That smell, so sickeningly sweet. That god-awful, incredibly strong, perfume only she wore. The kind of scent that makes you want to gag. "I smell it, I know I do! But it can't be. She can't be here," Greg whispers to himself, as if saying it any louder would make it so.
But just as he finishes that thought, the faint sound of footsteps echo from the darkened hall leading to the basement. Spinning around, Greg catches a quick glimpse of the hallway hoping to see.nothing. After all, it's been a long day and an even longer three years, what with her disappearance and all. But in that split second of time, like a video tape in rewind, all those dreaded memories come flooding back.
"God, where the hell is she," Greg says out loud, glancing at the kitchen clock. Lisa was always home by 9:15 and it's now 10:00 pm.
"I'll give her another hour and if I don't hear from her, I'll call the cops," Greg mutters. The hour goes by, no Lisa
Later on that night, the Lynchburg sheriff's lights flash in his driveway and Sheriff Ross and Deputy John asked all those questions cops think they have to ask.
"So Greg, now, when was the last time you talked to Lisa?" Sheriff Ross says.
"Shouldn't you guys just go out and start looking for her?" Greg says with a hint of annoyance in his voice. With Lynchburg's population of only twenty-five hundred, Greg reasoned that wouldn't be so hard to do. But it seemed like the sheriff was going to ask questions first, search later and Greg wondered if that was, in large part, due to Ross's large belly.
"Deputy, you know she's been working as head librarian for almost three years now!" Greg says impatiently, responding to the next round of questions. "She started there a few years after Nell was born." Then "Five years. We've been married five years"
"Okay Greg, now, you know we have to ask all these silly questions, don't you?" Sheriff Ross says in a soothing and confident voice. A much older man than his deputy, Ross has that grandfatherly demeanor about him. "This is a small town, it's kind of tough for people to just disappear but we're on it. We'll let you know as soon as we find her."
Pacing the floor most of that long night, Greg keeps thinking the daylight will never come. As he constantly looks out the living room of his rambling old Victorian home, he notices the smudges on the window."Shit, she's not a very good housekeeper as well as crazy," he thinks.
"What if she's dead," Greg whispers to himself, scarcely believing what he's just said.
He knew that their relationship was pretty much in the toilet but he never dared to think it might end like this. Although, just the other day, he was trying to get up the nerve to ask her for a divorce. Every since Nell was born, it was as if Lisa was another person, controlling, irritable and horribly jealous of Greg's attentions towards their daughter.
Restless, walking from room to room, he wishes he had that last pack of cigarettes he threw away a few months ago. Suddenly one of their awful fights flashes through his mind.
"Jesus, Greg, why don't you just get a motel room?" Lisa screamed as Greg walked into their bedroom.
"What in the Hell are you talking about?" Greg yelled back.
"I saw you with that whore this afternoon. Bet you think you're pretty sneaky, huh!" Lisa said confidently with a steely coldness. "You ought to know that there's nowhere to hide in this town and I'm watching you!"
"I was talking to Mrs. Johnson and she's as old as my mother. Shit, Lisa, you need to talk to your doctor because you have real problems!" Greg remembers firing back.
After that, he insisted she see Lynchburg's good old Doc Stevens and she finally did, for all the good it did her.
It didn't matter who Greg talked to or why, Lisa regularly accused him of screwing just about every woman in town. They tried to work on it, even attended a couples workshop on relationships, but soon it became too much for both of them.
Still thinking about just how much "help" Lisa got from the Doc, Greg shakes his head.
Doctors are so willing to solve all your problems with this little pill or that and the good Dr. Stevens is no exception. Steadfastly maintaining "Jane just has a little new mother blues." So for four years, Doc Stevens, wrote every prescription he could think of except the one which really mattered. The dreaded prescription to see a psychiatrist is, even today, rarely written. Not here in small town America. People here don't need shrinks. They just need to get over it, to cast out those evil demons. After all, shrinks are for the big, bad city where all that pressure just squeezes your head like a gigantic vise. So people in small towns, Lisa being one, just walk around with this pressure valve that's going to burst any day.just a little crazy.
With the sheriff still out looking for his wife, Greg takes a break from pacing the floor and plops himself down on the forbidden living room blue velvet sofa Lisa so adores. Although he thinks he acted like a worried husband in front of them, inside he feels good about the whole thing. It was like some mystical angel stepped in and took matters over. The years of hell just might be coming to an end. No one has accused him of anything and maybe she'll just never come back.
Greg remembers how the next few months were tough on little Nell.
"Daddy, when is Mommy coming home?" Nell would ask almost daily.
"Honey, I don't know, but if she doesn't, just remember how much she loved you."
Greg always felt compelled to tell her that, even though it wasn't true. He hoped Nell would never know how her mother glared at him when he picked her up and kissed her. Then remembering herself, Lisa sometimes put on this grin, trying to appear the devoted wife and mother she knew she should be. Since she Nell was so young, maybe she wouldn't remember much of anything.
Now lying on the couch, something that would have pissed Lisa off, more and more thoughts come to Greg, like how no one knew they had problems. Somehow, they managed to keep this huge secret even in a small town. Then the most appalling memory begins to take shape.
That day, three years ago, was like all the others, nothing unusual. At work, just phone calls from small town business owners wanting to know how they can cheat Uncle Sam on their quarterly taxes. As Greg made that last dreaded turn into his driveway, he tried to shake the same tense feeling he got every time he walked through the door. What would today's accusation be?
"Lisa.hey sorry I'm late," Greg said cautiously. Walking into their big country kitchen, looking around he saw no one, no dinner was being prepared. Everything was clean, neat and in its place. Oddly, eerily quiet like walking into a vacuum of air. The house is silent.
"Lisa", Greg yelled. "Are you here?" Still no answer.
Greg made his way from the kitchen through the darkened house, he turned on the lights, but sees nothing strange. Suddenly, a sound broke the silence. What was it and where did it come from? It happened so quickly, he couldn't place it. Greg strained to hear it again.
"Who's there? Lisa?" Waiting for a response, Greg moved slowly toward the direction he thought the noise came from. Then he heard it again, louder more clearly! It sounded like footsteps down in the basement.
Feeling uneasy now, he walked slowly, softly down the long dark hall to the basement. Groping to turn on the hall light, his fingers finally flipped the switch, still blackness.
"Damn.I meant to change that bulb!" Greg angrily whispered to himself.
Continuing to grope his way to the basement door, he finally found the door knob. With his heart starting to pound, Greg slowly turned the handle. As he started to pull the door open, something burst through with a fury he had never felt before.
In the pitch black of the basement hallway, a demon of a person knocked him down, straddling him with a knife held so close to his throat that he felt the cold hard steel against his skin. The light glowing from inside the basement shows the silhouette of the person holding the knife.
"Stop.get the hell off me!" Greg screamed pulling the attacker over, struggling to get control of the knife, he finally grabbed it.
"What the?" From the basement light, he could see his attacker's face.
"Lisa is that really you? What the hell are you doing!
"Honey! Oh.it's you, I thought it was someone breaking in!" Lisa said, struggling for breath.
"Are you fucking crazy.didn't you hear me call for you?"
"I guess I didn't!" Lisa mumbled, stumbling to her feet. "I was working in the basement and I thought I heard someone breaking in".
"What if it wasn't me.you could have been killed!"
"I can take care of myself.I would have killed whoever it was! The only reason I stopped was because I realized it was you." Lisa said coldly, looking him straight in the eye. The menacing look on Lisa's face scared him more than what had just happened. Right then he knew she was truly mentally ill and capable of anything, even murder.
After that night, they went on with their lives but Greg became more and more fearful of Lisa. He even feared for Nell. Could Lisa really harm her own daughter? Yes, Lisa seemed resentful toward her, but up until that night he never really worried that she would harm Nell. Suddenly, everything was horribly different.
Then, just when things seemed bleakest, the disappearance. After a month or two of walking on egg shells, thinking Lisa would turn up but praying she wouldn't, things pretty much settled down.
Nearly three years later, he's thinking about how great his life is. Nell is doing well, his career is successful and he's even caught the attention of an attractive female client. Things are looking up. Until tonight.
Something is just a little different, a little out-of-whack, he can't figure out what but he knows it. He knew it as he was driving home from work.
Nell is safe, playing and eating dinner at a friend's house. So Greg is really looking forward to a few hours of relaxation and a couple of beers. As he walks into the house, he still feels as uneasy as he had driving home. He checks his answering machine. Reason tells him nothing is amiss, so he shrugs off the bad vibes and snaps open a can of beer. But just as he takes his first sip, he catches the faint scent of perfume; the perfume that he well remembers because he hates it. Lisa's perfume.
Like the jolt of a close lightning strike Greg snaps back to the present. Leaving behind the horrid memories, which appeared in an instant, he focuses on the scent and follows it.
Then he hears it, the unmistakable sound of footsteps. Like they're coming from the hallway leading to the basement.
"Fuck. I smell it, I know I do!" Greg thinks to himself, again, as if saying it will make it true.
After turning quickly, he tries to see down the dark hall.but it's too dark, then more footsteps. This time in the basement.
As Greg starts down the hall, he thinks this must be deja-vue. No. Still, his heart pounds. Sweat runs down his face. And that damned hallway light is burned out again.
"God, this can't be happening again. Maybe I should call Sheriff Ross," he says to himself.
His hand on the door knob, he feels like a man balanced at the edge of the cliff. One more step, one turn of the knob, and he dies. Common sense tells him to turn around and bolt out of the house. But tonight common sense does not rule. Tonight, curiosity wins."
Greg's hand trembles as he turns the knob. Opening the door, the light from inside the basement streams through. He braces for the onslaught. Nothing. Looking down the stairs, everything appears normal. As he walks slowly down the stairs the only sound he hears is the eerie creaking of the steps. Greg's eyes dart around the basement, searching for any movement; he grabs his old baseball bat perched against the railing.
Suddenly it's there, the presence he's dreaded, the god-awful demon of the night, that perfume, the footsteps. It turns to look straight at him with those eyes.
"Daddy.I've been playing Mommy!" little Nell says, smiling sweetly.
Greg looks at his daughter wearing some of Lisa's old jewelry and a pair of her old shoes, her tiny feet swallowed up by them. What had she seen that awful night three years ago?
Greg gasps, then says "Honey.what are you doing home? Why aren't you at Caitlin's house?"
"I wanted to come home and play, so I told Caitlin's Mommy you were coming to pick me up!"
"How did you get home?"
"I walked, Daddy."
Relieved, Greg reaches down to pick up his daughter suddenly noticing the perfume.
"Sweetie, where did you get this perfume you're wearing?"
"A lady gave me some, Daddy."
"What lady?" Greg asks suspiciously.
"I don't know. Just a lady. She gave me some and then went away", Nell said producing the small bottle of perfume.
"What do you mean. went away?" Greg's heart starts to pound again and he grabs the perfume from his daughter.
"I don't know. I started walking and I looked back and she was gone."
Looking at the perfume, Greg's voice quivered, "Nell, this is very important. What did she look like and did she talk to you?"
"I don't know. She had on sunglasses and a hat. No she didn't talk to me. Why, Daddy?"
"Nothing Honey.I'll tell you later", his voice barely audible.
"Daddy, I think that lady wears the same perfume like Mommy did."
Fear ungulfs him. His heart races. He can hardly think, his mind
blank, paralyzed, but for the thought that she's back.
© 2003 Christine Hubbard, all rights reserved
appears here by permission