“Mom and I thought we could do a vote, about how to proceed with the information we have,” Maisie explained.
“Ooh, a vote. Like we used to do for family vacations!” said Katherine.
“What family vacations?” Eleanor was only half-joking. They didn’t have many family vacations before she was a teenager. And then she was too busy to partake.
“What are the voting options?” asked Char.
“Tell the police, I guess. Or don’t tell the police. Do you have other ideas?”
“Is there any way we can track down Frank’s old girlfriend?” asked Katherine. “Seems like she might know something.
“Not that I know of.”
Plus, Maisie had decided it wasn’t for her to figure out. The mystery had become too big for her amateur sleuthing. Frank was her uncle, her family, but her dad had somehow led her to this knowledge. Neither he nor Frank were able to be at peace with it, and they wouldn’t want hers added to the list of guilty consciences. She had no idea what her sisters thought, though.
Maisie, however, could already tell how voting would go, by her sisters’ audible responses throughout the story.
“I think you should let Dianne know, Maisie, before you call the police,” Mom suggested.
“Yeah… Could you talk to her, Mom? You know how I hate talking on the phone.”
“Don’t be silly, you’ve been doing such a good job of it lately! Plus, you’ve become quite chummy with your aunt Dianne, it seems. You’ll be fine.” Mom didn’t ease Maisie’s burden, but she did have valid reason.
Maisie’s hunch turned out to be right, the vote was 3-2 in favor of calling the police. She didn’t expect Char to take her side. She guessed Char would’ve felt uncomfortable voting against her mother when she was in the same room with her—and had to live with her.
“Now what’s this about Dad having a serious girlfriend before Mom?” Eleanor still wanted to know.
Mom deflected the question. “That is a story for another day. Waaaaay in the future.”
Maisie once again found herself reconciling her apple-kitchen memory of Dianne with the reality of the small condo she entered. Even more of an intruder than last time, despite now being a repeat visitor.
She settled in, staring down the salt and pepper shakers in the middle of the table. Frank was the only one eating the cookies Dianne had put out for them.
“How’ve you guys been?” Maisie asked her aunt.
“Oh, we’re doing. You know, good days and…not so good days.” Dianne smiled at Maisie in comradery—as if they’d been sharing the burden of Frank’s bad days rather than Dianne going it alone.
“You think he’s alert today? I’d like to talk to him. If that’s okay.”
“Well, I do try to avoid forcing conversation. It’s just too confusing for him, dear. He doesn’t know who you are, remember. You are welcome to try. I can’t promise to be able to translate his mumbling, though.”
Maisie wondered how Frank felt about being talked about as if he weren’t there, sitting at the table with them. She wondered if he even knew they were talking about him. Among two rigid bodies he was relaxed, childlike. As if his greatest concern was whether he could sneak another cookie.
“I’m grateful to be able to be here with him for this….” Maisie cautiously took his hand in hers as she looked up at him. Cookie crumbs filled both sides corners of his closed mouth. She searched his eyes for recognition. Finding none, she turned to her aunt, adding, “And be here for you, too.”
“My goodness, dear, what is it? Is everything okay?” Dianne slid her chair closer to them, looked at Maisie then Frank, and back again. She appeared jittery, nervous. Maisie’s presence upset the equilibrium the couple usually enjoyed.
“Honestly? I don’t know,” Maisie replied. Everything was not okay. The news was about to be brought into the world. She could still walk away from this, keep the contents of secret compartment of the desk just that—a secret. A secret no longer her own, but it could be kept within her nuclear family. Except she wasn’t working on her own anymore, she was a spokesperson for the family. The family meeting brought her here; the family counted on her to complete the assignment.
“Here, just a minute, I’m going to take care of this.” Dianne went to a drawer, shook out a dishcloth she retrieved, and wiped Frank’s mouth. The crumbs fell away. But she couldn’t brush away the uneasiness that hung heavy in the room.
Maisie squeezed Franks hands. He didn’t respond, but Dianne saw the gesture.
“Wait, let me sit back down.” Did Aunt Dianne have some sense of what was coming? She seemed as worried as Maisie felt.
“I’m sorry, Dianne.”
“Sorry? What happened? Maisie?”
“Well, remember when I asked you about Larry Roberts?”
“Of course. Someone your uncle didn’t like very much, from what I gathered from his reaction.”
“He’s a man from Massachusetts. MIT, actually. That’s a university near Boston.”
“Now, how does Frank know someone from Massachusetts, I wonder?”
“He went missing, years ago. Before you knew Frank. Before I was born.”
“This Larry person went missing? Where is he now?” Aunt Dianne’s voice asked a question, but her eyes warned Maisie not to cause any trouble.
Maisie averted her gaze back to the salt and pepper shakers. “He was never found.”
“Huh. That’s terrible.”
“Do you have any idea how Frank knew him? Do you think I should try to ask him?” Maisie looked up at her uncle, who was not following the conversation, though he was examining Maisie’s hand loosely enclosing his. “It’s probably better not to upset him, I think….”
Maisie took a deep breath. She felt her pulse hot in her temples.
“I think Frank may be involved in Larry’s disappearance.” Daring a quick glance at her aunt, then Maisie looked back at Frank whose eyes were a puzzle, but at least they didn’t contain tension, fear, or any hint of anger.
“What? Well, I’m sure that can’t be….”
“I’m so sorry to suggest this, Aunt Dianne. I hope I am wrong.”
“I don’t understand.”
Deep breath. Her body remained tense. The moment of explanation she anticipated had arrived. She just needed to get through it. Maisie envisioned herself on the other side, leaving this house, delivering the news to her sisters and her mom. “I found an article about Larry Roberts in my dad’s things. I also found a journal entry written by him—Dad—about Frank being involved in something. You said he was agitated by the name.”
“I hardly think that means he did anything. Your uncle’s old, he’s been involved in lots of things!” Dianne forced a laugh. “He gets agitated by everything these days.”
“My sisters and I, we think we ought to call the police, just to give them the information we have. They may want to get a statement from Frank.”
“Good luck to them, Frank is not very coherent these days.” Dianne gestured to Frank’s empty gaze. Was he ingesting any of the words Maisie spoke?
“I hope you’re right; it’s probably nothing. I just…I just…. I thought you should know.”
“So that’s it, then? Is there more?”
“Well, um, Frank supposedly ran into a deer taking a road trip, possibly around the same time.” Maisie remembered how Mom reacted to anything related to Colleen and—fearing the same reaction from Dianne—opted not to tell Dianne that Frank was taking a road trip specifically to see a girlfriend. She could save some surprises for later.
“Yeah, I heard about that deer. It did some damage to his dad’s truck, right? A couple of his brothers used to tease him about it, and his dad mentioned it from time to time. He didn’t like when his dad brought it up, it made him feel useless. Never lived it down.” Aunt Dianne said, growing quiet as she entertained another reason Frank didn’t like being teased about the truck.
“What if he actually hit a person on that trip?”
“Maisie, I hardly think there’s any reason to jump to that conclusion. People hit deer all the time.” But something kept her from dismissing it completely. Frank was always bothered about that unfortunate deer, whenever it was mentioned. Beyond what she thought was reasonable for someone hitting a deer, years ago.
“This all sounds crazy and unlikely to me.” Aunt Dianne sounded surprisingly reasonable, despite being dismissive. “Could you do me a favor? Let the cops know about Frank’s—situation. Tell them they’ll have to work with me, I’ll answer their questions as best I can. But I don’t want them in this house, Frank is squeamish with authority figures. We can talk on the phone. Or I can fill out a form with our statement and mail it to them. Maybe write a letter?”
“I hope they won’t need to bother you, Dianne. Maybe they’ll review the evidence and Frank will be ruled out. I just feel compelled to do my due diligence. And it may not seem like it, but I’m trying to help Dad, to help Frank. I think they’d want the families involved to know the truth, if we can do anything to help them get there.”
“I appreciate you telling me, Maisie. I know we aren’t close, you didn’t have to come all the way down here again. You’re a thoughtful girl.” Dianne patted Maisie’s arm.
“I don’t deserve all that, I feel awful even suggesting this to you. I know that you will know what or how to tell Frank, if he’d understand any of this.” Maisie looked at her uncle again. He wasn’t about to communicate anything to her. Today, his dementia was a blessing. Maisie wondered if Uncle Frank would agree.
- : contemporary fiction. Also: mystery, family drama, alternate history.