“But why, Mum? I don’t understand.”
Maisy sat on the riverbank. The green grass made a perfect contrast to the bright yellow of the skirt she was wearing. Her feet dangled over the edge of the bank and were touched, every now and then, by the cool, clear water of the river as small waves lapped at the sandy edge of the bank.
Maisy’s mother, Joan, was lying on the grass beside her daughter, shielding her face from the sunlight.
Sighing, Joan replied, “I don’t understand either, Maisy. All I know is that your father never left a note or any other indication that he was leaving – he just didn’t return home from work one afternoon.”
Joan wondered how she could ever explain the events of the past to her daughter when she didn’t know what really happened herself. Her mind wandered back to that fateful afternoon that changed her life forever.
The day had started just like any other day for the previous seven years. Joan had risen early and prepared her husband’s breakfast. Then, as he had carried out his morning ablutions, she had packed his lunch, put a load of washing into the machine, and started on her daily round of housework.
Her husband had hugged and kissed her goodbye in the same manner he had every day of their married life together. He picked up his lunch, said he would see her that night, and walked out the front door.
That was the last time Joan had seen or heard from him.
After getting the children dressed and off to school, Joan had scrubbed, dusted, swept and vacuumed her way through the house carrying out her daily chores. She had gone grocery shopping and mailed some letters to her mother and sister. Then she had returned home and started preparing the evening meal of roast pork and lemon delicious pudding, which were her husband’s favourites.
The children returned from school, completed their homework, bathed, and then started playing a board-game together. Maisy was very conscientious about not letting her children watch too much television, so they had to find other ways to amuse themselves until their one hour television treat after dinner each night.
At four-thirty in the afternoon, Joan began to listen for the sound of her husband’s car pulling into the drive way. By five o’clock she was a little anxious. Her husband never got home later than five o’clock. He was the most punctual person she knew, and he always made sure he was home by five so he could spend some time with the children before dinner.
Joan was very edgy at five-thirty, but made herself wait until six o’clock before she sat down and thought about what to do next. She forced herself not to visualise the accident that was most certainly the only reason her husband had not arrived home from work.
At ten minutes past six, Joan started to phone all of the hospitals in the area to see if her husband had been admitted through the emergency department. She was not sure whether to be relieved or terrified when they all told her that no one answering to that name or description was a patient in their hospital.
After calling the hospitals, Joan began calling all of her husband’s work mates to see if they knew where he was.
Bob, the first person Joan called, had been home sick all day, so he didn’t know if her husband had been at work or not, and had not seen or heard from him since the Friday before.
Joan rang five more people and although they all told her that her husband had been at work until knock-off time, they did not have any idea where he was now or why he had not arrived home.
As her anxiety grew, Joan became more persistent in her questioning of her husband’s work mates and discovered that her husband had appeared to be his normal self during the day and had given no indication that there was anything amiss in his life.
James and Billy, the last two people Joan spoke with, offered to go out and look for her husband. “He can’t be far away,” Billy had said. “I’ll just duck out and take a drive between work and your place. His car might have broken down or something. You’re probably worrying for nothing, Joan.”
Joan did not take any comfort from Billy’s words. If her husband’s car had broken down he would have called. There were plenty of places he could have asked to use the telephone to get a message to her.
Trying not to alarm the children, Joan laid out their dinner and left them alone to eat it while she continued making phone calls in the search for their father.
Her husband’s family had not seen or heard from him in weeks. Mutual friends of Joan and her husband had not seen him. Joan’s family had not seen him.
Billy rang Joan at seven-thirty and let her know that neither he nor James had located her husband. Billy told her he would send his wife around to Joan’s to look after the children while she continued her search.
Joan was almost out of her mind with worry when Ann arrived. Ann and Billy had been friends with Joan and her husband for as long as they had been a couple. In fact, it was Ann and Billy who had introduced Joan to her future husband.
Ann wrapped her arms around Joan and told her not to worry. “I’m sure it’s going to be something we can all laugh about tomorrow. Maybe he’s gone to the pub?”
For most husbands that could be a possibility, but Joan’s husband did not drink alcohol, not even an occasional social beer. Ann knew this, but she didn’t know any other possible scenario that she could tell Joan to help her stop worrying.
James and Billy arrived at Joan’s at nine o’clock. By that time, Ann had managed to have the children in bed and asleep and had set Joan the task of making a list of all the people she had already contacted and another list of anyone else she could think of that might know where her husband was. The tired and despondent expressions on the faces of the men as they entered the dining room sent Joan into a debilitating mixture of crying, sobbing, anxiety and panic. Billy hugged her until she had calmed a little and then held her face between his hands, looked her in the eye, and calmly said, “I think we should notify the police.”
Joan slumped to the floor and covered her face with her hands. She felt she had not a single drop of energy left, but she slowly nodded her head. “Could you do it please?”
The police had arrived shortly after Billy made the phone call. The rest of the night was a blur and the investigation that followed seemed never-ending, and in reality it was because they had never located her husband, his car, or any of his belongings. Nothing.
Joan’s husband had walked out of work, waved and shouted goodbye to his mates, just like he always did, and started driving down the road to his home – but he never arrived.
His bank account had never been accessed in the years that had passed, and despite endless hours of searching, a national broadcast of his photo and plea for help from the public to solve the case, the police received very few leads, and the ones they had were mostly hoaxes.
Joan had tried to stay strong for her children. She had almost taken her own life though when she had found out she was pregnant two weeks after her husband had disappeared. At the time she had felt angry that this child was coming into the world when the man whom she loved with every fibre of her being had been taken from her. She had felt she could not bear another child to bring up on her own as she already had three – two boys and a girl.
In the end, however, Joan had found Maisy to be a blessing. Maisy had taken her mind off of her missing husband enough to bear his loss. The pregnancy and Maisy’s birth had provided some positivity and happiness in an otherwise bleak and depressive period of Joan’s life. The other children had been wonderful. They were all too young to remember a lot of the details of the afternoon their father disappeared or the tough times their mother experienced in the weeks and months following.
These days they are all well-adjusted young adults building fantastic futures for themselves.
However, it was Maisy who asked all the questions and now it was just her and Joan at home, Maisy seemed relentless in her quest for answers but Joan was unable to supply the answers her youngest child required.
Sitting up and moving closer to her daughter, Joan put her arm around Maisy and said, “I don’t have the answers for you sweetheart. I don’t have the answers for myself. All I can do is be here for you, Maisy. Maybe one day the police will find out what happened, but maybe they won’t. In the meantime, I have enough love in my heart for you and your brothers and sister to compensate for a dozen parents and I will support you in anything you do.”
“I’m glad, Mum,” Maisy said, “because I will find out what happened to him. One day.”