The Girls Men Take
by Madeline Anthes
The neighbors never know. They say they had no idea. That family always kept to themselves. It is a quiet neighborhood after all. Nothing bad happens in quiet neighborhoods.
The neighbors say they thought, maybe, if they thought about it, some things were off. They didn’t see the people who lived there often. They knew there were teenagers in the house, but, come to think of it, the teens never came outside. They didn’t meet at the bus stop; they all assumed those teens were home schooled. Their own kids had never asked those kids to sleep over. No one even knows those kids’ names, which was odd, now that they thought about it.
The neighbors gather in the front lawn with gaping mouths, watching the garish caution tape flapping in the winter wind. Unbelievable, they say. How could a monster live so close? Sets of walls and a driveway the only things separating their families from that man’s evil.
The neighbors hug their children close and breathe a sigh of relief. They know now that whatever they’ve thought before, their own lives, in comparison, are far better. It doesn’t matter that their student loans are still looming fifteen years after graduation, or that their sex lives are waning. It doesn’t matter that they have two back-to-back dentist appointments next week. It doesn’t matter that they need to upgrade the siding on their houses, or shovel the back patio, or get their sewer lines cleared. They, thank heavens, are normal people with normal people problems.
Really puts things into perspective, they say before they go back into their homes and lock the deadbolts. Soon, they hope, their neighborhood will be quiet once again.
The Girls’ Parents
They suppose they’re women now, and not girls. But when they last saw them, they were girls. They wore faded jeans and headphones, their attitudes as visible as their choker necklaces and black eyeliner.
We used to fight, their mothers say. Don’t all teenage daughters fight with their mothers?
They think the girls ran away at first. But then it becomes clear.
The families are told that after some time, it’s likely that the girls are dead.
But what mother can believe that? What mother can allow herself to believe that there’s no hope of seeing her daughter again? The mothers say, no, no, there is always a chance.
Yet, some days it seems possible. Some days they pass their daughter’s unmade bed, left as it was before she disappeared, and think maybe it’s time to move on. Time to pack up their tank tops and capri pants, box up their books and take down the Backstreet Boys posters from the walls.
But they don’t. Because no body has been found, so there’s still hope.
When the families find out the girls were so close all along – the other side of town, the next town over, doors away – they are angry with themselves. How could they not have found them sooner? Shouldn’t they have been able to sense them nearby?
The girls hug their parents and retreat to their old bedrooms and shut the door. The parents talk to the reporters and say how they never lost hope.
But when the parents get in bed later that night, they whisper to each other, asking if it’ll ever be the same again.
They are women now. There was no time between girlhood and womanhood. It just happened overnight. One afternoon they are girls walking home from school; the next morning they are women in a dark room.
Afterward, some of the women talk and some stay silent. The talkers go on the news and publish books. They let the world into the darkness they’ve suffered alone for so long. People tell them it’s unbelievable. They have such courage, and the women say yes, yes, they know.
The ones who stay silent would like the world to look elsewhere for their entertainment. There are some things that happened that shouldn’t be shared. These stories should die in the darkness where they were born.
At night in their childhood bedrooms, the women take down the posters and pictures. They throw away their teenage clothes and platform shoes. They close their eyes and take in the silence, knowing that they can sleep uninterrupted. They should feel safe there.
One day they will get married and some will have children. They will tuck the story of their pasts into their pockets. The story never leaves them, and it’s always at hand. They can keep it hidden if they want.
There are bad days. There are days when they jump at the sound of a creaky door. Sometimes they stay in bed all day after hearing a ticking clock or a barking dog, and they don’t know why. There are days their spouses go to touch them and the women pull away and say not now.
But there are good days too. There are days when they don’t think about the man at all. Or, at least, not as much as they used to. Days when their children laugh and their husbands and wives kiss their cheeks gently. Days when their parents come for dinner and they get into stupid fights over doing dishes, and their mothers don’t walk around them like they’re breakable and brittle.
Some days they walk to the park and feel the sun on their necks, and stretch their arms above their heads as they walk. They close their eyes and try to wipe their minds clean, pretending that they can hold onto that feeling forever.
Madeline Anthes is the acquisitions editor for Hypertrophic Literary and the Assistant Editor of Lost Balloon. Her writing can be found in journals like WhiskeyPaper, Little Fiction, and Jellyfish Review. Her chapbook, Now We Haunt This Home Together, will be released with Bone & Ink Press in February, 2020. You can find her on Twitter at @maddieanthes, and find more of her work at madelineanthes.com