“What Gets Left Behind” by Karen Steiger

So my friend, Lucy—
you may have actually seen her on TV.
Her husband, Tom—nice guy—
he just up and disappeared one day.
He’s been on some of those “missing persons”
and “unsolved mystery” shows.
He had a hankering one night
for cereal as a midnight snack.
He said he was going to buy some milk
from the gas station
so he left and never came back.
There’s surveillance footage
of him inside the gas station,
staring at the gallon jugs of milk.
One second he’s there,
then the video skips a single frame,
and he’s gone.
That’s the last anyone has ever seen him.
The cashier working that night doesn’t remember him at all,
but there was nothing extraordinary about him.
He was a high school chemistry teacher
and assistant boys’ basketball coach.
He’d help you do your taxes for $50,
depending on how complicated they were.
He never had any enemies,
wasn’t involved with the Russian mafia
as far as anyone knew.
He didn’t drink,
hadn’t smoked pot since his freshman year of college,
went to church some Sundays.
He wasn’t one of those teachers who was really inspirational,
but the kids generally thought he was okay.
His coworkers struggled to think of something personal
to say about him in news interviews.
But Lucy loved him a lot, of course.
Told me between sobs that she called him “Moose,”
and she was his “Little Mouse,”
and she told me some other things that were pretty personal,
in her grief and worry.
And anyway,
she didn’t have anything to do with it,
if that’s what you’re thinking.
His car was parked at the gas station,
locked and secure.
His cell phone was on the front seat,
plugged into the car charger.
No body has ever been found.
It’s been two years now,
so Lucy can’t have Tom declared dead yet.
And she says she doesn’t want to have him declared dead,
doesn’t want to give up hope,
but she would like to start online dating, maybe.
I mean,
even if he ever did come back,
it would be pretty weird for them, I’m sure.
She has to deal with a lot of weirdos,
people calling the house or even showing up at the door.
There are the UFO weirdos
and the government conspiracy freaks
and the amateur detectives who listen to podcasts
and are convinced she’s hiding something.
She tries to be polite
and answers their questions
until they get too personal or want to get into the house,
then she asks them to leave.
Had to call the cops on one guy.
I feel really bad for her.
She told me that her heart starts pounding
when she thinks she hears the garage door opening.
It’s usually just the neighbor’s garage door
or the clothes dryer starting up in the basement.
And Tom doesn’t have their garage door opener anyway
because it was left inside the car.
She always leaves the porch light on at night, though.
Just in case.

Karen Steiger is a poet, fiction writer, and future breast cancer survivor living in Schaumburg, Illinois, with her beloved husband, Matt, and two retired racing greyhounds, Giza and Horus. She is the founder of her poetry blog, The Midlife Crisis Poet, and her work has been published in The Wells Street Journal, Arsenika, The Pangolin Review, Leading Edge Magazine, Black Bough Poetry, Pendemic, Ang(st), and Perhappened. Her poetry will also appear in a future edition of Mineral Lit Mag, Rejection Letters, and Twist in Time.

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