The heat is thick and stifling, its only nine-o’clock in the morning. Jenny wipes her brow, calling for her daughter Stella to come downstairs to say good-bye to her father. Jim has the 87’ Buick packed full. All of the seats are stacked high with trash bags full of clothing, toiletries, and his high school football trophies. He leans up against the car finishing off the last of a Marlboro, squinting against the fresh and fiery morning sun. Jenny calls upstairs once more, she hears a small sound and she doesn’t know if its just the cat meowing or Stella yelling no, but she takes it and walks out on the front porch.
“Looks as if it’s gonna’ be a silent g‘bye Jim”
He looks at the woman he legally can still call his wife, as she stands there with her hair tied up in a messy bun, and in her nightgown that cuts off at the knee just where it used to drive him crazy. He clears his throat and spits his tobacco stain out onto the dirt driveway. As the spit clumps to the dry Texas dirt like hot chocolate mix, Jim just shrugs his shoulder and hops in his car.
“I’ll call ya’ when I get wherever the fuck I’m going Jenny Lou”
“Don’t be calling if you keep calling me that bullshit you dumb fuck”
Jim hits the gas, and the dust flings up behind him, Jenny takes this as her clean get away and walks back into the house, towards the kitchen.
She grinds enough beans and starts brewing herself some coffee. If it was a weekday her and Stella would be long gone out of the house and in the city working, going to school, but it’s a Sunday. A holy day. And Jenny has just been resurrected through a cloud of dust. She never prays no more, but as she lifts the mug up to her lips and takes that first sip of exemption from oppression, she lets out a whispered “Thank God”, and then the house falls silent.
The wind chimes sing in the slight breeze coming across the porch, and the leaves in the oak out back rustle in harmony soon after. Jenny looks out the window as the sheer curtains flow freely, unaware that in the end they are stuck. They’ve been connected to rods that keep them in place. The silence is new, fresh. It comes with the revitalizing feeling that has rushed over Jenny, until her overdue-mother instincts kick in and she comes to the eerie sense that it’s just too quiet for a house that inhabits a seven-year old.
Jenny walks over to the foot of the stairs, coffee in hand. The steam from the mug and the heat outside making her hands suction-cup to her coffee.
When no sound fallowed with a response, Jenny started upstairs, without noticing the cat run behind her. As she reached the top, Jenny didn’t wait to knock on her daughters closed door; she grasped the brass doorknob that felt cool under her sweaty palms and pushed the door open.
She glanced quickly around the room, but she knew her daughter wasn’t there. She plopped her mug that was still in one hand down on the vanity, spilling little waves of creamed coffee over the edges of the cup. While screaming for her daughter she tore up bedding, closet doors open and then rushed downstairs to grab the phone. She first called the Sheriff in a dizzy panic, he assured her they’d be there in twenty-minutes but to call everyone she knew, and to keep looking for Stella.
When the Sheriff hung-up, Jenny stood for a few seconds staring at the phone, she had been free from Jim for not even a morning and she had to call him begging him to come back. It was to help find their daughter of course, but he’d take it the other way. Her fingers dilled the number from memory and held the phone up to her ear, her hands started to clam up and suction-cup to the phone, this time it wasn’t the heat or steam.
“Miss me already Jenny Lou darling?”
Repulsion rippled across her face, but even if Jim would have seen it, he would have taken it as him turning her on.
“Jim, Stella’s missing. I’ve checked everywhere, I called the Sheriff and him and the boy’s are headed over”
“What? Do you think I fucking took her? You saw my seats, their full of my shit you kicked outta my fucking house!”
“Jim. I’m not saying you took her, I’m saying she’s missing and I need your goddamn help to find her. Please”
Jenny started running around the house tearing open doors, praying out loud, “Dear God, Please be playing a horrible game of hide-and-seek Stella star.” But with each ripped open door, her curly-quid brown haired, green-eyed little girl failed to be there. With each door, there came a deeper and darker void of absence, a sense of absolute grieved panic. The house was empty and Jenny felt weak and dizzy. She staggered out onto the porch and in the rocking chair, sitting there slumped over like a crumpled paper bag. Jenny could see dust clouds driving up the road with flashes of razzmatazz blue and crimson red between the dust swirls a couple miles out. The sheriff would bombard her with questions, back-story, had there been any major stress in the household, was there anyone who would have taken her, any place she would have run. Was this call for an Amber Alert or the typical child runaway in a dusty Texas town?
Jenny looked outward, past the oncoming search force, and around her four-and a half-acre plot of land. Jim and her had bought it the day they found out she was pregnant with Stella. Back when Jim would carefully outline her face in the dim morning sun with his fingers, repeating poetry by Whitman and Thoreau, working hard harvesting for farmers, graveyard shifts at a meat factory in town, and still finding time to love her and to ferociously write his own poetry, poetry about Jenny and about the beauty in Texas that gets lost in its size. When Jenny was seven-months pregnant, he wrote about constellations and their beautiful depth, the novel felling of history and folk-tale. When their daughter was born, they named her Lyra Constance. Lyra being the small constellation whose name is associated with the myth of Orpheus, legendary musician, poet and prophet. However the nickname of Stella came around one day and it simply stuck.
How things had changed stung memories, organs and skin as Jenny thought of this. It had been beautiful once, and photographs she’d hung down the hallway towards the master bedroom held proof within four little walls, protected by glass. Those moments proved fragile, and the actuality of it had been lost, Stella was all that held left of the beauty that once lived.