d want to live with him?”
I shrugged. “He’s my dad. Why wouldn’t I want to live with him? I doubt my mom would miss me anyway. She’s got Bob. I’m old enough to choose, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know. Doesn’t your mom have custody? I don’t think you can just decide to go live with your dad.”
“You should be able to when you’re thirteen,” I said as I plunged my knife into the tape on the box in front of me.
Angela crossed her legs. “You know, you’ve never really told me about your dad,” she said. “What do you remember about him?”
“Not much.” I lifted the flaps on the box.
“What did he do for a living when he was married to your mom?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think he worked much.”
“I have no idea. I think he wanted to be a musician.” Somebody, I don’t remember who, had told me that. “Maybe he was waiting for his big break or something.”
“A musician?” Angela raised her eyebrow. “Cool! What did he play?”
“I don’t think he played anything. I think he just sang.” I smiled. “I remember he used to take all these songs that everybody knows and he’d change the words. Like that muffin man song. He used to sing, ‘Do you know the monkey man, the monkey man, the monkey man? Do you know the monkey man, who lives on Hartman Lane?’”
Angela giggled. “Sorry, Sam, but you did
inherit your father’s musical talent.”
I made a face at her. “Hey, I never said I did.”
I turned my attention to the box in front of me. I lifted the flaps. A single dried pink rose lay right on top.
Oh. My. Gosh.
I suddenly flashed back to a time when I was a really little kid and I was holding my stuffed monkey and all these grown-ups were milling around crying and…there were pink roses all over the house.
“What’s the matter?” Angela asked.
I couldn’t answer her. I felt like the floor had dropped out underneath me. Mom and I didn’t talk about my dad very often, but we
talked about Sarah.
I set the dried-out flower aside, then checked to see what else was in the box. It looked like old photo albums. I lifted the top album out and opened it up.
“Is that you and your sister?” Angela pointed at a snapshot of two little girls dressed in identical pink dresses standing in front of a white house.
I slid the photo out of the plastic holder to get a closer look. It had to have been taken right before Sarah died. We both looked a lot like that picture of her that hung in our hallway. We had wispy white blond hair that touched our shoulders. Neither of us was smiling. In fact, we both looked a little worried. Like maybe we sensed that something bad was about to happen.
“Which one’s you?” Angela asked.
I squinted first at one girl, then the other. “I—I don’t know.” It felt weird that I couldn’t tell. But each girl was an exact copy of the other. It was like someone took a picture of a house, then plopped the same little kid in the picture two times.
“Look. There are some old newspapers in here.” Angela reached into the box and pulled out a small stack of newspaper pages that had been folded over and tied with a string.
I slipped the photo into my jeans pocket, then took the stack from Angela. I slid the string off and gasped as I realized what the articles were about.
“These are all about the drowning.”
“Let me see.” Angela leaned over and we read the first article together. The headline was missing.
CLEARWATER—An afternoon at the old Clearwater quarry turned tragic for a father and daughter last night. Joseph Wright, 23, of Clearwater, told police that he and his daughter Sarah, 3, had been canoeing at the quarry. The canoe capsized and Wright unsuccessfully searched the dark, murky water for his daughter. Jonathan Avery, 35, of Cedar Rapids and his wife Joanne, 32, told police that they were out walking at the quarry and saw someone fall into the water. A child’s life preserver was found in the canoe, but so far divers have been unable to recover the body. The water depth in some parts of the quarry can reach up to three hundred feet. “We hope Sarah somehow managed to get to shore and is out there somewhere, waiting to be found,” the missing child’s mother, Suzanne Wright, said late last night. Ms. Wright also reported that her daughter did not know how to swim. The search for Sarah Wright is expected to resume today.
“Wow,” Angela said.
“Yeah. Wow.” I felt somehow removed from everything. Like this was an article about some other family instead of my own. That quote didn’t even sound like my mom. She sounded…emotional. Emotional is not a word I’d use to describe my mom.
“Here’s another one,” I said, setting the first article aside.
—The search continues for three-year-old Sarah Wright of Clearwater. Sarah was last seen on Thursday afternoon at the old Clearwater quarry when the canoe she and her father were in capsized. A crew from Cedar Rapids has been dragging the quarry since Thursday, but according to Capt. Jim Morgan of the Linn County sheriff’s office, the search has been unsuccessful. “The truth is,” he said, “we have no idea where little Sarah’s body might be.”
That article had a picture of my mom and dad. Finally, an actual photo with my dad in it. I peered hard at the newspaper clipping.
He was young. Which I guess made sense, considering the picture would’ve been taken ten years ago. My mom looked pretty young in that picture, too.
He was wearing blue jeans and a white undershirt with no other shirt over it. He had really light hair that covered his ears, a thick mustache, and a pointy nose, kind of like mine. I ran my finger across his nose.
Where are you, Dad?
I thought as I looked into his eyes.
And why haven’t you been in touch in all these years?
“What do the other articles say?” Angela asked.
I set that article aside and picked up the next one. It didn’t really say anything new. In fact, as I skimmed through the whole pile of articles, I noticed they all sounded the same until we got to Sarah’s obituary. Then it was like, this is it. The end. Sarah’s really dead. The final line of the obituary really drove the point home. “Sarah is survived by one sister, Samantha, also age 3.”
Except…there was something missing. Something that surely should have been mentioned in at least one of these articles…I flipped back through them again, reading each one more thoroughly this time. Had I just missed it before?
“What are you looking for?” Angela asked.
“Shh!” I had to concentrate.
But when I got to the end of the pile, I still hadn’t found it.
I looked at Angela. “Did you notice that every one of those articles talked about this big search they were doing for Sarah? Every one of them either begins or ends with, ‘the search continues.’ But there’s nothing in here that says when or where her body was found,” I said.
“Maybe it wasn’t found?” Angela suggested.