She waited for almost two days before calling the police. Even though she knew in the pit of her stomach that something was terribly wrong – her husband had never gone a single day without talking to her, much less two, not in fifteen years of marriage – calling the police still felt a little dramatic, even clichéd. She’d spoken to family, though, friends, his assistant at work, cryptically fishing for information as to where he might be, and got nothing. She had to call. But as soon as she dialed those numbers – 911 – she felt, not like a wife whose husband has disappeared, but a character in a television show, a woman playing the part of a wife whose husband has disappeared.
“Yes,” Amy said, when an operator at the police station answered. “I’d like to report – not to report, I mean, I don’t know, but I think something may have happened to my husband. Something.”
The operator was a woman and was silent as Amy thrashed her way through the sentence. Had Amy actually seen a television show once where the woman said exactly that, had stuttered in exactly that way? Possibly. Amy loved the crime dramas. She loved the fragile, temporary terror, and the reassurance that all would be well at the end of an hour, just in time for dinner.
“What makes you think something has happened to your husband?” the operator said. She sounded sober and bureaucratic and humorless. She sounded like she was taking notes. 8:19 PM. Received call from woman claiming something may have happened to her husband. Shaky voice. Very nervous. She may have killed him and this is the beginning of a ruse to deceive us. He may be in the garden, cut up in a dozen shoebox-size pieces. Watch the dog. If it continues to dig in the garden and the woman seems overly upset that it does, I feel sure you’ll find the body there.
“What makes me think something has – ? Two days. I haven’t heard from him in two days.”
“Okay. Go on.”
“I don’t – that doesn’t happen. He’s never – even a day – ”
She wished she’d stop stuttering because she sounded like an idiot. She wasn’t an idiot: she was a professor of medieval literature at a private university. But somehow here, in the 21st century, on the telephone with someone probably half her age she was fumbling over every word. Her emotions curled around her brain and choked it.
“When was the last time you saw him?”
She saw his jacket, his back, late for work, the door rushing to close behind him, the words I love you cut off by its slam, but she thought that’s what he said because that’s what he always said. I love you, he said, probably, not I’m leaving you.
“On his way to work,” she said.
“He went to work, then he left work early at the end of the day.”
“I think I’m sure. That’s what they told me.”
“And you have some reason to believe they weren’t telling you the truth?”
“No. No reason.”
“Then you’re sure.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
The woman on the other end sighed. Like pulling teeth, getting this one to say the simplest things. It was like there was something she was trying not to say. Something she was hiding.
“Are there any places to your knowledge where he might have gone? A cabin? His parent’s home? A motel room?”
“A motel room?” The operator breathed into the receiver. In the background Amy could hear other operators just like this one doing the same things. Finding lost husbands. “I don’t know what you mean, a motel room.”
“It’s just a place to go, ma’am, when people don’t want to be found.”
“Why wouldn’t he want to be found?”
“Ma’am,” she said again, more forcefully, but also tired, frustrated. Amy hated that word ma’am. “I don’t know anything. I’m just asking you questions to try to determine the nature of your situation. But we can’t even open a file until three days have passed. You’ll need to call back tomorrow.”
This was fucking insane. “Then why have we even been having this conversation?”
“I’m just trying to help,” the operator said. “Sometimes just talking about it makes you remember something, something that happened, something special, a clue, the way he was, how he was with you the last time you saw him, something you said, didn’t say, something he said, maybe about a place, a new friend, the distance between you, the way it grows and grows and sometimes you can’t tell it’s there until there’s such a gulf it’s impossible to even find the person, where he’s gone, where he went, and what you did to make that happen.”
“What I did?”
“I’m just trying to help. Ma’am.”
“I’m sorry,” Amy said. “Thank you. Thank you for trying to help.”
Silence. Then the operator said, “Well?”
“Does anything come to you? Anything? Anything at all?”
But nothing did. It was as if she had been drained of every thought and emotion, that she was just this husk, nothing, not real. As if she were actually playing the part of a wife whose husband had disappeared, and she didn’t know her line, what the rest of the story was, what she was supposed to say now, how this was all going to be resolved. And so she waited for someone – the director, the writer, her own heart, whoever or whatever had gotten Amy into this – to tell her what it was.