By Rebekah Matthews
We had been together for a half of a year, and we had started to run out of things to do together, when Micheline and I got really into those true-life crime TV shows. Neither of us really liked the shows that much, at first, but they were always on, and we could talk about them with each other. I didn’t know how else to get us to connect any more. For a while we had been going on runs together but Boston got hit with another bad long winter and there was constantly snow on the ground and then slush and then ice. One of my cats ate two of the pieces of our favorite board game. We had been volunteering at a soup kitchen every Tuesday but I stopped going because it made me sad and tired so she went alone. The one thing we had always had, easy unselfconscious sex, had somehow become too difficult to figure out since our periods had fallen out of sync, meaning two weeks out of the month one of us didn’t want to be touched by the other, and suddenly we were both too afraid to initiate.
In each episode on each true-life crime TV show, the crime varied—rape or murder, or fraud or suicide to get life insurance—but the formula was about the same. Conventionally attractive actors reenacted confrontations, unconvincingly, like a soap opera. The detectives forced a confession. There was sad music at the conclusion, a shot of the scene of the crime, much later, a grassy field or a dirty city in the dark, with some voice-over that reflected on loss. Micheline and I got sucked in, maybe on purpose. We liked the missing person stories the best, the open cases had never been solved—usually about young, pretty white girls.
It was one of the only times Micheline stayed inside with me. She cared about what really happened to those missing girls, she cared about everyone else too. Her friends called her to pick them up at the airport and she picked them up every time even in rush-hour traffic. She fed the pigeons downtown. She couldn’t sleep for days thinking about the Syrian refugees. She went to protests about income equality and gun control and LGBT rights. At night I could feel her exhausted fear flare up next to me, about herself or the world, I didn’t know. I didn’t do anything like what she did. I didn’t think that way. It must have bothered her. The only fight we ever had was when she said I ordered too much take-out and it was causing environmental waste.
In this episode, a blonde teenage girl was taking too much Adderall, writing weird poetry in her diary, and sending pictures of herself to men on the Internet. During a commercial break I asked Micheline what she dreamed about last night. She said she didn’t remember, and she asked me what I dreamed about. I put my head on her lap. I said I dreamed I was flying. That was good, Micheline told me, like you’re figuring out you can rise above your problems. I agreed and I didn’t say in the dream I went too high and I didn’t know how to get back.
The episode resumed. The troubled girl who was about to go missing left a party without telling anyone. “Have you ever done that?” I asked Micheline.
“Left a party without telling anyone?”
“I don’t think so,” Micheline said. “Have you?”
“A few times, a long time ago,” I said. “I mean I was drunk. It was stupid.”
“People must have worried about you.”
“Would you worry about me?”
“Of course,” Micheline said. Her phone was ringing and it was one of her friends, needing to talk about some problem he was having with his brother who had cancer. She listened quietly and I could hear her friend’s voice through the speaker, though not the exact words. He was talking fast, like he needed an answer right away. She asked if he wanted to come over and hang out with us, and he said he did. I got annoyed and I drank more wine. I woke up in bed with Micheline. She was making a scared sound from what must have been a nightmare so I woke her up and I comforted her.
There was one case we talked about the most, a missing 20 year-old college girl named Angela Barton. She had disappeared only a year ago, in New Hampshire, and only about 120 miles away from us in Boston. We found a lot of stuff on the Internet about her case, and Micheline even checked out a book from the library with a chapter about her.
Angela Barton went missing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the winter of 2013. She had had a fight with her fiancé over the phone. She didn’t show up to take her final Chemistry exam; then she packed up a suitcase, took her favorite stuffed animal, drove into the mountains. Police later found red stains in the car, probably from wine. Her car hit a railing. She must have abandoned her car then, and one eye-witness confirms, but she didn’t take the suitcase, or the stuffed animal.
What bothered Micheline and me the most is how nobody looked very hard for her. The internet said small town politics were at play and the investigation was likely botched. Most significantly, her parents left town only a month after she went missing. We didn’t understand why they did that, why they didn’t hold on for any longer. “If it’s your daughter, you’d think you’d never stop looking,” Micheline said, and I agreed.
When the snow melted, and it seemed like winter was close to being over at last, we had run out of stuff to look up on the Internet about Angela Barton, and I drove Micheline and me to the mountains in New Hampshire. It was her idea before mine. It was something to do.
We got a late start because it was Saturday, because Micheline had a list of things she had to do first before we could leave; she fed her neighbor’s cat, went to a baptism of her friend’s baby, and then we took my car to drop off some of her old clothes at the local women’s shelter; when we got out of Boston at last my car ran out of gas and we had to re-fill. When we finally arrived to the mountains, the spot where Angela Barton had left her car, it was starting to get dark.
We pulled over to the side of the road, a mile past the first sign for Russell Pond which is what one of our internet searches had said. We unbuckled our seat belts and got out. It was so quiet that when we shut our car doors the sound seemed abrupt and harsh and it echoed.
“Here we are,” I said. “This feels creepy.” I reached out to touch Micheline’s shoulder. She was wearing one of those puffy winter coats. When I pulled her closer to me I felt like I was squishing her.
“I guess we’re supposed to go into the woods now,” Micheline said. We stared at the tall skinny trees so close together. There wasn’t any kind of path. I thought about scanning for footprints but of course anyone else would have done the same. “Did you bring a flashlight?” Micheline asked.
“No,” I said. “I guess we could use the flashlight app on our phones?”
Micheline pulled her coat up so the collar hid her mouth and her voice sounded muffled.
“We could get lost in the woods,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s true.”
We were both quiet.
She breathed out, like she was mad at herself.
“Do you want to go back home?” I asked her. She didn’t answer. “It would be okay if you did.”
She shrugged. Sometimes I forgot how small she was, but standing next to me, she didn’t even come past my shoulders. “Yeah… let’s just go home,” I said. I thought: you should be mad at yourself, Micheline, for making us be so fucking late tonight. I’m mad at you too.
Back at Micheline’s, I tried not to drink anything before bed and I tossed and turned next to her, thinking my movements probably bothered her. Maybe I should go to the couch. She had told me she was a light sleeper. I wondered how many days or weeks it would be until Micheline would tell me, We just aren’t connecting like we should be, why not? This is over. While she slept, softly snoring, I wanted to look at her the best I could. I wanted to remember the way she slept, I wanted to memorize what her face looked like so close to mine when everything was gone later. It was so dark in her room and she was burying her head in her pillow, and we were full inches away from one another.
I got out of bed, took some Tylenol PM, and laid on the couch and counted to 100 over and over, until I fell asleep. I dreamed about Angela Barton. I was driving with her in the mountains. She was complaining about her fiancé. I was arguing with her. Of course it wasn’t really the girl, it was also Micheline. I was trying to tell her all the reasons she should stay with me. I like you so much, I said, beginning to cry, I like you more than anyone I have met in such a long time. I tried to explain that being happy with her was like waking up from a bad dream full of surprise and relief. But I cried too hard and I wasn’t saying the right words. You can’t force these kinds of things, Micheline was saying to me. It shouldn’t be this hard. She looked sad but also guilty of something I didn’t understand. She stopped the car at the side of the road and she got out. I got out too. The tall trees towered over us. I called her name but she took off running. I tried to run after her but I wasn’t fast enough. For a while, chasing her, I could discern the back of her, the shape of her, but then I couldn’t any more.
I heard the toilet flushing. Micheline was going to the bathroom.
I had another dream about the missing girl. She was driving into the mountains again, but she was alone, I wasn’t with her. She was singing along to a song on the radio but she was too drunk to remember the name of it or the artist who sang it. It was sad though. About the moon alone in the sky. She turned the volume up. Her hands felt too big all of a sudden. That’s why the car hit the rail, because she couldn’t turn fast enough. She thought about her fiancé who said he didn’t know if he wanted to be with her. This time she was me and I was thinking about how to disappear, how if I wasn’t wanted then maybe the best thing to do is to take off and leave, don’t say goodbye, don’t leave a note because that’s stupid, just bring whatever you need, and even then, if you lose that, too, just keep going, don’t turn around; but if it’s better to go this way it’s not like you ever really know for sure. At some point it’s too late; you fall on the ground and you don’t feel like getting up. Maybe part of you thinks you should get up but you’re really tired and it’s a good feeling to feel that they’ll miss you. But you’ll miss them too and you can’t tell them that, they’ve stopped being able to hear you.
When I woke up, my stomach was hurting from being curled up on the couch the way that I was. I thought maybe I heard something, something like a whisper, or a door opening a little bit, maybe it was Micheline asking me where I was. There were too many blankets on me; when I pushed them off, I was too cold. I didn’t know what I was imagining, and what I wasn’t imagining, but somehow I still fell back asleep by myself.
Rebekah Matthews lives in Boston and watches a lot of TV. Her stories have appeared in such publications as Wigleaf, Barrelhouse, and Necessary Fiction. Her novella, Hero Worship, was published by Vagabondage Press. More info is at http://rebekahmatthews.com.
Art by Michelle Johnsen
Michelle Johnsen (art editor) is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine, EcoWatch.com, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by AP, weather.com, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at] gmail.com.