by Miriam Kumaradoss
All summer long Jerry complained about this town and hinted at other places he’d like to be, things he wanted to do, things he wanted to get away from. It sounded like crazy talk. He’d lived here all his life and was a creature of this landscape, his body made to fit among the crowd of shrubs and potted plants in the garden, his instincts honed to walk these narrow streets without getting hit by the waves of vehicles that roared by with no regard for traffic signals or anything else in their way. All these things, and the fact that he sometimes disappeared for days on end, retreating into the big house he shared with his mother and refusing to answer phone calls or texts, led me to believe at first that he was just playing. I was certain he was still here, just not anyplace I could see him, that he’d be back with me when the time was right, when the weather in his head was better.
I only realized today that he must really be gone. I was sitting on the cement sill around the pond when the thought hit me as I listened to the baby shark thrash about underwater, severing waterlily stems and terrorizing the other fish. I realized that it had been a week since I’d had any word from him, a week of climbing over the fence and creeping into his garden without encountering him, and of looking up at the big house and seeing nothing but shadows in the windows. I picked up my phone and tried calling him. A woman’s voice answered, her words distinct at first but then growing garbled: The Vodafone subscriber you are trying to rrrr-chrrdvellyabielplizz-try again-lrrrlrhrthngyhh. I hung up, tucked my phone away, and ran.
When I was over the fence I looked back. The windows of the big house were still dark and empty. I heard burbling noises from the pond and the soft chiming of the musical-note bushes as a breeze rolled in. I listened closer and heard nothing more except my own heart; it sounded like a trapped insect beating against my ribs. I stayed there a little longer, hands draped over the fence, and thought of older sounds: Jerry’s voice, distant but raised as he shouted at his mother, her petulant, squealed retorts, clanging metal, and what sounded to me like a large wave breaking somewhere inside the big house. I tried but couldn’t remember which of those sounds came first, which ones I made up, and which ones actually existed and then—as sounds always, and people sometimes, do—disappeared without a trace.