The next day, while Drew was at his desk hacking up a story on the subway service disruption, Glynda put a call through to him. When he asked who it was, she became mysterious.
"She wouldn't say."
"Did you ask her?"
This was calculated to rile her; Glynda took great pride in the quality of her receptionism. "She said she was your wife."
"Luckily for you," said Drew, "I'm not married."
"You know what I mean."
"Well, which one was it, Edna or Regan?"
"I don't think it was either."
"If it was Edna I suppose I'll take it. If it's Regan, I think I'm out. Make that definitely out."
"I know both their voices, Drew."
"Probably a crankcase, then."
"Can I put her through or what?"
"Hold on a sec. I got a question for you."
"Oh Drew, I already told you ..."
"It's not that. It's a straightforward question of fact. Would that be okay?"
"I got this wife person on hold here."
"What's a 'nuppin'?"
"Huh? I don't know."
"A 'nuppin.' Or maybe the verb 'to nup.' No?"
"Never heard of it in my lifespan."
"Forget it. Never mind. Not important. Just popped into my head. Go ahead and put her through—but if it's a crankcase I'm holding you responsible, Glyn. Anything happens to me, it'll be your head."
"Ohp—" She pretended to sputter in frustration, then completed the transfer. He took it on sill.
Drew Dunkel, said Drew Dunkel.
"Drew, it's Sheila. Hello? Are you there?"
He turned away from his desk and stared blindly out the window.
Yes, I'm here. I heard you.
"Well jeez. I thought maybe I got cut off or something."
It was her voice, alright. With a scorching look at the back of Kenneth Fuller's head, defying him to eavesdrop, Drew switched back to voice and said, "You didn't."
"Well, you never know."
"You don't sound very surprised to hear from me."
"On the contrary, Sheila. I'm very surprised."
"Well gosh, you don't sound it."
"I guess I don't always sound the way I ... what I am."
It was this, his own fumbling diction, that finally caused the floodgates to open and the past to come rushing back. In that instant it was as if no time at all had passed. He was right where he had always been and would always be: frozen, stuttering, more bewildered than angry at this inscrutable woman, his crazy first wife.
"You sound the same as always," she said.
"So do you, my dear, so do you," he said in his worst Cary Grant.
"Ha, ha," she said. "You still do those whaddayacallum, huh? Those impersonations?"
"No," he said, his heart sinking. "I mean yes. Not really. Sometimes." He could have sworn that the impersonations postdated Sheila, were from the Regan era. Would she think he was reminiscing fondly?
"Look that's not what I'm calling about actually."
He waited for her to go on. He remembered her ping-pong manner of conversing: you always had to hit the ball back to her. Unless she was lecturing you, of course; then you were not allowed to respond.
"You're not calling to talk about that actually," he prompted.
"No I am not. What I am calling about is, have you seen Miranda? Our daughter."
"I know who Miranda is."
"Well jeez, you never know what somebody might not remember. I know it's been a long time."
"Yes it has. What makes you think I would have seen her?"
"The way you ask that question, that's what."
"What do you mean by that?" he asked slowly, his head swimming.
"I mean you're awful defensive and awfully not-surprised for somebody who wasn't expecting this call."
"I already told you—I'm not defensive."
"Boy oh boy, Drew. 'I'm not defensive,' that's straight out of the defensive person's handbook."
He had forgotten her cleverness. "Sheila," he muttered, "I'm going to take this on sill."
"Frankly I had reason to believe," she went on, heedless, "that you might have heard from her but I didn't know until the way you asked that question. All suspicious-like, as if: 'Who told you?'"
You seem pretty pleased with your psychological detective work, he subvoked. Is there anything I can add?
"What you can add is where she is."
I don't know, he said honestly. I really don't know.
Anyway, what reason was that?
"What reason is what?"
That you have to believe that she may have gotten in touch with me.
"Well, shit, because I don't know where she is and because some of her friends mentioned that she'd been talking about possibly going out there and because I can't think of any reason why she'd go there unless it was to see you."
There's a beautiful zoo ...
"Drew, I don't appreciate that."
He swallowed the word, then heard himself spitting it out anyway: Sorry. (It was always harder to censor yourself on sill. Sometimes the throat-patch picked up even a loud thought ...)
"It's not helpful. At all."
Sheila, he sighed, what is this all about anyway?
"What do you mean what is this all about? I told you, I don't know where she is."
And that worries you? I mean she's, what, she must be twenty years old or something by now.
"She's twenty-one in November and that's not the point."
That's not the point.
"No it isn't."
No it isn't.
"Boy—same old Drew, isn't it!"
What, Sheila, is the point?
"The point is—cripes! Have you seen her or not? I mean, God, it's like talking to a wall. Still."
He sighed. Well, since you ask—yes.
Yes to your question. Have I seen her or not.
"You're going to make me pull your teeth out here, is that it?"
Sorry, he said, sincerely this time. It was appalling, really, how quickly he fell back into the old terse patterns of speech, the old caustic cadences.
He told her that he had seen her only once, on Monday, and that she was fine. He told her that he did not know where she was now or what her plans were. He did not tell her that she had been supposed to meet him last night.
"Well dang it. You don't have a phone number or a name for the people she's staying with or ...? I mean, my God, Drew, you're like her roommates here in town. It's like nobody knows nothing and doesn't bother to find anything out. And they all look at me funny because I worry, as if I'm the one who's acting crazy, as if ..."
She made a few more analogies, and Drew thought he was beginning to understand why Miranda had not wanted to talk about her mother at lunch. From what he had gathered, Miranda had left home to attend art school over two years ago; and yet it seemed she still could not even make a casual road trip to another state without Sheila going into jim-jamming conniptions. He did not think it was right to betray Miranda's trust; if she had not told her mother where she was going, she must have a reason. Anyway, the only piece of information he had that Sheila did not was a phone number. If Miranda didn't want to talk to her, that piece of information wouldn't help Sheila much.
As Sheila went on, he felt himself pulling the receiver away from his ear ... But then he sat up, startled. He wasn't using the receiver. He wasn't even holding it. He was on sill. But her voice had begun to fade out to one side. He turned his head, and found that the imbalance followed him. One of his earbugs fucking out? He shook his head once, hard, and then nearly laughed at himself: he was like his mother, kicking the television when a program went off the air.
"Has she done this kind of thing before?" he asked, switching back to voice.
"Yes. No. I don't know. She doesn't tell me anything."
That was better; Sheila's voice was once again coming from some small, central, almost purely mental spot situated in-between his ears.
"Well ... does she still live at home with you?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" she asked.
"I'm just trying to get a handle on the situation."
"We don't live together if that's what you mean, we aren't roomies. But we live in the same city and if she was just going to up and take off don't you think she'd say something to her own mother?"
"I guess so. I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know? You know."
"How can I know? You said it yourself, I don't know anything."
"Well that's for sure. Holy mackerel."
"All I know is if she's a grown person, if she's a legal adult, living on her own, and she decides to take a trip or visit friends in another city or I don't know what, then all I'm saying is maybe it seems to me that it's not anything we need to get too worked up about. It's not as if we need to file a missing persons report or anything. If her friends aren't worried—"
"You don't seem to understand." She spoke coldly and quietly now. "Miranda is not well."
He waited. "Not well."
"No. And if her friends as you call them aren't worried it's because they don't worry about anything. God knows what goes through their heads. They don't know what she does, where she goes, what time she comes home at night, if she even comes home at all ..."
"Is it any of their business, really? I mean would you want your roommates—"
"It would come as a total surprise to them, her friends, to learn that she hasn't been to class for over a month, hasn't slept in her own bed for over a week, hasn't checked in with her case worker ... They don't know anything! They don't care!"
"Yes but at her age that sort of thing's not so ... Case worker?"
"Oh, the psychologist the high school assigned donks ago. Useless as a knot on a board, if you ask me. Always was." She sighed. "I'm sorry, Drew. I get carried away. I forget that you really don't know anything. I don't know why I called."
"Because," he said. "You were worried. Nothing unusual about that."
"But she's fine. She was fine when I saw her, what, four days ago? And I'm sure she's fine now." He felt his face grow hot. But he had no reason to worry, really; she'd just forgotten, or got caught up in something, or— "I'm sure she'll be in touch soon. And if I see her before you do, I'll tell her to call. Okay?"
"You see," she said in a calm and lucid tone, "it's just that she's been getting worse lately. She's always acted strange at times, but this, even Troy has noticed it—that's the shrink. Not a shrink, actually, he doesn't have the—never mind. But what can he do? Ever since she turned twenty her visits are technically voluntary. I just can't imagine her in a city where nobody knows her and she doesn't know anybody. I can't imagine how she'll cope."
"I'm sure you're just over ..." No, that was not the right way to phrase it. It was never wise, he recalled, to suggest that any problem, however confused or insubstantial, might only exist in her own mind; that was too much like blaming her. "Stimulated," he finished lamely.
"Drew," she said gently, almost pityingly, "you don't understand. She's not well. She ... shouldn't be alone like this. Unsupervised."
"Sheila," said Drew, matching her tone, "she is twenty."
"That's the point! That's the whole problem! That's what worries me. She's gone and disappeared like this before, but never to another city, and I wouldn't even worry that much except that Troy says it usually happens, if it's going to happen, when they're nineteen or twenty, when they're young anyway, I mean young adults, young like her, like she ..."
"I wouldn't put too much stock in what any high school counselor named Troy has to say, for Chrissake."
"... and I've been half expecting it, half dreading it I mean, of course I didn't want to think it was really going to happen, there's no guarantee, it could just as easily have not happened ..."
"I think it happens to all of us eventually," Drew said. "We all have to grow up, leave home at some point. I mean, shit, Sheil, we were only twenty when—"
"Yes yes, but they can't tell you for sure, not even with all those idiotic bloody tests, I mean not even with all their draw-this and copy-that and what-does-this-look-like-to-you, but so anyway obviously I still couldn't help worrying about it, always thinking, is this it, is it happening now, is this finally ...? And now I'm afraid—I mean, jeez, what if it happens while I'm not even there to help her? That was always my biggest fear. That was always the thing I dreaded most. And now I think, God, what if it's coming true?"
"Sheila," said Drew, "it had to happen, I mean by definition. Kids grow up, they become adults, they leave the nest. It's not anything you—"
"What movie have you been watching, Drew? She's—at—risk. She's got, or anyway has had at one time or another, all the prodromal symptoms."
"At risk of what, for Chrissake.?"
"At risk of schizophrenia, Drew. She's got whatever it's called, schizotypal bloody personality phenomenon, it means she's at risk for—you think this is funny?"
He'd not been laughing, only making strangulated sounds of disbelief, but now, having been accused of it, he did laugh. "You're joking."
She said nothing.
"Because you aren't, you can't be serious, not really. Is this what this Troy has been telling you? That Miranda's a schizoid?"
"No, that means something else. He made it quite clear, once. What she's got is schizotypal something, not schizoid something, which is completely—they're quite different."
"Sheila, I'm sorry. I can't take this very seriously. I saw Miranda, remember? I saw her just this week and I can assure you she's not a—there's nothing wrong with her. She's perfectly normal. Perfectly fine. Perfectly sane."
"I never said she wasn't. It's—I'm worried ... There are risk factors, she's at risk, I told you, she's at the age where it's most likely to happen if it's going to happen, I explained all that to you ..."
"And I told you that she's fine."
Sheila stopped. Then, after a moment of silence, she broke off in a guffaw—one of her goatlike bleats that made Drew's hair stand on end. "God, what a phone call to be making to you. How long has it been, ten years? You must think I'm crazy. Just one of those crazy, paranoid, overprotective mothers whose daughters run away just to get out from under them ..."
Well yes. "Well," he said, "no. But I do think—"
"It doesn't matter. I'm sorry I bothered you."
He took a deep breath. "It's no bother."
"I guess I'll just have to fly out. Do you know any good hotels in the area? No, I guess you wouldn't, living there and all. But maybe the newspaper ...? Heck, I don't know."
"Wait—what? You're coming here?"
"I'm worried about my daughter, Drew, hello. I don't know where else she could be, she always talked about you, going to live with you one day, I figured it was only a matter of time, anyway I can't sit around and do nothing, can I? Can I?"
Even in this moment, he was able to pick out the words that touched his ego: She always talked about you, going to live with you ...
And even at the moment of his pleasure he struck it down, warded it off superstitiously, reasoning with himself that this was what all little girls raised by a single parent said when they were upset with that parent; they all pretended to wish they had gone to live with the other; it was not necessarily true, they just said it to cause hurt ...
"I just don't think it's necessary. I saw her a few days ago and she was fine. Nothing wrong with her at all. On the contrary. She seemed perfectly healthy and in good ... Nothing wrong, anyway. So you see there's nothing for you to worry about. I'm sure she's already ... probably on her way back. And anyway, if I do see her again I'll be sure to tell her to give you a ring, I'll give you a ring myself, I know it can't be easy not knowing what's happening but I'm sure she's fine."
"Here, let me give you my number."
"Okay, great. Indescribable." He punched it into his PDR, then, with misgivings, gave her his number in exchange.
"Well, goodbye," she said briskly. "I'll give you a call when I get in." Then she hung up.
Ladies and gentlemen: my first wife.
Drew stared with loathing at the back of Kenneth Fuller's unnaturally still head. The head of an eavesdropper. The head of a spy.
He was about to call the number Miranda had given him again, but then he thought better of it. Assuming she didn't answer, what more could he add to his message of the previous night? And if she did answer?
He got as far as highlighting her name in his PDR directory before thinking better of it again. If she had run away from home, or run away from her home city anyway, it was probably because of one obsessive parent. She didn't need another.
He returned to his story but couldn't remember, even after reading over what he'd written, what it was supposed to be about. That there had been an unplanned subway service disruption, and that no one at the city's engineering department could or would say yet what the reason for it had been? Surely that could not be all. But that was all.
He got up to go to the washroom, made it as far as the stairwell, then changed his mind. What he really needed was a cigar. He turned and retraced his steps and was back at his desk before he realized that if he was going to have a smoke he'd need to take the stairs after all, he couldn't very well do it here. He patted his pockets and looked at the clock without registering the time. He sat down, took out his PDR and established that it was 2:21—though he did not know what time it should be. One thing was certain: it was almost two-thirty. What happened at two-thirty? Nothing.
At two-thirty he could go for a cigar. But no, that was silly, he could go whenever he felt like it. He'd go for one now. No, he'd finish this stupid story first. That was what he'd come back to the desk for, he now remembered. One thing at a time. First things first. Clean desk, clean mind.
But the story was done. He could not for the life of him think of one single word that could be added to it. This failure was tempered by the rueful amazement he felt at having managed to write even so much. At ten inches it was a bit short, perhaps, but fuck it over, the story didn't deserve any more than ten inches. It was done. He would send it to the city desk queue right now. Or would it be better to send it later? After all, there was no rush. It was a clean story, wouldn't need much work. And in fact it only made sense to hold on, to see if the city engineers didn't have anything else for him before they went home for the night. He'd wait till four, four-thirty, then give Nolan a follow-up call. In the meantime he would have that cigar. Or would he? Wasn't there something else he had been about to do?
Yes: call Miranda.
No. The reasons came back to him swiftly and as it were in point-form: what more and obsessive resonated in his mind like the first notes of an old familiar tune. No, he couldn't call her—but he could send her an email.
Five minutes later, all he had was one line—Hey M, don't know if you got my vmail last night—and this one was by no means satisfactory. He had eschewed "Dear" as being too formal, and perhaps the same consideration led him to use her initial instead of her full name, but "Hey" was so far in the opposite direction that it sounded facetious and "M" by itself seemed pathetically keen, as if he were claiming an easy intimacy that in fact he had no right to. And he had never knowingly shortened voicemail to "vmail" in his life; if anything, he was stiffly pedantic about keeping all cute abbreviations out of his letters. What was he becoming? Who did he think he was kidding?
Never mind, he told himself; carry on.
He punched in Was sorry to miss you, changed it to Was sorry to have missed you, then, disgusted with himself, changed it back, and then, realizing that his disgust was disingenuous, since it too was informed by consideration of the sort of self he wanted to project, started to fix it once again before deciding, with what felt like refreshing objectivity, that the first phrasing was actually preferable.
The rest of the writing went much the same, with Drew vacillating between self-indulgent conscientiousness and self-denying naturalness. It was long past two-thirty by the time he was done:
Hey M, don't know if you got my vmail last night. Was sorry to miss you. Hope and trust everything is OK. Call or write when you get a chance? D.
"D" could be either "Drew" or "Dad."
He thought about deleting it, then about sending it, then about just saving it and postponing the decision. In the end he could think of no good reason, aside from its flagrant artificiality, not to send it, so he sent it—and instantly felt a worm of compunction twist in his guts.
And, for the rest of the day, no matter how many times he reassured himself that the letter was innocuous, incapable of arousing any feeling or thought whatsoever, let alone resentment or distaste; no matter how rationally and categorically he proved to himself that in sending that note he had done nothing that could ever possibly come back to cause him a single moment's regret, he could not shake the feeling that he had just made a horrible blunder.
He went downstairs for a Ser Humano.