Sunday, October 14, 2007


-Jean Rae Baxter

I don’t remember the summer I was born, but as I grew up I sure heard plenty about it. That was the summer my cousin Annabelle vanished while hunting golf balls in the rough at Hidden Valley Golf Club. She was ten years old.

The kids who had gone with Annabelle returned to Kilbride without her. They weren’t worried—not at first. Annabelle must have been hiding on them, they thought, because she did things like that to get attention. Once she pretended her ankle was broken, so two boys had to make a chair with their hands linked to carry her home. That was a half-mile walk. They were pissed off when it turned out her ankle was fine. So when Annabelle disappeared, they thought it would serve her right if they left for home without her.

Annabelle’s parents, my Uncle Hugh and Aunt Rita, didn’t know anything was wrong until Annabelle didn’t show up for supper. They supposed she was at one of the other kids’ houses. Why not?

But after they phoned around and nobody had seen her since four in the afternoon, Uncle Hugh and Aunt Rita started to fret. By eight o’clock, when it began to get dark, they were frantic. Uncle Hugh rounded up my dad and the dads of the kids who had been with Annabelle. Uncle Hugh brought along Susie, his yellow Labrador retriever—not good at following a scent, he always said, but eager as they come.

It wasn’t a big area to search. A couple of acres. When they had looked for an hour without finding Annabelle, Uncle Hugh called the police. Then there was a real search, with trained dogs and tracking experts and dozens of volunteers.

Annabelle’s picture and description were in the newspapers and on TV. Missing-person posters all over the province asked if anybody had seen Annabelle Jenking. Age ten. Four-foot, six-inches tall. Copper-red curls, blue eyes, freckles. Last seen wearing a white T-shirt, blue shorts, blue ankle socks and white sneakers.

For three days, the searchers were out from dawn to dusk. Then the search was called off. Mom told me that when Dad got home, he sank into his chair in the living room, muddy boots on the carpet, and sat for a long time without saying anything. He just stared at one-month-old me, Nora Jenking, wrapped in my pink blanket, snug in Mom’s arms, and finally said, “No daughter of mine is ever going to earn pocket money looking for golf balls.”

“Never,” my mother had agreed, visualizing the shadowy form of a tramp slipping through the trees, a dirty hand clamped over Annabelle’s mouth, strong arms dragging her through the bushes. The act that followed was more than she could bear to imagine. The terror. The blood. The limp body borne away.

Mom said that Aunt Rita and Uncle Hugh never got over it. They had three other kids, but Annabelle had been the youngest. Whenever I went over to their house, Aunt Rita brought out her big scrapbook and made me look at Annabelle’s Baptismal Certificate, and her report cards, and all the Valentines her friends ever sent her. Sometimes I caught Aunt Rita staring at me, and then turning her face away. Once I asked Mom why my aunt looked at me funny.

“Because you’re just like Annabelle,” my mother said.

I overheard my parents talking with my aunt and uncle about Annabelle. Aunt Rita said the only thing they looked forward to was closure. Closure? It turned out they wanted somebody to find Annabelle’s body. This sounded weird. I always hoped that Annabelle would show up alive some day. I pictured her driving into Kilbride, stopping in front of her parents’ house, getting out of her car. She’d be about twenty years old. Tall and gorgeous, with copper...

-J. J. Steinfeld

“I have no more tears to shed, no more words to utter ever… I have no more tears to shed, no more words to utter ever…” the person standing in front of the Toronto Reference Library was saying over and over. More like chanting, really. Persistently, without a hint of cessation. A mantra, or maybe an incantation. I was just ready to enter the library, to escape the city and my own inactivity, and I stopped to listen to the strange-looking person. There were about a dozen people standing there already, listening to the chanting: “I have no more tears to shed, no more words to utter ever… I have no more tears to shed, no more words to utter ever…”

The voice was quite lovely but I didn’t know if it was female or male. The person was in a colourful, loose-fitting costume and wearing a mask, not that it was anywhere near Halloween. I mean, some of the characters you can see downtown. At first I thought it was a busker or a performance artist. Someone seeking publicity for— For what? People were leaving and others were joining the afternoon crowd, which was getting larger. The sun was just starting to shine after a morning of light rain.

Sometimes, more so lately, I would like not to speak, to make a public pronouncement that for a month or two I would not say another word. I could imagine myself yelling out “I have no more words to utter for a while” but that would be it, a single sentence, no chanting, no interminable repetitiveness. This person was being repetitious with a declaration of wordlessness. Talk about big-time absurdity and a contradiction in terms. Despite how fascinating I found the utterance of the words, if I were still a teacher, I would give her or him, this strange person, a failing grade. Unless I was missing something in what was going on or being said. I have been missing a great deal these days and I can’t blame it all on moodiness or depression or a little too much imbibing. Talking with my parents last night seemed to make everything worse, and I even used that silly word imbibing with both my parents when they accused me of drinking too much. Just a little harmless imbibing, I had said, the same words to my father and to my mother. I had called first my father, and then my mother, and told them I had quit my latest job, and both, in their usual way questioned whether I had quit or been fired, and both of them wanted to know how many jobs this was and what I was planning on doing next. Even though they are divorced, have been for a decade, they can still ask me the same questions, as if they had been comparing parental notes before talking to their disappointing son. My mother never fails to remind me of when I was a high-school teacher. Of when I did something. Not doing anything is a form of doing something, I told her the other day. My father said I always spoke without thinking. That’s not a crime, I told him. So tell me what’s happening in your life, let me hear a happy story, my father said after that, and I told him that I have no more stories, confessed in a pathetic way. Isn’t that sad? Horribly sad, I said, but I wasn’t feeling sad. I had pretty much said the same thing to my mother, admitting my lack of a new personal story to convey to her or anyone else. What are you going to do tomorrow? my father asked. I’m going to catch up on my reading at the library, newspapers and magazines, I explained, starting to make childish faces at the phone, to the past, to nothing in particular, really—a silly habit of mine when phone conversations aren’t going particularly well for me. You can’t read at home, after coming home from a day’s work, if you still had a job? he said, as I was doing my meaningless and I would guess grotesque face-making. The Reference Library downtown is my retreat, my recovery room, so to speak. Each of my parents reminded me—accused me—of being forty, forty without a career.

I started to look at the gathering as free entertainment, more free entertainment. That’s why I go downtown in the first place. But the sight of two city police officers arriving...

-Chris Laing

Good Grief! This wasn’t the way it was supposed to work. The payment had disappeared again, nothing left in its place. Second time this week. My job was to leave it in its usual spot and, in the morning, retrieve what the driver had left. What could be easier?

Jeez, if I couldn’t perform this simple task, what hope did I have to be trusted for bigger jobs? And just the thought of the old man’s disappointment withered my insides. I felt desperate, down to my last chance.

No choice now but to hire the detective.

Office hours were apparently irregular but I’d been told after school was best. From Hess Street Public, I crossed to Peter Street, stopping in front of a neat brick bungalow. Mountains of curling leaves heaped against a whitewashed fence, a concrete walk led to the rear. As instructed, I knocked twice, paused, then twice more. I entered onto an enclosed landing and next to the light switch; a sign read E T AGENCY, an arrow pointing down.

Cold as a cave down here and an earthy odor, perhaps from a root-cellar. I followed a narrow hallway to a closed door at the end of the hall and tapped out the same code before entering.

Emma Thomas stood staring at me as though I were a cockroach on her lunch plate. The ceiling light was turned off; two candles on floor-stands flanked her makeshift desk, their shimmering light giving her the appearance of an evil sorceress in the Saturday serial at the Tivoli Theatre.

She was taller than her candles, and her blond Medusa-hair writhed all over her head. And skinnier than Popeye’s girlfriend: long legs, long arms, the hands of a basketball player. She wore an oversized fisherman’s sweater, against this underground chill I supposed.

Emma gave me the once-over, twirled her hand and I turned in a circle. I guessed she saw no need to frisk me because she pointed a bony finger at a three-legged stool and I sat, keeping my lip buttoned.

“You know what I charge?” A low throaty voice.

I bobbed my head, gazing into her wolf-slit eyes which she hadn’t taken off me since I’d entered her lair, thinking that her daily fee was more than I could earn in a week. Maybe she’d be interested in bartering; I’d explore that later.

Brow furrowed, she said, “Do I know you?”

“Sure.” Why wouldn’t she know me? We attended the same school for cryin’ out loud.

She continued to study me, tugging back the blond strands flopping over one eye, before making up her mind. “OK … So what’s your problem, bub?”

I explained my dilemma: the missing payments, no product left by the delivery guy, the possible loss of the old man’s trust. Simply telling her made me realize just how tight a spot I was in.

She jotted in a small black book until I ran out of steam, then aimed the eraser end of her Dixon HB at me. “So what d’you want me to do?”

I’d thought of nothing else since deciding to see the detective. “One, find out who took the payments. Two, get them back. And three, stop it from happening again.” Sounding like a late-for-lunch radio announcer.

“That’s all?”


“You don’t want me to beat the shit outta the thief?”...


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