It’s Sunday night. I only have two more vacation days, and I’ve told my boss I might take one tomorrow. I have to know. They’re going out tonight – a night on the town. It’s been so long, and they’re taking the baby to her mother. “He’s safer there,” said Marie on the phone. “We were supposed to have the security system installed, but they couldn’t come last week. It’s really bothering me – a house in the neighborhood was robbed when the family went away on vacation.” “I know,” her sister said. “You just can’t be too careful.”
I watch the two of them leave from the rental. He’s in a suit, she’s in a short satin dress, darkly colored, and even from here I can tell how stunning she looks. I watch them drive off, and I can’t move just thinking about her with him. But I have work to do. The window in back is easy, and the neighbors can’t see it. I pry it open and slide in, catching myself on some boxes. I stumble around down there in the dark, and for a long time I can’t find the stairs up, and I’m sure I’m going to get caught. But then my foot hits the bottom step, and I find my way up and out. The bottom floor rooms are small but beautiful – the living room’s filled with overstuffed chairs, old sofas and end tables. It’s cozy, unpretentious, and every surface has wedding and baby pictures.
In the back room there’s a nursery with a crib, toys, a bureau, and a baby monitor. I walk up the stairs and find their bedroom. Inside there, on the same wall as a neatly made queen-sized bed, is an old writing desk. I go through the drawers until I hit their medical file. I go through their records, and there’s nothing but flu medicine for the kid and mother and a physical exam for Mike. In their closet I find old papers bundled up in a clear plastic bag. I open it up and search their records back to last year, but there’s nothing – no falls, bruises, concussions, or broken bones. Nothing suspicious at all. I want to think there’s another way, but it fits with everything I’ve heard, every conversation Marie has had over the last few weeks I’ve been listening to her. There’s no way I can tell myself Mike’s dangerous anymore. He’s not abusing her. I don’t know what his therapy is, or how he changed his life, but he’s a different person now. They’re happy together.
Then I notice the smell. The whole bedroom’s filled with it, and it’s coming from their private bathroom. It’s the soap or shampoo smell I remember. Julie’s smell. Whatever she always used, Marie uses it. Did Mike buy it for her? The dress she was wearing – that beautiful dress. The way she cuts her hair. Has he done these things, or does she just do them because she knows it makes him happy? Or maybe she was just always like this, like Julie, and he was very lucky to find her. And either way, I’ve got to find out what it is that’s making that smell, because I’m swimming in it, and I can’t get away.
There’s no soap in the bathroom, only one bottle of shampoo, and it’s not that. I go through the lotions and creams on the sink, then under the sink, and then in the medicine cabinet. I open them one by one, smelling them. Nothing. I go through her bureau – through everything, every bottle and tube. I knock them over, and they spill out onto the floor. I kick all the wastebaskets over. I pull the drawers out of all the bureaus I can find, and I examine her clothes, each outfit, comparing them to find which ones smell sharper. I don’t know what it is, and I begin to tear the place apart even though this is not what I intended, not what I intended at all. I flip the bed, I take the jewelry, and I find a small stack of hundreds in Mike’s sock drawer and pocket that. I topple all the furniture, spreading everything out all over the floor, and I’m not even near done – something has come loose inside me, and I’m not even near done. I go downstairs, smash the TV set, throw the couch over, pull the plates and dishes out in the kitchen, breaking them in great clattering scoops, and by then the place looks like it’s been robbed, really robbed, just like Marie was afraid of, only I still don’t know what that smell is because I couldn’t find it, and because it’s one of the things Julie never even told me.