The rain was smacking against the north wall and not much heat was coming up from downstairs.
“Better build the fire up in the parlor,” he thought. Glad he’d hauled all that wood in a couple of days ago, he didn’t want to go out in this.
Coming down two at a time and thinking the meatloaf smelled funny, he stopped and looked at the hooks in the hall. His wet coat dangled heavily and beside it Mary’s coat. Mary’s green coat. Her usual, everyday green coat.
Swiftly going to the log basket he banked up the fire. Why Mary hadn’t made the fire up he didn’t know. Seemed to be his job sometimes. Pack it tight and it’ll last all night. The flames were coming up again, thin orange and tall going red and crackling and spitting as they got going. He shoved the ashes to the side underneath and shut up the grate. He poked around in the chimney for the hook of the back boiler and opened it up.
“Get the water nice and hot for a bath tonight,” he thought. “Better look clean for court tomorrow.”
Stretching out his back as he rose he placed the poker back by the fender and looked around, just for a second or two. He could smell something.
Smoke was now coming out into the hall but Harry just stared at the green coat and he didn’t really know why. Suddenly he came to and dashed into the kitchen.
“Come on, girl, stop your chattering and get home!”
Grabbing the towel, he plucked the burned meatloaf out of the stove and threw it into the sink. He blasted open the window, flapping it wildly then with a struggle against the wind he jammed it shut.
He sat down and phased out for a while.
He sweated. Suddenly he found himself downing another bourbon. What the fuck was this feeling? He grabbed some socks from the fireguard and shoved on his boots from the hall as he stared at her green coat.
“Always have shoes on in case of emergency,” his ma used to say.
He stared around in the hall. She wasn’t here was she? The green coat was there. Something must be wrong. He felt instinctively that something was wrong. His nerve endings felt it. His guts felt it.
“You’re just tired, you dope!” he said to himself. “She wasn’t that angry this morning was she?”
This was weird. This was call-the-police weird. That coat was all wrong. The burned meatloaf was all wrong.
The time was all wrong. Time had gone weird, like when something happens. When bad shit happens. Everything had gone slow. Was it really raining? Had the sun set already? His hand shook as he picked up the black phone. Wishing the damn thing dialed faster, round and round slowly the dial went, his finger shakily sticking in each hole. Half picking it up he heard the dangling voice of Mary’s mom.
“Hello, Harry, how lovely to hear you. Is everything alright?” her mom asked when his voice trembled.
“Yeah fine, Helen, I just dropped the phone by accident!” He paused and tried to get a grip; he drew in a deep breath and spoke slowly.
“I was just wondering if you know what sort of size Mary is if I get her that nice coat she’s had her eye on? Bit of a surprise you know so I thought I’d ask you.”
He fell back a bit against the wall and a bead of sweat reached his chin. He was aimlessly tapping his fingers on the windowsill really fast.
“Oh dear, you are so lovely. What a sweet boy he is, Henry! Henry!” she shouted, “did you hear that Harry’s going to buy our Mary a new coat. He’s such a dear. I think you’d better get a size ten, dear, then, what do you think—”
Harry interrupted her.
“OOOH, gotta go, have a good evening, all the best.” He slammed the phone down and booted the wall opposite.
He knew if Mary was with her that her mom would have said. He didn’t want to worry her so he didn’t ask. The garage door smacked back against the wall. He grabbed the torch, rushed out, peered in and slammed it shut, driving the bolt home. The bushes and trees were swaying wildly and he felt a huge burst of adrenaline staring around into the wild night, down the street and around the garden.
“Get your fucking head together,” he shouted at himself.
Racing upstairs, not knowing how he’d moved that fast, he scanned the bedroom. Grabbing open the wardrobe, he didn’t know what he was really looking for. Her clothes were there. She hadn’t upped and left him. What the fuck was happening? No note? Usually she left a note. Why hadn’t she left a note? Maybe he just hadn’t seen it.
He raced around the house looking in all the usual places. The bathroom mirror, the bedside table, his pillow. Almost falling down the stairs: the hall, the mantlepiece; maybe he’d missed one in the kitchen. He started shoving things aside, messing things up.
“What the fuck’s wrong with you!” he shouted out loud. “She’s fucking fine. You fucking idiot. Well where the fuck is she then?”
He kind of knew she wasn’t next door.
“It was only a friggin’ coat for fuck sake!”
“Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! She’d never done this before. She’d never just not left a note.”
The fire in the parlor did a crazy roar up the chimney. He dashed in and smashed the logs down with the poker, pulled in the back burner and shoved the fireguard in front. The hall was still smoky from the meatloaf.
He groped around in the shoe box. No boots; her boots were gone.
Stuffing his arms into a raincoat, Harry grabs the torch. It falters and he fumbles around with batteries. He put the door on the latch and headed out in the wind for the green gate. It’s been banging and broken off one hinge; he kicks it back and heads for Annie’s porch. Keeping his finger on the bell he hears Annie shout from the kitchen.
“Won’t be a minute.” Harry can hear her scrape back her kitchen chair. “Come on!” he thinks, kicking the step. Finally and slowly removing her apron, Annie welcomes Harry joyfully. “Hey, Harry. What you doing out on such a crazy night?” Smiling.
He’s frantic now. Why’s he the only one who’s frantic? His face is lined with stress. He gulped.
“Hey, Annie. You seen Mary? She’s not home; I guess she’s forgotten to leave me a note. You seen her?” he repeated.
“No, dear. She popped over at lunchtime before she went to do some errands. She had to catch up with some things.”
“She finished early?”
“She said she had to do some errands.”
“But she hasn’t told you where she went or anything? I expect I just missed her note.”
“She’ll be fine, dear. Probably helping some poor soul get their firewood in knowing her!”
Then out of the kitchen came George. “Hello, Harry, what’s this?”
“I just wondered if Mary was here because dinner’s ready; you know how it is?” Harry shivered for a moment. Shuffling his wet boots around.
“Was she OK like?” he continued.
“Because she looked a bit tired this morning?”
“Well, Harry, she was a bit fed up; she said you’d had words this morning. But then she seemed so busy.”
“Naw, that was nothing really, I’m trying to buy her this nice coat in secret you see and I just didn’t want to let on, but one thing led to another. It’ll blow over.”
“Harry,” said George. “To be honest earlier on today I was a bit nervous about something.” Harry breathed slowly and listened. “Maybe I should have told someone, Harry.”
“That’s OK George, just tell me slowly,” he said in his slow, calm, cop voice.
“Well down by Armstrong’s house, not under the tree but just a bit along near the lamppost, I saw a man I haven’t seen round here before. I mean it was only a little bit odd at the time, but now, you know, maybe you should know.”
“Yes, George, tell me about him. What was he like? What did he do?” Harry wanted to rush through this but he didn’t want to get George agitated, so he spoke real slow.
He never forgot what people told him.
“He was like this …,” and George described the fellow, and what he’d noticed.
“Thanks a lot, you guys. I’m sure it’s fine. Thanks, and listen. If you see anyone around here again can you give me a call?”
“Sure will, Harry; I’m sure it’s fine,” said Annie.
“You get her to ring me when she gets home.” Harry had already turned and walked away.
“Sure will do.”
The door stuck a bit as Harry got back to the house. “Hey, Mary!” he shouted, but his voice was quaking. He didn’t really believe she would be there.
Harry slammed the door shut and threw his dripping coat over a box. Muddy boots on, he thumped up the stairs and checked the whole house for that imaginary note.
He knew he had to think, just for a minute. Standing, he lit a gasper and sloshed bourbon in the glass and threw it back. He sensed the glow in his chest; he felt the burn. The room went a little hazy, but the adrenaline was making him heat up. The booze was sending wild thoughts racing round his brain and his blood was pumping fast. He hadn’t eaten for hours so it was a raw blast of heat in his guts. It made him feel connected, real, somehow back in his body again.
He stood by the sink. Wide legs, hands gripping the counter and bending over the sink. He wasn’t going to be sick; he just zoned out. The meatloaf sat there like sorry flesh.
He bashed the flat of his hand down on the counter, to make it hurt, to make him come to. He grabbed a chair, thrust it by the fire and sat, his hands over the stove. He was shivering. Lighting the next cigarette from the first he got out his notebook.
“Don’t write anything down,” he said to himself and shoved it back in his pocket. He spoke out loud, as if he was writing.
“One, the house was empty. Two, she’d been there earlier, when had she cooked. Three, she hadn’t gone to her mom’s, or left me, clothes still there. No note. Four, not with the Stanleys.” Five, green coat. Question … Why had she taken her boots? Six, am I getting worked up over nothing? Just exhausted, crazy with the work and imagining things.”
Harry dropped his cigarette and crushed it into the floor. He’d never do that if Mary was in the house. It was then that he knew deep down and categorically that she was not about to walk through the door.
Lighting another, feeling queasy, he stuck it in the ashtray and spat into the sink. He splashed water over his face. He rubbed it dry roughly with her apron that he threw carelessly on the floor. He went to use the phone.
Denzel answered after about what seemed like a year.
“Denzel. I’m going to tell you something and I want you to take it seriously.” He used his “dead relative voice”: the voice he used when he had to tell someone their kid had died.
Denzel got serious straight away. “Harry?”
“Mary is missing and it’s serious. Get over here.”
“I’m on my way.”