by K. A. Laity
They only ever found her mitten. Small, pink, and caked with mud, it became the symbol of something that could never be recovered. Even more than the haunting photo, blurred by movement so it looked as if the matching hand were disappearing, the pink mitten could move many to tears even a year later when the trail had dried up and hope evaporated.
Millie had been a normal enough girl; too young to have had an impact beyond her smiling face glimpsed by neighbours as the Jorgesens went in and out of their small, neat house before vanishing into their hatchback. Carol divorced Frank about that time. People clucked their tongues: a shame, really. Yet it seemed to happen a lot. Tragedy either brought people together, Joyce Wynant repeated a few too many times, or it pushed them apart.
Carol moved away with the boys. Maybe she just couldn’t face the pitying looks and eager curiosity. It was understandable. And maybe it was Frank’s grief. Lord knows, a man should show grief or it just wouldn’t be natural, Joyce told Nora, but the poor man seemed to be broken by the loss. He went to the store every day and ordered the goods and made change and seemed to be coping. But he still burst into tears now and then — at least his eyes were red as if he had done so.
Haunted, Nora pronounced him. He’s haunted by her death.
Joyce wasn’t the only one who dropped by and tried to bring him a dish of something filling to eat and simple to reheat. Just throw it in the oven on medium heat, they would all tell him as their eyes darted around the house in search of signs of decay and neglect. Strangely, he seemed to keep the house even more clean than it had been before.
Perhaps that was because there were no more children to muddy the floor and leave their sticky little fingerprints everywhere. Joyce wasn’t the only one who brought a bottle of wine, too. A few of the women who had lost or discarded husbands along the way did the same. Some did it with finesse, others with naked need. No one saw how Nora stripped herself bare before the crying man and lay with him in the night as he sobbed and hiccoughed until falling asleep like a child himself.
She didn’t go back. No one was quite certain how far Joyce took it or if she had more complex plans for the man. Her brisker approach had its limits. He wouldn’t go to a film with her. But she made it a regular night, brought DVDs and wine, and seemed to have a fine time.
No one ever saw Frank go out in the woods at night to the little grave. He would dig up the other pink mitten, and cry, and apologise, and bury it again. But Millie had no more need for it now.
K. A. Laity is the award-winning author of White Rabbit, A Cut-Throat Business, Lush Situation, Owl Stretching, Unquiet Dreams, À la Mort Subite, The Claddagh Icon, Chastity Flame, and Pelzmantel, as well as editor of Weird Noir, Noir Carnival and Drag Noir (she also writes under other names). Her bibliography is chock full of short stories, humor pieces, plays and essays, both scholarly and popular.