By A. Spaice

Where did we leave off last time? Oh, yes: where I've just come back from. I was describing the hideaway to you. So much stuff has happened since we last connected. I don't even know where to start. Sometimes, though, you just start where you are. I got back from everything last week.

I guess when I say “everything," I should give you some context. There was a lot on my mind, because someone I care about very much may be in trouble. I was so worried and anxious, not good, and in such an awkward frenzy, that I just up and left for a while. That was good. I'm back now. It's strange coming back to your old life, tracing your usual steps, but not feeling the same connection with places or acquaintances anymore. Sometimes I wonder if I should go to Europe, and have a look around there, see if I can help with the investigations to find out more about… but I'm getting too far into the details. I don't even know the particulars.

So I should just tell you about the woman I met yesterday. (Perhaps you might recall me writing before about a friend of mine, a linguist, named Mattie? How we usually talk about strange topics, like artfulness and maxims of conversation, does this ring a bell?) Well, I haven't seen Mattie for months, but when we last met at a lecture about Concepts of Communication she'd passed me the house and street number of her cousin, a woman about ten years older than me, she said, whose wisdom I'd enjoy. Really, that's what she said. That I would “enjoy her wisdom." I'm not good at abstract introductions, so I did nothing. All I knew was that this cousin was a self-made artist, earning enough from something avant-garde and hard to conceptualize that she could afford a comfortable life, a decent existence, all alone. Esoteric things and art people aren't my scene, so I evaded Mattie's questions when she tried to follow up. Had we met? Whyever not? But yesterday I was just in the mood. Don't know why. Maybe because my usual world was fragmenting? So I did it. I found the paper with the address and went over. “Hi. I'm a friend of your cousin, Mattie?" She looked like Mattie, almost exactly. “And I, um. I'm sorry I haven't been in touch with you sooner. The thing is, I've… been distracted."

“Work? Something else? People seem to work all kinds of hours these days. It makes me very tired to think about."

“No. Not work. I, um. Actually, I'm… feeling strangely disconnected with everyone I usually hang around with here. They're… what's the word… difficult to talk to now. As though they're all in on some kind of story that just doesn't fit my picture of things… anymore." Words seeped out like small balloons. “Plus, the thing is. I'm really very worried. A very close friend of mine is… missing. On the other side of the world, and I have no idea what to do, or… if…"

“Sorry. But is today Monday? It is, isn't it. Want to go talk about this, maybe at the Museum of Life Studies? It's really close and it's free on Mondays. I always go when I remember. What? Oh, where is it? Opposite Susan's Café, on the street with the giant pumpkin statue, I can never remember the names of places and streets. Want to go?"


What followed reminded me very much of the first time I had met Mattie. An easygoing conversation that felt like old friends rekindling. That's how we meandered amongst drab paintings, brighter ones, stone statues with the morning light angled just so, stonewares, ancient tools that no one could really write an apt description for, and over rugs that made you sneeze. A half-dozen mirrors stood in a line outside of Ancient Ruins, in a hallway filled with porcelain vases flowing with too many white florals.

Mattie's cousin stopped and gazed at them a long while, as though perfectly in tune with a broad, natural world, not unlike the leafy landscape I'd just been hiding out in. In her company, I quite forgot my usual stream of internal monologues. I noticed instead small details, like the way an artwork was hung, or the care someone gave to its framing. Living in the city for more than a dozen years, I never even knew the museum was here. Someone from Warsaw who'd been visiting had once commented on it, how there had been a special silverware exhibition, and how it was exquisite and not to be missed.

I missed it, of course. Looking at Mattie's cousin examining the flowers in this museum, though, I realized maybe I've missed a lot of things.

Then she spoke. “You are happy you went into the quiet space last week. I can sense that." She didn't meet my eye, but focused right on the center of a new bloom. It was oblique, and I didn't know what to say. So I stood, for maybe ten minutes, wordlessly bewildered at the idea that someone so new to me could immediately detect this much. Normally I'd feel uncomfortable, would I not? Yes, yes I would, and I would try to find a way to flee the situation and get back to where felt safe. But something felt different.

I let the moment come that was on its way, so clearly, to both of us. Mattie's cousin wouldn't tell me her name, but whereas I'd have normally found this rather off-putting, in this instance it seemed best not to become overly familiar too soon. Then she said, “Miss Vera is fine."

“You… you know this?"

“Sometimes you know things from the inside. And yes."

“Is she… safe?"

“You might want to go home now. I think you'll be surprised by what awaits." She fished in her large red bag for something, and brought out a large, glass travel bottle. “But here. Before you go. Have a sip of water. Do stay hydrated. It's better."