On a Thursday morning when the kids were quite young, Sheila woke to find Derek in the kitchen, finishing the last of his coffee and placing the empty cup in the sink. She had overslept and rushed out of bed, disoriented. Her mind raced, thinking of all the things she needed to do in the now-reduced time in which she had to do them and still get the kids to school and herself to work on time.
The thing was, Derek almost never got up before her, and certainly wasn’t dressed and ready to go out before she was awake. But he had on a clean shirt and jeans, and his leather jacket. He said, “I have a lot to do today. I’m seeing a new client — or, I hope he’ll be a new client. Not sure how long it’ll take.” Then he left. He didn’t look at her. To Sheila it seemed like he had avoided looking at her. But that might have just been how she remembered it.
It was a cool October morning, and they had quarrelled the night before. She remembered this much later. She had been angry with him but was unable to explain why, even to herself. “You don’t seem to have any interest in life,” she’d said. And she’d had to agree with Derek that this sounded ridiculous, yet it was the closest she could come to describing how she felt. It was like his inertia had a physical form that both attracted and repelled her—a yawning abyss, inviting her to climb inside it and disappear. So when he left, she thought it might be a sign that he’d turned a corner.
Still, she thought she might hear from him at some point in the day, and when he hadn’t called by dinnertime, she felt the first stirrings of worry. He didn’t answer his cell, but it could be dead. He was careless that way. Who would she call? His brother? She thought about what she’d tell him. But then the evening rose up in front of her: homework, dishes, bedtime, a load of laundry into the washer and another one folded. All this before she took out her laptop and opened a half-finished report, due tomorrow.
When do you call the police and hospitals, Sheila wondered. When do you call something a crisis? She searched local news stations for accidents and found nothing. She became more restless, pacing the house and by turns looking out the front window and checking on the children. At 12:30 she decided it was too late to call Derek’s brother, Tom. She went to bed and slept fitfully, waking every hour or so knowing something was wrong, and then remembering what it was.
In the morning she phoned Tom, who agreed it was strange. “But he’s been off lately, hasn’t he?”
Yes, Sheila thought. Off covers it. “I think I should call the police.” But then she didn’t. Tom said he would come over, and she told him not to, that it was good of him to offer but she wanted to get the kids up and to school and try to be normal. Could she call him later, she asked. And could he keep trying to get in touch with Derek himself? Of course, he said. She called work and left a message letting them know she wouldn’t be in but that she’d email the report by the end of the day.
She walked the children to the corner to wait for the bus. “Where’s Dad?” Nate asked. Neither of them had asked at dinner last night.
“He had to go out of town for work. I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
“Tonight? Will he be back tonight? For my game?”
“He’ll do his best,” Sheila said, surprising herself with the easy lie.
She should call her mother, she thought, but wanted to put it off for as long as possible. Too many questions. She opened the report again, and added a couple of paragraphs. Really, she could do these in her sleep. She finished it quickly and sent it off. She called Derek’s cell. Still no answer. She thought to call a friend, but again, the thought of questions stopped her. She would give Derek a bit more time.
She made a list of the reasons Derek wasn’t answering his phone.
- His phone is dead.
- Derek is dead.
- He needs to be alone and doesn’t know how to tell her.
- He is leaving her.
- He has already left her.
- He is having an affair.
- He is having another affair.
- He has been kidnapped.
- He has been taken hostage.
- He has driven his car off a bridge.
- He is drunk and passed out in a motel room.
- He is in danger. His car is in the ditch at the side of the road. He has hit his head.
- He is bleeding from the head.
- He has amnesia.
- He has assumed a new identity and disappeared.
- He has moved to South America.
- He is hiding in the basement.
Sheila was certain that one of these was the true reason Derek was missing. She started a new list—things she could do to gather information.
- Call the police.
- Call Derek’s old boss.
- Call all of Derek’s former co-workers.
- Call local hospitals.
- Call Derek’s mother.
Then she had a better idea. She took out their household bills folder from the desk drawer, and found his most recent Visa statement. She called customer service and asked about recent activity on the card. Politely, the customer service agent explained that she couldn’t discuss any details of the account with Sheila because Sheila was not the primary card holder. Undaunted, Sheila explained the strange circumstances regarding Derek, and asked again if he had used the card in the last day or two. Again, the agent refused.
Mid-morning, and Sheila was pacing the house again, looking out the front window, checking the kids’ rooms, which were empty, of course, because they were at school. She checked them anyway. She called work to make sure the report had arrived and learned there’d been a mix-up in payroll. She went online to see if her pay had been deposited—a new automatic pay system was apparently causing confusion—and there it was. Her pay deposit, yes, but what made her gasp was the $200 withdrawal from their joint account at a branch in a town a three-hour drive from their home. She scrolled down and saw two more entries. One for gas at a service centre 100 miles north-east, and another for $11.55 at a Wendy’s in North Bay.
“Of course,” she said out loud. “The fucker.”