Our girls were disappearing. Missing from back yards, bunk beds, and basketball courts. Missing on roller skates, tightropes, and milk cartons. The girls were disappearing, but not my girl, fuck no, hell no, not now, not ever. I said it over and over. I said it while I watched her riding the bus, reading to hamsters, imitating elephants. While she slept I watched over, first in ordinary ways, then fierce, never blinking. I couldn’t look away, not for a second, because she might disappear.
First I walked her to and from the bus, kicking dust. Then I rode behind the bus to school. Then I drove her to school, then I homeschooled her.
I told her read this.
I told her stay inside.
I told her don’t answer the door when I’m gone, which is never.
I made her sleep on a trundle under my queen, then in a sleeping bag, then in a box. I tied her to things when we went out, Houdini’d benches and streetlamps with bicycle locks, deadbolts, and handcuffs. I kept the key in my coat, spare in my sock, left sole, where it grooved into skin.
One night we needed bread, but when I locked her in her box she seemed unhappy. We were so close, like siblings more than what we were. She wasn’t speaking by then, but I knew what she needed.
O metal cuff around the bench outside Glen’s Market. She lay on the sidewalk, sprawled in chalk, so I tucked her legs under her, moved her hands to make it seem like she was playing with gravel. Inside I raced around, soup and bread and bottled water. I stashed supplies in my pockets and slipped out the door.
O other cuff clattered, clunked on the sidewalk where they must’ve greased her girlwrist and grabbed her, easy as air, girl missing from the marketplace tableau I’d arranged so carefully. Cans of minestrone soup and a sesame baguette tumbled from my coat.
I walked back to my apartment and cleaned her box, in case she decided to come home, even to visit. I was only borrowing when I took her. I knew she’d go, claw her way back to where she came from. I knew someday I’d find another, borrow her longer, make missing mine.
Carol Guess is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry and prose, including Tinderbox Lawn, Darling Endangered, and Doll Studies: Forensics. She is Professor of English at Western Washington University, where she teaches Creative Writing and Queer Studies.