Little Girl Lost – Addison Moore

Your husband is having an affair with my wife!” Faulk Oden stands in my doorway, creating a shadow over me with his enormous German frame. His red hair coils around his neck the color of burnt leaves in the fall. His freckles are loosely masked from the slap of a Los Angeles summer still raging like a fire over his features. Faulk once said he received his coloring from his mother, an Irish woman who would no sooner incinerate in the sun if she ever saw daylight. I’m rather hoping the same fantastic fate would befall him at the moment. But here he stands, in his sopping wet swim shorts, his shirt sticking to his flesh creating an X-ray of the misshapen fat rolls draped over his belly. His toes press desperately into the porch, white as paper. The tops of his swollen feet are blotched pink as if they were embarrassed for him on some level. And yet here he is, drenched in water as if he had decided on the confrontation during his afternoon swim. “Did you hear me?” His ears pique like flames. Faulk Oden is on fire, and all I can do is open my mouth wider as if expecting him to fill it with pearls. But these were no pearls— this is feces flung in my face, the excrement of my husband’s stupid, egregious mistake coming back to haunt me at three in the afternoon. Strange thoughts fill your mind at horrific times like these. God waited until the cool of the day to walk with Adam—some believe that three in the afternoon was the accurate time of day for that. Jesus gave up his spirit at three, tore the veil in two, and opened the holy of holies to all who believed.

But the one pressing thought that congests my mind like a blood clot is that ridiculous sweater I wore time and time again. My sister warned me not to shop from the West Winder, a catalog that caters to menopausal women of an impressive economic standing, either of which I’m not. At thirty, I’m hardly menopausal and we are certainly not in any impressive economic standing. The sweater is white, crocheted in granny squares, thick and bulky, with scalloped edging that does nothing for my figure, but I wear it often and at this moment that depressing pile of acrylic is where I’ve chosen to finger the blame. It was too homely and by default so was I. My sister, Jane, promised me that a man like James Price would need to be wooed long after he was wedded and bedded. Too good looking, she said. Pretty boys are more trouble than they’re worth, she lamented. She should know. She’s in prison for dismembering one of her own.

My silent scream continues. “I know this is difficult to hear.” He shifts from side to side as the pressure alleviates from his voice. “It’s a shit ride for the both of us, you know. Hailey isn’t home right now. I don’t really want you to bother her about it. She’s not well.” My head ticks back as if he had struck me. I don’t need Faulk and his male-oriented prehistoric bullshit telling me what I can and cannot do. I haven’t cared for Hailey from the moment they moved in, with her thick wig-like hair, her dark olive skin set to a suntanned perfection, that Hollywood smile, the flash of destruction hiding behind it.

She’s a perfect ten by anyone’s standards and certainly James is not impervious—but an affair? Perhaps his mistake was returning what he thought was kindness. A mild flirtation at best. “Mommy!” Reagan calls from her bedroom. “I can’t find my bag!” “Ballet.” I clear my throat. “I have to get her ready.” I begin to shut the door in the poor man’s face before pausing. “Keep that lying little bitch away from my husband. And if you’re smart, you’ll get out while you still have your head attached.” I glance to his sopping crotch to signify which head exactly before slamming the door between us.

My heart pounds in jagged spurts as the past comes back like a haunting refrain. James and I have been married for six years, the exact age of our daughter, Reagan. He and I had dated on and off before getting serious, but it was Reagan who cemented the bond between us. We had split for a time, and then just like that, we were back on. What had once been fragile as blown glass had become impenetrable steel. At least in the beginning. I drive Reagan to ballet, ignoring the annoying mothers in their high school mommy cliques and pretend to bury my nose in a book for an hour, all the while trying to catch up with my reeling mind. Hailey had made no secret of the fact she wanted James for herself what with those wayward glances, batting those false hooker lashes at him, shaking anything that jiggled—and on her that wasn’t a lot. I couldn’t stand her from the moment we met. Other than her obviously falsified beauty there was an underlying cattiness about her, something only another woman can truly pick up on.

Men are clueless when it comes to that kind of a thing. Hailey was a pornographic nightmare waiting to happen and I knew it. She’s eerie and nasty and you can practically smell the psychotic on her. The Odens moved in six months ago, and the first thing she said to me was I don’t cook. Imagine that? Why in the hell I would care was beyond me, but James found her intro so charming he chortled right along with her own husband. It was then I saw that gleam in her eyes. James is a handsome man—beyond handsome actually. In comparison, Faulk was a cloven-hooved toad that had been sprinkled with warts. James is tall with broad shoulders that once ran a football across an anxious field, warm cerulean eyes that make you feel as if you’re the only soul he sees on the planet, but it’s his affable smile that hooks both men and women alike. He’s friendly and has a way of wrangling even the most uptight church mouse into spilling their life story at his feet.

He should have been a therapist rather than a civil engineer. He should have been a lot of things, and he most likely would have if he didn’t have a trio of dead siblings dripping off his back, weighing him down with the rancid scent of the past. The one that he killed still gags him in his sleep. Later that night I have dinner ready and waiting, macaroni and cheese for Reagan and a deep-dish lasagna I heated from frozen for James and me. I’m not Betty Crocker on a good day but on a day like today he’s lucky I didn’t season his portion with arsenic. At exactly ten after six the door opens and Reagan does her doting daughter routine, latching onto his leg, singing his praises. James does his father of the year bit, picking her up, swinging her through the air and dancing a little jig before allowing her to scuttle off to the kitchen. “Hey, you.” He leans in to pull me into an embrace, but I take a step back, leaving him grasping for air. At close proximity James might have me ready to worship rather than hang him, and tonight I am in no mood to kneel at the altar.

“Whoa.” He holds his hands up in a mock sign of surrender, but that flicker in his eyes lets me know he’s gauging the situation. Perhaps he wants to see what I know. “What’s going on?” “Faulk has proof you slept with his wife.” The words come out ruefully in a catatonic whisper. There were so many ways I could have framed it—a question, a joke accompanied with a laugh, and I honestly thought I’d choose the latter, but the moment I saw his eyes, those otherworldly charms that can make even the most testosterone-laden woman swoon his way, I knew knifing this boil open would be the only way to get the pus out. “Proof.” He sways back on his heels and doesn’t say another word. He doesn’t give the right inflection for it to be a question and this alarms me far more than Faulk ever did. A thick silence entombs us as this new reality settles over my chest like a weight.

My husband had cheated on me, and I was the last to know. I had been played a fool, and now foolish tears streamed down my cheeks, hot and feverish. “Daddy, Mommy!” Reagan shouts from the kitchen, her youthful exuberance T inextinguishable even in the face of this unnatural disaster. Neither James nor I eat dinner that night. Present Day he sun soars once again over the rooftop of the house we’ve called home for the last three years like a fireball of destruction hurtling this way. We had to get out before it could reach us. Rome was burning. We had sacked it for all it was worth, and it was time to go east. A sold sign swings cold in the breeze as we pull out of the driveway for the very last time. Hailey and Faulk stopped by an hour ago when they saw Reagan in the yard, offering their best wishes while James and his giant dick hovered between us like an invisible noose.

We drive three days, spending the night in cheesy hotels along the way, watching as the California desert gives way to long throated asphalt highways, evergreens rising on either side like stationary guards as we make our way to our new hometown, an old one for James, Concordia, Idaho. The navy blue forest, the inky black lake at the base of town, it all holds a cozy monochromatic charm. In a morbid way, it brings to mind that every teen horror movie begins with a dark forest and a black lake. Concordia has become our own private mountain horror. Secretly, I accept that’s what we’ve become. A horror so terrible it ran us out of town. But I don’t want to run anymore. Concordia is my home now, too. It’s where James and I will work to sew up the hole in our marriage that James saw fit to claw through on his way to sexual freedom. A hole the size of Hailey Oden’s implants.

James spent his childhood in Concordia, the only world he knew until higher education offered him respite. We met in college, back in California where my family lived a mere three miles away from campus. James didn’t seem to mind the distance between his own relatives, though—too many ghosts he used to say of his home state. But when his mother died out of the blue a year ago, leaving his father to fend for himself, James began to have a change of heart when it came to this mountain-esque hideaway. I watch as the evergreens rise like corkscrews into the heavens. I suspect I’ll drink lots of wine here. I’m venturing to guess Idaho doesn’t leave you much choice. On Thursday, under the supervision of a pencil gray sky, we pull onto Sunnyside Drive, the ironic name of our new street. It’s late September, the month where summer bows down to kiss autumn, and already the sun is more of an idea than a reality. Concordia is robed in a gray tomb of secrets, so hushed you almost suspect it of doing something wrong.

Too quiet, like a child who hasn’t made a peep in a good long while. James drives down the long neck of the cul-de-sac with a neat row of tract homes lining either side. These are not the traditional small bungalows they try to pass off as houses back in L.A. These actually have land around them, and the homes are situated far enough apart that you won’t hear your neighbor sneeze from his bedroom next door. That’s what was wrong with Amarillo Drive, our last street where Hailey Oden made her vaginal debut into my husband’s life. The sneezes and the orgasms were all too easy to number. Los Angeles had become an albatross around our necks. We wouldn’t have survived very long if we stayed. I threatened James with divorce after the incident, and he drove us straight to a therapist where we rehashed his affair in detail.

There was no sex he said. She cornered him in the kitchen at a barbeque and dove her prehensile tongue into his mouth he said. I wanted to produce a stack of Bibles and make him swear on it—see what God had to say, but I was too afraid he wouldn’t do it. Thanks to his staunch Protestant upbringing, James still has the ability to have the living hell scared out of him. I had all of that supernatural power at my fingertips, and I refused to wield it, too afraid to find out the God-awful truth. But his apology seemed sincere enough. Although he was adamant that we move, that we start over, that we not have to look at her repugnant face day in and day out. I almost wanted to laugh at that one. Hailey Oden is a lot of things; repugnant she is not. At least not on the outside.

“The moving trucks are here! They beat us! They beat us!” Reagan chimes gleefully from the back seat as we pull into the driveway of our purchased-sight-unseen home. Mostly sight unseen. We bought it off the Internet, signed the docs over our phones, and wired the money like some secretive event playing out in a spy movie. His father, Charles, had done a drive-by and walked through our new home recording two hours of painfully sluggish footage for us to ogle. Charles means well, but as a retired judge, newly widowed at that, his need for an audience was met with our unfortunate captive attention. James said he made the mistake of confessing his misdeed to his father. They spent a few hours on the phone bonding over our disheveled matrimonial state. Charles is a staunch proponent of doing whatever it takes to keep us together. According to James, Charles has been a perfectionist from the day he was born, and he expects nothing less from anybody else—his lone remaining son especially. A marriage was meant to remain as such.

There is no good excuse for a dissolution in his polished silver world. “Look at that.” I marvel at the two-story stunner with its river stone façade, the double chimneys, one on either end of the house, and massively wide driveway large enough to fit two bounce houses if we wanted. The parties we could throw here for Reagan, for ourselves, would be stellar. A border garden of purple and blue cabbage flowers drapes the fence line and adds an ethereal glow to the model home exterior. “Told you it would be great.” James offers a sly wink as we get out of the car and watch Reagan already spinning in circles on the sprawling jade lawn. “Our money could never stretch this far back home. We finally have what we’ve always wanted.” His warm arm circles around my waist, and a slight feeling of homesickness creeps up on me unexpected—not for our old house, but for who we were before that.

“A big house. One we can finally fill with children. Reagan will love it.” He pulls me in and drops a hot kiss over the top of my head. It feels more like a cigarette burn than anything benevolent born of love. The rest of the afternoon is lost in a bevy of boxes, with me barking out orders to a small crew of scrawny teenage boys, instructing them where to place the furniture—and them snarling, flipping me the finger when they think I’m not looking. James pulls me in against our new granite-lined kitchen counter and sheds that Cheshire cat grin I fell in love with. “Why don’t you take a break? Maybe call your mom. Let her hear Reagan’s voice. I know she’d like that.

” “Good idea.” I bat my lashes up at him, flirting, feeling those butterflies stir for him once again and wondering if I still had the power to do the same, but Hailey’s tongue licks between us like a viper. I head out front to the cool autumn air just as a little girl about Reagan’s age, perhaps a little older, comes skipping toward me—cute and smart looking with a refined sharpness to her affect you normally don’t see in children. She’s dressed in an oldfashioned pinafore, something Reagan, even at six, wouldn’t be caught dead in. Her dark hair is knotted in a bushy little pom. Her eyes are deep-set with a natural sparkle, and that gleam suggests she has a secret. The curve of a mischievous smile starts to take form once she sees me. “You’re new here!” Her mouth opens wide with a measured sense of surprise. “Why yes, we are.” I glance past her looking for a sign of a mother, a father, a grandparent maybe.

But then this isn’t L.A. People aren’t as paranoid about these things, especially not in this beautiful neck of the woods. I can’t say I’m too sorry we traded all of the glitz and glamour of traffic and human overcrowding for a paradise where children can roam without the guidance of a helicopter parent. Imagine that. Free range children. It would be perfectly illegal in L.A. Chaos versus solitude. The decision was practically made for us.

“I thought I saw a little girl here.” Her tiny nose rises to the sky as she peruses the vicinity. “Is she yours? Can I play with her? It’s so lonely on this street.” “I sure do have a little girl.” A thrill runs through me at the 1950s feel of it all. Reagan will have a friend about her age, and suddenly a little more color comes into this sepia world. “She’s out in the back. I’ll go get her.” Her brows peak as she cranes her neck past me. “Oh, I’ll head on over.

I don’t mind.” “How about letting your mom know where you’ll be, and come right back? I’m sure someone is going to worry an awful lot about you.” I couldn’t help it. You can take the girl out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the girl. They’d have missing posters up in an hour back home. Her little lips pull into a line as her gaze narrows in on me, twin pools of ebony, and I hold my breath until I spot the whites of her eyes just beyond that. For a second there, I thought she wasn’t human. Driving thirteen hours straight and living off gas station carbohydrates will do that to a person, make them loopy and turn everyone into a cheap B-movie alien. “She knows exactly where I’m at.” Her lips twitch like maybe she doesn’t.

“She’s the one who sent me to say hello. We live just down the street.” “That’s fantastic. My name is Allison. What’s your name?” Her lips cinch as if considering this. “My name is Otaktay, but everyone calls me Ota. Nice to meet you.” She bubbles with laughter as she skips over to the side yard and disappears. “Cute,” I say as James comes out choking a bottle of beer in his hand. “Who was that?” “Neighbor girl.

It looks like Reagan has a brand-new friend.” I steal the cold drink from him and take a quick swig. “Strange name, though. Almost sounded like—pig Latin.” James gives my ribs a quick pinch. “If this were L.A., it would’ve been.” We share a laugh, and the sun breaks free from the clouds a moment before veiling itself in the murky thicket once again. If it were L.

A., a lot of things would be different. My gaze snags to the grass in front of me, its whiskers dehydrated in the shape of two Mary Jane slippers, and a shiver runs through me at the sight. I’m betting a pot sat there too long with the previous owner, but something about the sight unnerves me. O ta comes by almost every day after school, so after two weeks of being helplessly rude to her mother, I bake a batch of cookies in hopes to walk down and have a proper introduction. No sooner do I pull them out of the oven than a brisk knock erupts at the door. “It’s for me!” Reagan sings, her dark ponytail whipping behind her like a leash. Back home there were penciled in play dates, overscheduled activities—sports all year round. But here in Concordia, life unspools at a much slower pace. James and I haven’t even looked into extracurricular activities yet.

I told James that Reagan is the new kid, and I want to make that transition as easy as possible, to which he replied everyone in first grade is the new kid. Point taken, not to mention the fact there’s not a six-year-old on the planet who needs a scheduling calendar to keep track of their social events. They need a breather, and perhaps a nice friend like Ota. “Well, hello, young lady.” I open the door to the bushy-haired delight. She’s donned her bright yellow sundress for the occasion. Each day it’s a game between Reagan and me to see what color dress Ota will show up in. Apparently, her mother doesn’t believe in jeans, but that’s part of the charm of Concordia in general. In L.A.

, if you had ovaries, you lived in black yoga pants right down to the six-year-olds, but here, Ota wears a dress every livelong day. “Yellow!” Reagan does a little bunny hop because she guessed right. “You look pretty in yellow. Come on. Let’s go. I’ll race you to the swings!” James insisted we uproot Reagan’s swing set and drag it across several state lines with us. At first I thought it was silly. Eventually, we could have bought her a new one, but James didn’t listen to me, and for once I’m glad about it. “Actually”—I step between them before they take off—“I baked some cookies for your family. I’d love to go over and give them to your mom.

” I thump my finger over the top of Ota’s little nose, and a tingle travels up my arm with a static current. “Ouch.” I’m quick to laugh it off. “How about we take a walk down the street? I’m dying to meet her.” Ota’s lips pull into a flat line. Her jaw redefines itself as if what I’ve suggested angered her on a cellular level. A breath hitches in my throat. I don’t think I’ve technically ever pissed a child off. “Is everything okay?” “I’m fine.” Her voice erupts an octave too deep, and the hair on the back of my neck prickles.

She clears her throat. “My mother can’t have company right now. She has a cold, but I’ll gladly take the cookies.” Her eyes plead with me to understand as she bats those heavy lashes my way. Ota holds a strange beauty, dark and mysterious with the eyes of a very old soul. O “That’s fine.” My own lids flutter because I had told myself I wouldn’t take no for an answer. “You’re more than welcome to take them.” Reagan picks up her hand and I listen as the girls squeal their way through the house and into the park-like yard. Why do I get the feeling there’s something she doesn’t want us to know about her mother? If this were L.

A., it would have been an easy leap to surmise that she was a user, in rehab maybe, or an absentee, but Ota is impeccably clean, those pinafores—a fifties throwback if ever there was one, are always pressed to perfection. Somebody cares deeply about this child, so I let it go. But there’s a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that says I shouldn’t. n a dreary Monday, I’m off running errands. James offered to pick Reagan up and start dinner. I was going to put off my rag-tag list of nonsensical things to do, but James suggested I take some me time—that I work so hard as a mother and wife. So I stole a few hours and took myself to lunch then coffee. It felt indulgent and unnecessary in this time of financial restraint. James has had three job interviews, and as luck would have it, there’s not a county in the area who happens to be in the market for a civil engineer.

Charles says he has a lock on a job in the development department down at the city, but when James went to check on it, nobody knew anything about it. Apparently, Concordia hasn’t had a civil engineer for the better part of a decade. Before James’ mother died a tragic death, she was starting to show signs of dementia, and now I’m fearing for poor Charles. Loretta Price, my former mother-in-law, was a saint, and it crushes my soul to think of the torment she must have gone through on that fateful afternoon. Charles was the lone witness. I could imagine it though and I have over and over, replaying it like a haunting chorus. When it initially happened, I tried desperately to get through my day as if that horror wasn’t intimately attached to us. But I saw it as if I was there, felt it as if I took the impact—her eyes widening as the train raced toward the car, then the powerful blow, the smashing of glass and steel crushing her ribcage all at once. Horrific. Hellish.

By the time I get home, it’s well after five. The autumn days seem shorter here in Concordia than they ever were back home. In the distance, the sun has dipped behind the chocolate mountains leaving a line in remembrance of its fame. In L.A., we watched as the sun was swallowed down by the sea in a blaze of tangerine glory, but here that purple outline over the mountains assures us it’s over before it ever began. I feel for people who haven’t witnessed a resplendent ocean-drenched sunset. People visit California for the beaches and the amusement parks, but it’s the sun that’s the real showstopper, the real star of the entire smog-riddled state. I pull into the driveway, charged to find the house lit up like a jack-o-lantern, and I head inside, only to have the thick scent of roasted chicken light up my senses. James is a Johnny-one-note in the kitchen, but he can play the hell out of that one note.

“Smells scrumptious!” I wrap my arms around him spontaneously for the first time in months. His hair is neatly slicked back, his face clean-shaven, naked, and suddenly it feels as if we’re on a date somewhere altogether foreign to us. He pulls back with heavy lids, a smile on his face that lies somewhere between one too many glasses of wine and lust as if to ask the question. This is the longest dry spell we’ve ever cast on our marriage—the Hailey Oden sponsored coital cessation. Of course, the resistance has come solely from me.

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