A We of Me
T. R. Healy
"Oh, look, it's still up," Laura remarked as she approached the coffee shop with Joanna.
"What's that?" her friend asked.
"That missing person flier."
Joanna then spotted the faded photograph of a young man taped in a corner window of the shop. "I never noticed it before."
"Really?" she said, mildly surprised. "It's been up there almost a week."
She shook her wavy auburn hair. "There are so many of these fliers around town these days, it's a wonder anyone pays attention to them," she conceded. "You can hardly turn a corner without seeing one somewhere."
"I didn't realize that."
Laura snickered. "Sometimes it seems half the city is missing."
After work, walking to the light rail station, Joanna noticed a flier on the door of a sushi bar and, with Laura's voice still in her head, paused to look at it more closely. At the top, in thick red letters, was the word "MISSING," and right below it a black-and-white photograph of an attractive girl who reminded her of her cousin in Sacramento. Her name was Carrie Engstrom. Only twenty-two, she was five feet four inches and very slim, with hazel eyes and brown hair. It said she was last seen last Saturday night on the Esplanade. Her family urged anyone with information on her whereabouts to call the toll-free number listed on the bottom of the flier.
Joanna wrote the number down on the back of an envelope then stared at the photograph for a couple more minutes, committing it to memory along with the missing girl's vital statistics. Perhaps she might come across her, she thought, continuing on to the station.
On the train she did not work on a crossword puzzle as she usually did to pass the long ride home but, instead, closely regarded the other passengers in her compartment. She wanted to be sure the missing girl was not aboard. Normally a very shy person who was reluctant to make eye contact with people she didn't know, she now felt obliged to in case the girl was there. She wasn't, though, but Joanna was glad she had taken the initiative to look for her.
The next morning, riding to work on the train, she instinctively looked for her again among the other passengers. And during her lunch break, as she walked through town, she found herself searching for Carrie among all the people she passed. She was surprised, for someone so shy, she could look at all these strange faces without becoming the least bit self-conscious. But she didn't because, as her friend Laura observed the other day, "If folks like us don't make the effort to look for those who're missing, how are they ever going to be found?" So she was compelled to overcome her paralyzing shyness if she was ever going to meet such an obligation she realized. She had to become someone she wasn't for a while, someone she wished she could be, someone confident and strong and assertive.
That first week, three different times, she thought she spotted the missing girl but then, after she got a little closer, she discovered she was mistaken and continued on without uttering a word. Though disappointed, she was not disheartened and resolved not to give up the search. Every so often, she was tempted to ask Laura to help her, but always reconsidered because she knew her friend would take over and she would be reduced to a follower again. This was something she was determined to do on her own, something that made her someone she was not embarrassed to look at in the mirror.
Late one afternoon, meandering along the riverfront, she once again spotted someone who resembled the missing girl, seated on the scarred steps of an empty fountain with another girl about her age, and immediately walked over to her. The closer she got, surprisingly, the more convinced she was the girl was Carrie.
"Hello there," she said casually when she got without a couple of feet of the fountain.
The sullen girl nodded but her friend just stared at the intrusive woman.
"I know you, don't I?"
"I don't think so."
"Sure I do," she said confidently. "Your name is Carrie, right?"
Silently she shook her head.
"You're mistaken, lady. That's not my name."
"You're the one whose picture is plastered all over town."
"You've got me confused with someone else."
"I don't think so."
The girl then got up from the steps and started to leave.
"You know your family is very worried about you."
"Leave her alone," the other girl barked, slipping on her frayed backpack. "And just mind your own business."
"I know it's you," she insisted, trailing behind them as they headed toward the seawall.
Neither girl turned around but acted as if she wasn't there.
"I know you're Carrie," she called out, watching the girls hurriedly cross against the traffic light. "I know it as sure as I know myself."
T. R. Healy has lived in Texas, Louisiana, and southern Maryland. His stories have appeared in such publications as Blink, The Flask Review, The Houston Literary Review, and Riverbabble.
T. R. Healy