I look at every little girl I pass on the street.
Even though I know that whoever took her would not bring her back here, to the town where she grew up, where her face is most burned on the collective consciousness. I know this, and yet I stare at every little child I see, wondering if that could be peroxide hiding her dark hair, or if it is possible to alter the shape of a child’s nose. Going into the post office, or coming out of the library with an armful of books, I stop abruptly to peer at a child in school uniform, holding tightly to her mother’s hand as she skips along. Every so often I’ll have to remind myself that time has passed, and that I should no longer be looking for a six-year-old, a seven-year-old, an eight-year-old. But I can’t help it. I am always still looking for the girl they took that day, even though, whether dead or alive, that particular child is surely gone forever.
And still I look.
The best case scenario, the only one I can cope with, is that she was taken to be loved. I picture a woman in a flat, somewhere small but neat and clean, who sits by the fire with empty arms. I picture a bedroom with hand-sewn curtains, and a pink bedspread, and a line of stuffed toys along a shelf.
You read how so many marriages don’t survive something like this, the loss of a child; and while you understand it, you think you will be the exception. We are different, stronger; we would get through it.
We didn’t get through it.
We stumbled on for another few years, two blind people ricocheting from grief to anger to guilt, trying not to push each other off the road. He never blamed me, not out loud, not even on our blackest days. I should have been more grateful for that, but somehow I wasn’t. My own guilt took over everything else, made it impossible to see clearly.
He wanted to have another baby, that was the thing that finally broke us. I couldn’t do it, couldn’t even contemplate taking that step. The impossible risk of choosing to love another child. The disloyalty to her.
No, I couldn’t do it, but he could, and would, and so he did. He has them now, two daughters, blond and pretty. I saw a picture once; you would never take them for her sisters. I am glad of that; it would seem, somehow, too much to bear. Though it all seems too much to bear, most days.
To think, those girls would be grown by now; one, I think, even has a child of her own.
She has been gone a long time, you see. I am not a young woman any more; nor even, unless you are being kind, a middle-aged one.
It has been a very long time.
Claire Gleeson is from Dublin, where she lives with her young family and
works as a GP. Her stories have been published by Lunate Fiction (
been shortlisted for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Prize and the
Anthology Magazine Short Story Competition, and longlisted for the Mslexia.
Cover Image by Alexas_Fotos
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