A Case of Insecurity
Justin Lo (7331)
“Oh, my goodness!” cried a middle-aged woman, who ran up to me from the crowded front porch of the somewhat hospitable-looking brick apartment complex.
“Ah, do I know you?” I asked, puzzled.
“No, no you don’t, but you have to listen. Mr. Brendow’s wife’s gone missing!”
“The whole wife?!” I exclaimed.
The woman blinked at me with a bizarre expression. “Yes, the … entire wife.”
“Well, maybe she just needed some time off, then. I’m sure she’ll feel sorry after a while and return with plenty of gifts.”
“How can you be so cold about this?!” she exclaimed. “It’s all you young ‘entrepreneurial’ women. It’s probably the fault of people like you that this happened!”
I took offense to her statement, but I shrugged it off. I really didn’t need to be wasting my time with old hags like this one.
“Listen, I’m not a coldhearted bitch. I just empathize with the wife, okay? If it’ll make you feel better, of course I’ll keep an eye out for a Mrs. Brendow somewhere, if I happen to meet her.”
“Thank you, you’re such a dear,” said the woman.
I gave a fake, cheery smile and continued on my way to the market. I had to buy some ingredients to make tonight’s dinner – it was my turn to cook, after all.
“Ex-excuse me, ma’am!” came a shout from behind me.
“Yes?” I asked, adjusting my glasses.
“We’re trying to put everyone in the neighborhood on watch for Mr. Brendow’s wife. She’s been gone for a whole day!”
“Er, I could help if I knew what she looked like.”
The man gave me a dumbfounded look. “I have no idea! They were newlyweds, and they had eloped in Las Vegas or something. They’ve only been back from their honeymoon for a week and then this!”
“So you haven’t met her yet?”
“No, I was meaning to but I never got the chance.”
“Did you meet with Mr. Brendow at least, in the meantime?”
He nodded, “Yeah, we went golfing last Sunday.”
“Hmm, but you were sure she was with him, then? Or maybe she had already gone missing and he was afraid to say anything about it?”
The man seemed to have never thought about any of this before. “I-I don’t know! Maybe!”
“Well, why don’t you try asking Mr. Brendow what she looks like, then tell me, and I’ll help you look for her.”
“Yes, that sounds like a fine plan,” he said. “What might your name be?”
“My name is Lizzie, nice to meet you.”
We shook hands and he rushed back to inquire about the details. I sat down on a green bench at the edge of the park, leaning back. Waiting got boring all too quickly, so I pulled out a book about animal magnetism and plunged right into the nonsense words.
A quarter-hour later, he returned, huffing and puffing as if he had just run a marathon on one foot.
“ ‘Izzie,” he said. “He says that she’s *huff* very *huff* beautiful and *huff* has brown hair *huff*.”
“That’s all he could describe?!” I cried. “That narrows us down to about half the women in this neighborhood, given a sufficiently loose definition of ‘beautiful’ and ‘brown.’”
“I know! He doesn’t seem to be very good with words.”
“Have you seen any photos?”
“Just a wedding one, but the veil was far too elaborate, and the lighting far too bizarre, to really make out what she looked like.”
“Is she fat or slim?”
“Sexy or cute?”
“How should I know?!” exclaimed the man. “You ask the most bizarre questions!”
I harrumphed. “You’d think that the man who was sleeping with her every night just might know a bit more about how she looks than that.”
“True, true,” he said somberly.
“I wonder if she knows what he looks like? Or maybe they just form a pair like that. Or … or maybe, Borden!”
“I’m onto something!” I shouted. “Listen, see if this makes sense. Maybe they weren’t having sex, and that was why their marriage was so tense. Then, wouldn’t that be why she ran away, why he doesn’t know that much about how she looks in detail, and why he was too embarrassed to tell you on Sunday that she was already missing?”
Borden looked at me in absolute horror. “M-maybe that’s it! Maybe he’s …”
“Impotent,” I completed. “Yes, I’m afraid that might be it.”
“So let’s lay down a timeline, then. When do you think she left him?”
“Before Sunday,” I said.
“They just arrived here on Wednesday. What if … what if she was already missing by then?”
“You mean that she never came back with him?”
“No no, that’d be outrageous. But what if she came back, and that very first night, slipped away?”
He nodded. “We’re making progress here. I really find that plausible. But where would she go? A friend’s house?”
I considered that statement for a bit. “Yes, unless she could afford a hotel.”
“But in either case, she could be very far away by now. It’s been quite a long time, and there’ve been no traces of her lately. If it’s as we say, it’s already been a week.”
Just then, another person popped out of the apartment complex. This time, it was a young boy, probably a mutual neighbor’s child.
“Borden, Borden!” he shouted. “I found out something very important!”
“Her first name.”
“It’s Angel,” he said.
“Angel Brendow, hmm,” said Borden pensively. “But what if she’s started going by an alias? I’m sure if she wanted to get away, she’d change her name so that no one could trace her.”
I swung my legs back and forth off the edge of the bench, making puffing sounds with my puckered lips.
“Lizzie, you think so, too, right? That the name is almost inconsequential at this point,” said Borden, more as a statement than as a question. He seemed a bit insecure in his words, as if he needed me to form a majority over the little boy. But, feeling a sudden maternal urge, I decided to side with the child.
“Well, Borden. Well, well. Wellllll,” I repeated, making the boy chortle raucously. “Well, I think that maybe you’re thinking a bit too hard on it. I bet she didn’t change her name at all.” The little boy positively glowed with triumph.
“What makes you think that? I don’t think you give her enough credit – her intelligence, I mean.”
“But you’re assuming that she doesn’t want to be found. What if she does want to be found after all? Then she’d just be waiting somewhere, and I’m sure, as women always do, she’s dropping hints all over the place – like making it known just who she is.”
“Ah, the wisdom of fair Lady Lizzie!” cried Borden. “Right on, right on. Shall we begin asking around for Mrs. Angel Brendow?”
“I’m very sorry,” I said, looking at my watch. “I must be on my way. I have to cook dinner tonight, since it’s my turn and all.”
“Oh yes, yes, I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you. Just please keep an eye out, alright?”
“You could come with me if you would like. Perhaps the wife in question is grocery shopping at just this instant – she needs food, too, you know, and supposing that she’s really run away, she probably feels beholden to at least provide food in return for her friend’s hospitality,” I said, frowning at how long it took me to explain something so straightforward.
“Alright, if it’s okay with you,” he said, blushing a little. I wondered if he had the misconception that one could go on a date in a supermarket.
The supermarket was as it had always been; the aisles were well-stocked and there were spotty discounts here and there, given that you had signed up for the valued-customer card.
Halfway down aisle six-A, looking for some pasta, I heard Borden behind me: “You know, Lizzie, this must be very hard on them both.”
“Mm?” I responded, not sure if I had heard him completely due to the ambient noise.
“I meant, being married and all, and then having all this happen so quickly.”
I asked, “What do you suppose they’re thinking at this moment, then?”
“Hmm … he’s probably scratching his head and asking, ‘What did I do wrong?’ Men are always asking that, me included.”
I laughed. “I suppose so. And her?”
“Her … I don’t know … it’s hard to tell why she did it. It could have been courageous or cowardly, too, even that’s a mystery.”
“Now, now, just because she’s female doesn’t mean her thought processes are completely foreign to you. Just put yourself into her shoes.”
“Then,” he said, scratching his nose lightly, “I think she’d be asking, ‘Why isn’t he looking for me himself?’” He seemed to take great joy and pride in coming to a conclusion like that.
“See? Now you’re onto something,” I said without intending to add any more. I laid a few cartons of pasta into my cart and rolled on through to aisle six-B. “Hey, tell me if you see any pasta sauces on sale, okay?”
“Which type? Marinara or alfredo?”
“Any is fine,” I said. “Thanks.”
“Do you think that if he ran up to her now, she would forgive him?” he asked, still stuck on that train of thought.
“It depends, I guess,” I said.
“On?” he urged.
“Oh, I don’t know … fifty percent on effort, twenty percent on what he says, thirty percent on what gift he brings?”
Borden made a funny expression. “You really think so? That much like a rubric? Fifty-twenty-thirty on the dot?”
“Hey, how should I know?!” I exclaimed. “I was just joking … you were the one who asked me, so I figured I should come up with something to satisfy your curiosity.”
“Oh,” he said, face drooping a bit.
“Hey now, don’t get down about it,” I said in as soothing a voice as I could muster. I was never much of a good listener for my girlfriends because I never really knew how to say what I wanted to say. “It’s not your wife, anyway.” Ack, that did not come out right at all.
“L-Lizzie?!” he cried, panic gushing through his face.
“Um, I meant, Mr. Brendow’s already worrying enough, so having you worry won’t do any good – it’d just make everyone more worried.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Borden conceded, handing me a glass sauce jar. ‘It brings the whole family together,’ boasted the slogan. I just smirked, placing it into my cart on the small top rack where small children would normally sit.
After a few more items, I made my way towards the checkout counter, doing a quick headcount of my items.
“Crap, sixteen,” I sneered – one too many for the express lanes.
Borden laughed, picking up a loaf of bread from my cart.
“Now it’s fifteen,” he said, running through the do-it-yourself counter in thirty seconds flat. “Come on, hurry up!”
I smiled, swiping the fifteen remaining items with record speed, nearly bruising the bananas but not caring as I swept up the plastic bags in my arms, spinning around like an amusement park ride.
The air outside had the scent of nectar, and I secretly wished I were a hummingbird to siphon off the delicate treat from the flowers that were blooming all around me.
“Borden, you’re back!” called the boy from earlier, who was now playing basketball with a boy and girl of around the same age. “Did you find Angel?”
“Don’t call adults by their first name!” cried Borden.
“But I call you Borden all the time!” protested the boy.
“That’s because I’m just a very big kid,” said Borden sagaciously. “Anyway, not a trace of her at the supermarket. Anything new here?”
“Yeah, Mr. Brendow finished his project.”
“Project?” asked Borden. This development piqued my interest.
“Yeah, what project?” I chimed in.
“Oh, he says it’s why he hasn’t been out of his house all day. He’s been preparing something big!” said the boy excitely.
“Did he think it was more important than searching his wife?” I asked with a sarcastic tone of voice.
“Lizzie!” shouted Borden crossly. “Robert, don’t listen to her.”
“Oh no, it was for his wife,” corrected Robert, ignoring Borden’s hasty cover-up. “He said he was leaving soon to go search for her.”
The girl who was shooting lay-ups while Robert took his time-out suddenly stopped dribbling the ball and ran up to our small crowd.
“Why does he have to search for her?” she asked, appearing perplexed. I gazed at the stairwell that was just a few paces away from me. I made my decision and descended upon it, carrying my grocery bags and taking the ones that Borden had helped me carry back home. I held them out, pretending to be bird flying. As I coasted up the stairs, I heard Robert explain to the girl the current predicament, causing her to laugh raucously as if he had just told a joke.
Reaching the fourth floor, I pulled out my keys and pushed open the door that led to complete darkness.
“Honey, I’m home. I hope you didn’t start cooking without me, ‘cause it’s my turn tonight, remember?”
I turned on the stove, boiling water for the pasta, before wandering into the short corridor to our room, where I found Oscar stuffing a backpack as if preparing for a long trip. He didn’t even notice me, so I just stood there in the doorway, listening to him talk to himself.
“Oh, my dear Angel, oh, my dear Angel, I hope that this will be enough to convince you to return.”
“Hey, Oscar.” He kept ignoring me, apparently somewhat out of his mind. He probably hadn’t slept all night long.
I sighed, sitting down in the doorway, surveying the room. It looked the same as always. Then I spotted something sitting on the window sill. I approached it and realized that it was a beautiful figurine wearing a hand-crafted dress adorned with small, multi-faceted crystals. At first, I thought it was some cheap thing from a dollar store, but the miniature visage that stared at me was unmistakably my own. No price could buy such an uncanny resemblance.
I felt soft, warm palms on my shoulder.
“Is it okay, Angel?” I heard his voice ask.
“You idiot, I don’t need gifts,” I said evenly, trying to hold back my own tears. “You wooed me by spending hours in seclusion making things for me, but you don’t need to prove anything to your own wife. If you have such delicate hands, such painstaking attention, why can’t you ever spend them on me?”
I turned around, wresting my shoulders out of his hands and returning to the front door, where Borden, Robert, and the girl were lined up, staring intently through the glass storm door. I made a move toward the doorframe, but then I made a crucial resolution and spun around into the kitchen, dumping the noodles into the pot.
“Where do I start over, Angel?” asked Oscar, who had followed me out.
“Maybe try calling me by my real name?”
There was a pause during which only the bubbling, frothing water dared to make noise.
“Elizabeth, will you stay here with me?”
“Better, better,” I appraised. “Alright, you get half of me back.”
“Half?” asked Oscar, puzzled. “Elizabeth, that’s not very fair.”
“Since when was I ever fair?” I said with a laugh. “You can tell our neighbors that you’re only missing half a wife now.”
“Then they’d ask me which half was missing! And I wouldn’t know whether to say ‘left’ or ‘right’ or ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ or God knows what!”
“Well, which half would you like to have back?” I challenged. “The outer half that can touch you? The digestive and circulatory systems, perhaps? Or just the face plus the limbs – the functional half?”
“Er …,” was the dumbfounded reply.
“I mean, you only need the eyes and brain to appreciate a visual gift, or just the ears and heart if you want to play me a song, or the torso and abdomen for a new swimsuit. Half almost seems generous!”
“No, there is no such thing as half a wife, just as there’s no half a husband. You have to have the whole person, or nothing at all. The only Elizabeth I can love is the whole Elizabeth.”
“Oh dear, that makes my offer troublesome, doesn’t it?” I said, dumping the sauce into a saucepan.
“Oh, forget the God-damned noodles!” cried Oscar, switching off the stove and grabbing me by the wrist. We smashed into Borden and company on the way down the stairs – or rather, down the railing. Like little children, we slid down the bumpy, rusty poles, prompting the real kids to follow suit.
“Wait, you guys, that’s dangerous!” shouted Borden. “And you, Miss Lizzie Brendow, have a lot to answer to!”
“Later, Borden, later – I’m busy, can’t you seeeeee?!” I shouted, giggling.
We ran down the street, brandishing waterguns that we picked up from the communal pool-toys bucket on the first floor. Oscar spotted the old woman from earlier and aimed the watergun at her.
“Oh, oh my!” she cried.
“Guess what! My wife is back!”
“That’s very good!” she returned, eyes focused on the watergun carelessly swung around in her general direction. “Was it the whole wife?” she asked hesistantly after some thought and reminiscing.
“Yes! The entire wife!” he shouted.
We ran all the way to the creek, where we plunged gleefully into the water, filling the plastic tanks greedily.
“Hold on! T!” I said, gesturing the time-out symbol with my arms. I carefully removed my glasses, placed them under an oak tree next to the river, then blasted my dearly-beloved with a surge of water.
“Hey, no fair!”
“Who said I was fair!” I reiterated.
For that, I took a gratuitous hit in the rear end. And so began our little duel that lasted til the nightbugs began to screech. At long last, we were both lying prostrate on the riverbank, exhausted, staring up at the starry night.
“So, what’s it like being with me, the real me, not some model or likeness of your Angel?” I asked, my hair tossing carefree in the nocturnal breeze.
Oh dear! Mr. Brendow’s wife’s gone missing – the entire wife! Enter “fair Lady” Lizzie and cuddly neighbor Borden, who find themselves in charge of leading an investigation into the mysterious incident. Will this romantic drama come to a blissful end, or will love fail to mend the chasms of calamity? Find out à
Tomyos Miaoyinyamiao * Justin Lo * “A Case of Insecurity” * 7331, Ineri 22