Laura Madeline Wiseman
They approach me en masse—blonde, under four feet tall, each carrying a stuffed animal bound by leash. They are so close, their shoulders touch. They may as well be linking arms, but they aren’t. I sit on a bench in Memorial Park in Clarkson, Nebraska in front of the memorial—a grey pyramid of rough-cut stone set on a dais surrounded by big trees. “Hi,” I say, as they stare. One chews her lip. One clutches a tiger, another a lion, the third pulls her long braid. “How are you?” I ask, unsure how to speak to these four little girls. Before dinner in the Opera House, I’d come here to snack, waiting for the local high school dance squad to shake silver pom-poms to remixes of “Jessie’s Girl” in the afternoon light. After the buffet of sausage subs with sauerkraut, dumplings, and strudel, I’d returned to await music, first the pom-poms, and later a polka band, much as I’d come to await any such riches. Within minutes the girls appeared, specter like, something akin to a vision glimmering in summer’s golds. Three were six, one was four, two were twins, two pairs were sisters. For an hour, they flung their stuffies into branches, sometimes letting the leash wrap around the bark and limbs. They climbed a cannon. They drew pictures. They told me they were all Czech, though could not speak the language and on Czech Days they danced and danced. One of their brothers arrived and one of their sisters. Twice one of their fathers stood on a porch calling out minutes left until dinner, the sound of his voice carrying from their lawn, across the park, to where I sat with four girls sitting beside me or pretending to climb trees, eating the snacks from my saddle bag or gesturing as they recounted how they decorated their bikes and made signs that said “Go, bikers, go!” to greet The Seven Cities Century riders when we arrived in town for the night. I was one of the riders, even if I didn’t fully know why I’d signed up, why I’d begun long-distance cycling for fun, what cycling gives me beyond fitness and health. I’m searching and I’ve found that when I bike for many miles, sometimes after hours studying the land moving around me, I arrive somewhere that is less physical and more mental, a place reachable only by bike.
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Trixie had been missing for nearly a week. My daughter and I made the poster together, using my computer and scanner and a photograph of Trixie as a kitten. The photo was a year old, but it was the most recent one we had. Fran, my daughter, wanted to write the words herself. I thought that was a nice touch. It caught the eye, added an extra layer of sympathy. “MISSING CAT,” my daughter wrote, in all capital letters. “Trixie is missing,” she continued, a true journalist. “If found, please call…” and here I relayed to her my cell number. “Reward ofered.” I didn’t fix the spelling, or even point out her error. I was proud of my daughter for the effort, and now wasn’t the time for fastidiousness. The message still came across. “We miss him.” That last part just about broke my heart, not because I myself missed the cat—Trixie had been an ongoing pain in my ass since we took him home—but because Fran had picked him out herself, had named him (she was a big fan of My Little Pony, and the fact that the cat was a boy didn’t make any difference to Fran), and because the cat had been one of my daughter’s only comforts after her mother, my wife, left us.
My daughter and I drove all over town together, putting the posters up on telephone poles and on grocery store bulletin boards. The whole ordeal felt embarrassingly cliché. Missing pet posters are something you always see, no matter who you are or what side of the country you’re on, but you never pay them any attention. They’re like those photos of children on milk cartons or on coupon mailings—the children who’ve been missing for twenty years, and they’ve even gone so far as to prophesy what they would look like today—when you and I and everyone else knows those kids are long, long dead. But my daughter and I put the posters up, dozens of them, and left the rest up to fate and the kindness of strangers.
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Our secrets are on sale but just won’t tip the scale however close we hold the cards, however, hearing bells, in post and rope and canvas corners into yellow plastic buckets we spit out however many perfect teeth. The self serve copier is jammed, the workroom door ajar, the self no doubt at home by now and off the clock and on the couch and watching Law and Order reruns and lamenting that on technicalities the perpetrators always walk.