The Missing

Now you say it in the past tense

By Brian Doyle | May 1, 2015
Photo by Freaktography/Flickr
Photo by Freaktography/Flickr


There it is again in the newspaper this morning, on the radio, murmuring from the television, in bold type on the glowing screen in your hand: the haunted fraught awful phrase the missing. But it is wrong. It is inaccurate. There are no missing persons. No one is actually missing. They are just not where you thought they were, where they were expected to be, where they usually are, where they were when last you looked, where they always are, unless something is wrong, usually something small, but not this time, not this time. But they are not missing. They are right there, under the wreckage, the detritus, the crumbled infrastructure, the fallen highway, the shivered ruins. They are sprawled, supine, curled, crumpled, battered, bent, broken. Shockingly often they seem serene. Very often they seem sound asleep under their masks of dust and chalk and riven stone.

They are not missing, though: only unfound. In a day or five or 10 they will be uncovered, discovered. Pulled from, hauled from. The towers collapsed, the earthquake rumbled, the tornado tore, the battle burst like a boil, the hurricane lashed and flooded. Words lose their meaning in the roaring. Words are shredded. Words are whipped by the terrible wind. She should be coming through the back door just about now, rude and grumpy, peevish and peckish, as her grandfather would say, he loves those words, peevish and puckish and peckish, he has often draped those words on her, wrapped them about her testy perfect face like a scarf or a shroud, and the dog as usual is listening for the faintest possible scuffle and skitter of her feet in the gravel at the top of the hill, and the doorknob is hungry for her hand, but now the door will starve for that hand for the rest of its days, for she is among the missing, the missing who are not missing, but only flailed, felled, fallen. Their souls have fled their bodies. Who they were no longer abides in what they were. Who they were is loosed and lost. Now when you say her name you are in the past tense, in the tense past. It used to be that her name went with her like a handle or a shadow and now it is without, unattached, whirled in the wind. The dog waited by the door for more than four hours, despite every instruction and command to abandon his post. Only long after darkness fell did he cease to stand and wait, to attend, to watch, to expect and savor the exquisite and idiosyncratic joy of her presence.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Comments powered by Disqus