The mirror in the bathroom is foggy with condensation. It’s like this because he’s just stepped out of the shower. He puts a towel around his waist, then he breaks off a square of toilet paper and wipes the mirror clean. He stands over the sink, puts the plug into the plughole and fills it up with warm water. Then he starts rubbing some shaving gel onto his face with his fingers. You see, he showers first, then he shaves. Some people might think this is odd – and maybe it is – but it’s how he’s always done it. For one thing, it gives his body a chance to dry on its own. Plus, he’s heard it’s supposed to be better for your skin, doing it this way.
He starts with the right side of his face, beginning just below his sideburns. From there, he moves onto his cheek and his chin and then his neck. He’s about halfway through his shave when he hears his wife scream.
“Sam?!” he shouts. “What’s the matter? Are you all right?!” He gets no response from her, so he runs downstairs in a panic. He gets to the kitchen, still wet from the shower, with a towel around his waist and half his face covered in shaving gel, and that’s where he finds her. She’s as white as a ghost. The only other time he’s seen her like this is when she found their next-door neighbour Jack dead on the floor in his house. He’d had a stroke or an aneurysm. He forgets which.
Before he can ask her what’s wrong, he hears it on the radio. There’s been an explosion at the arena. Their daughter Molly was there – she is there. He doesn’t know where she is right now – neither of them do. He puts his arm around his wife and leads her to the living room. It seems like the best place to be at a time like this. “It’s okay,” he says. “We don’t know anything yet. We can’t jump to any conclusions. Just sit yourself here and wait for me. I need to get dry and dressed. Then we’ll figure this whole thing out, okay?”
Sam nods. At least, he thinks she’s nodding. She’s still pale and shaking from the news she heard on the radio.
He runs back upstairs – back to the bathroom – and finishes his shave. It’s the quickest shave in history. He cuts his face and neck a couple of times, but he doesn’t care; he just keeps going. And when he’s done, he pulls the plug out of the plughole. Water gurgles as it exits the sink. There’s some hair and some foam that has collected in the basin, but he just leaves it as it is; there are more important things to worry about here.
He’s just got himself dressed. Usually, when he’s had a shower or a bath, he changes straight into his pyjamas. But tonight, he’s put on some proper clothes, just in case. He feels like he has to be ready to go at any minute.
In the living room, he finds his wife standing right in front of the television. He remembers reading a book to Molly when she was four or five about a boy who sat so close to the TV that he got square eyes. He knows that’s not going to happen to his wife, but still, it can’t be good for her, standing that close to the television. He tries to draw her attention away from the screen. “Is there any news?” he says to her.
“No,” she says. “Nothing yet.” She’s got her phone in her hand. She keeps dialling Molly’s number, but it just goes straight to voicemail. He hears a recording of his daughter’s voice on the phone. It makes him want to cry. “You’ve got to give her a chance to call back,” he says.
“It’s not just her,” his wife says. “None of them are answering their phones.”
Molly’s gone with their neighbour Helen and her daughter Millie. “They’ve probably just run out of battery,” he says. “You know how they are with these phones. They’re on them every five minutes. It can’t be good for the battery.”
Sam ignores what he’s saying and continues dialling the numbers. He walks over to where she’s standing and puts his arm around her. He feels like he needs to say something here, so he just opens his mouth and lets the words come out. “She’ll come home,” he says. “She always does.”
This goes down like a lead balloon. “This is our daughter we’re talking about!” his wife says to him. “Not a cat or a dog!” She pushes him away. It looks like she wants to hit him or something.
“I know,” he says. “What I mean is…” but he doesn’t finish this thought.
“Let’s go round to Helen’s,” she says. “Let’s go and see if anyone’s in or if they know what’s going on.”
“I think we should stay here,” he says. “Just in case she comes back.”
“We’re only going a couple of doors down,” she says. “If you’re worried about that, then you can stay here, but I’m going round there.”
“No,” he says. “I don’t want you going out there alone. We don’t know what’s happening here. That explosion, it could just be the start of something – something bigger. I don’t know.”
“Then we’ll both go,” she says. “We’ll only be gone a couple of minutes. Nothing else is going to happen, and I don’t care if it does. I just want to know what’s happened to Molly.”
She’s probably right – it’s likely that it was just an isolated incident. There were a lot of people at that concert. That’s how these people get their kicks. God, it makes him sick just thinking about it.
“But what if she calls the landline?” he says. “I don’t want us to miss the chance to speak to her.”
“That won’t happen,” she says. “Now come on. Let’s go.”
Their street is quiet and dark and empty tonight. He doesn’t like it one bit. The two of them practically run to Helen’s house, and when they get there, Sam knocks hard on the front door. As he suspected, no one is home. But Sam won’t give up that easily – she never has. She keeps knocking and knocking until her knuckles turn bright red and start to bleed.
“There’s no-one here,” he says. “Let’s go home.”
“In a minute,” Sam says. She knocks again, this time with the other hand.
“Come on,” he says. He takes his wife by the shoulders and leads her back to the house. It’s the only thing he can do – it’s the only way to get her back home.
When they get inside, she heads straight for the living room. He picks up the home phone and dials the voicemail service. It rings a couple of times; then he hears a voice say: You have no new messages. He puts the phone down and heads into the living room to see what’s going on.
He finds his wife standing right in front of the television again. “I’m going out there to find her,” she says. She doesn’t look at him when she says this.
“The roads will be packed,” he says. “You’ll never get anywhere near the place.”
She brushes past him and goes to get her car keys out of the bowl. “They’re saying that people are heading to nearby hotels,” she says. “And others are checking hospitals. We can’t just sit here. We’ve got to do something,” she says.
“I’m telling you,” he says. “You’ll just be sitting in traffic all night. I think they’ve closed public transport, and taxis are offering people free lifts home. Imagine how busy the roads are going to be.”
“You’re acting as if you don’t want to find her,” his wife says to him.
“Of course I want to find her,” he says. “I just don’t see the point in going on some wild goose chase around the city.”
“She is not some wild goose!” his wife says to him. “She is our daughter, for God’s sake!”
He doesn’t mean to keep comparing his daughter to animals; it seems to be happening on its own.
“Now,” she says. “I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to find our little girl. Are you coming or not?”
“I told you,” he says. “We won’t be able to get anywhere near these places. And what if she’s not there? What if she comes home while we’re stuck out there? Maybe she’s in a taxi. Maybe she’s stuck in traffic on her way home. Maybe she’ll walk through that door any minute now. I’d like to be here if and when that happens,” he says.
“But what if she’s not in a taxi?” his wife says to him. “What if she’s hurt? What if she’s out there, scared and alone? What then?” she says.
“I don’t want to believe that,” he says. “I want to believe that she’s okay. I want to believe that she wasn’t involved in any of this, that she got out of there before anything happened. I don’t want to go out there and find her lying in some hospital bed – or worse. I… I don’t even want to think about that.”
His voice starts to break, and his eyes well up with tears. He’s crying now. She wraps her arms around him, and he rests his head on her shoulder for a minute. After a time, she says, “All right. We won’t go out there. We’ll stay here. We’ll stay here.”
He tries to pull himself together. He needs to be strong. For Molly.
His wife leaves him on his own in the living room. “Where are you going?” he says to her. He’s almost scared to be left alone at a time like this.
“To the bathroom,” she says.
“All right,” he says. He hears his wife put her car keys back in the bowl and walk up the stairs. He gazes at the television. Everything is such a blur.
Sam’s been upstairs for a while now, so he’s decided to go up there and look for her. He calls out her name as he walks up the stairs, but she doesn’t say anything in response. He starts to think that maybe she’s not up there; maybe she’s tied all of the bedsheets together and climbed out of the window so that he wouldn’t see her leave. But as he reaches the top of the stairs, he can see that the door to Molly’s bedroom is slightly ajar. Sam’s in there, sitting on Molly’s bed. He pushes the door open and watches her for a minute. She leans forward and smells one of Molly’s pillows. He goes in and sits on the bed next to her. “She wouldn’t like it if she knew we were in here,” he says.
“I know,” she says.
He puts his arm around her.
“This is all my fault,” she says. “I shouldn’t have let her go. If I had said no, she’d be safe.”
“It’s not your fault,” he says to her. “None of this is.”
He thinks that if this is anyone’s fault, then it’s his. When he was about twelve or maybe thirteen, he broke into a school at night with a couple of his friends. They didn’t go into the school building itself, but they vandalised the playground and stole all of the fruit from the storage cupboard so that there was nothing left for the children to enjoy the next day. Then they climbed onto the roof of the swimming pool and started hurling the fruit at each other. It went everywhere. Someone called the police, but they managed to get the hell out of there before they got caught.
Maybe he’s being irrational here, but maybe, just maybe, he’s being punished for what happened all those years ago. Maybe this is karma. They say that, don’t they?
What goes around comes around. And if he is being punished – if this is karma catching up with him – then he can safely say that this is the worst punishment imaginable. He feels so helpless – they both do. All they can do at a time like this is sit and wait for whatever it is that’s going to happen.
In the living room, he turns on the television. They’ve had it on this whole time, but it turns itself off after a while because it’s in energy -saving mode. They don’t know how to change it. The only person who does is Molly.
Sam is looking out of the window. She’s been on the phone for the last hour or so. She’s called the police, who told her to sit tight and wait. She’s called the helpline, who gave her the number of another helpline and a reference number. She’s called the other helpline, but was given a different reference number, which sent her round and round in circles. She’s called every single hotel in the area, and she’s called all of the hospitals, but there’s still no news about their daughter.
He looks up at his wife. “Come away from the window,” he says to her.
“I will,” she says. “I just want to wait a little while longer. Just give me a couple more minutes. That’s all I need.” She’s been saying this for a while now.
“Let’s do a puzzle,” he says to her. “It’ll help take our mind off things.” He’s heard that Bill and Melinda Gates do puzzles together from time to time. The puzzles they do are probably more complicated than a five-hundred piece puzzle of an office, but he finds it relaxing, and so does his wife. “Come and sit down,” he says to her. He opens up the box and tips its contents onto the coffee table. Sam finally drags herself away from the window and sits down on the sofa beside him.
They start assembling some of the pieces, but he can see that her mind is elsewhere – and who could blame her? “Help me find some more blue pieces,” he says. There’s a section of the puzzle with some sky. The office has a window, and outside that window is a bicycle and a red truck with some blue sky and clouds in the background.
“I can’t do this,” Sam says to him. “I can’t sit still and concentrate at a time like this.” “I know it’s hard,” he says to her. “But what else can we do?”
All of a sudden, they both hear a car pull up outside. Sam moves over to the window. She pulls back the curtain.
“What do you see?” he says. “Is it her?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “It’s too dark. I can’t see anything.”
The two of them stay where they are, frozen in time like statues, hoping for the best.
But all they can hear is the hum of the engine.
Thomas Morgan is a writer from Worthing in West Sussex. He’s been published in Dream Catcher Magazine, STORGY, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, The Mark Literary Review, Rhodora Magazine, Sledgehammer Lit, and Truffle Magazine.