by Carol Lindsey
“Girls, come on,” Mildred Smith called. “We’ll miss the bus.”
Mildred looked over the two girls bounding down the stairs. “Very nice, Evelyn. Rhonda Sue, where are your gloves? A lady never leaves the house without being properly dressed.”
Nine-year-old Rhonda Sue pulled a pair of white gloves from her pocket. Tugging them on, she held out her hands for inspection. Mildred smoothed the child’s collar and tucked a stray dark curl behind her ear. “You look very nice. Now, let’s go.”
They walked the block and a half to the bus stop. Mildred paid their fares and they found seats.
Mildred smiled as she watched her girls. She was pleased to see how happy they were about this trip into town. The war had demanded so much. When Ed’s platoon had been in Europe, she had been left to care for their girls. Thankfully, Ed returned safely. His management job at the mill meant they could afford an occasional trip to the movies or some other small treat.
“Mama, what are we going to see?” Rhonda Sue’s voice pulled Mildred from her thoughts.
“Gene Kelly’s new movie.”
“But I want to see Disney.” Rhonda Sue scrunched her face.
The driver pulled into their stop. As they crossed the street, they saw On the Town and Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad on the marquee. “I want to see Toad.” Rhonda Sue said excitedly.
“Gene Kelly, Mama. He’s dreamy.” Evelyn chimed in.
“Well, I guess it’s alright if Rhonda Sue sees Toad while we see Gene Kelly.” Mildred smiled at her youngest. “When it’s over, you wait here in the lobby for us. Do you hear me?”
Mildred watched Rhonda Sue hand the usher her ticket. Maybe I should have made her come with us, she thought as she turned to join Evelyn.
In the hours to come, Mildred would replay that last glimpse of her younger daughter over and over.
After the movie ended, Mildred searched for her daughter. When she couldn’t find Rhonda Sue, she approached the usher.
“Excuse me. My daughter was in the Disney movie. You didn’t see a small girl in a pink jacket, did you?”
“Yes, Ma’am. She was standing outside the building near the door.”
“Thank you.” Mildred and Evelyn exited to the sidewalk. As they stepped out into the evening air, Mildred found a small white glove on the sidewalk but there was no other sign of Rhonda Sue.
“Can I help you, Ma’am?”
Mildred turned toward the voice, relieved to see a uniform. “I’m looking for my daughter. She got out of the movie early and was supposed to wait for me in the lobby. The usher said he saw her here by the door.”
“About eight or nine years old? Brown hair? Wearing a pink coat and hat?”
“She was here for a while. A car stopped and she spoke to someone in the car. She seemed to know the person.”
“An old, black Chevy with a dented bumper?” Mildred asked, relaxing only slightly.
“That sounds like it.”
“That’s my cousin’s car. Maybe he gave her a ride home.” Mildred thanked the officer and turned to Evelyn. “Let’s get home. She’s probably there with your father.”
Cousin George was the family’s black sheep. Although the sheriff knew him well, George had never been known to hurt anyone. Still, his wild streak made her uneasy.
When she and Evelyn returned home, Mildred rushed into the house calling for her daughter. She had tried to remain calm for Evelyn, but could no longer contain her anxiety. Rhonda Sue knew not to leave with anyone unless she had permission.
“Mildred! What’s happening?” Ed met her in the hall.
“Is Rhonda Sue here?”
“No, Hon. I thought she was with you.”
“She was but when we got out of the movie, she wasn’t in the lobby. The usher said she got into a black Chevy so I thought George had given her a ride home.”
“I’ll drive by George’s. You stay here in case they went for ice cream and are just late getting home.” Ed grabbed his keys and headed for the garage.
When Ed arrived at George’s home, the house was dark and there was no sign of the Chevy. He spent several hours driving the route between the house and theater searching for any sign of his daughter. Mildred visited family and neighbors, hoping Rhonda Sue was with one of them. Evelyn’s anxiety grew as she watched her parents desperately trying to find her little sister. As the evening wore on, Mildred’s parents arrived to take Evelyn home with them for the night. Around 9:00 P.M., Ed notified the police.
The rising sun began to burn away the mist along the narrow road leading to the village. Lined with old cotton fields on the west and the shore of a lake on the east, it was the main thoroughfare for the area. A milk truck lumbered toward the village on its Monday route. As it neared the southern shore of the lake, the driver slowed as he came upon the flashing red lights from the half dozen sheriff’s cars lining the sides of the road. A deputy waved him past the area as a swarm of uniformed men searched the overgrown fields and the lake’s edge. The driver watched in the mirror as the scene faded in the distance. Men running through the fields was the last image he saw.
At the edge of the fields, the sheriff watched his men beat back the tall brush covering the roadsides. A splash and a curse split the air as one of the team slipped off the shore’s edge and landed knee deep in cold, murky water.
“Here,” a voice called out from an area about 100 yards off the road’s western edge. The men began running toward the area. A small body lay sprawled in the grass, hair and clothing in disarray, as if it were a toy that had been tossed aside. A small white glove lay nearby.
“Aw, hell!” said the sheriff. “Spread out, men. See what you can find. Get the doc in here.” He took off his hat and rubbed his balding head. “Who could do that to a kid?”
As the day awoke, Mildred and Ed sat at the kitchen table. Afraid to bring their fear out in the open, they avoided looking directly at each other. Mildred nervously ran her hands over the white glove, smoothing the creases in the fabric. The gurgle of coffee percolating on the stove mingled with the clink of glass through the open door as the milkman removed the empty bottles and set filled ones on the porch. “I’ll get it,” Ed rose and headed for the door. “Good morning, Bill,” he called out as he opened the screen. The milkman waved, then turned around and walked back up the driveway.
“Mr. Smith, I thought you might want to know the main road’s busy this morning. Police all over the place.”
“Was there an accident?”
Bill shrugged. “I didn’t see any cars except the police cars. They were searching the old cotton fields and around the lake.”
Ed froze, staring at the milkman. He gripped the carton holding the milk bottles so tightly his knuckles turned white.
“Hey, you alright? I didn’t mean to upset you. Just wanted you to know in case you wanted to leave for work before the road gets blocked.”
Ed stood on the porch for a few minutes listening to the sounds of the waking neighborhood. The house, tucked neatly into a corner lot, allowed a clear view of the intersecting streets. As he watched the paper boy make his rounds, he noticed a sheriff’s car slowly turning the corner. Entering the kitchen, he looked at Mildred. He placed the bottles on the counter and wrapped his arms around her as a knock reverberated on the front door. The small white glove dropped to the floor.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing