I didn’t notice she was gone at first. As I trudged up the stairs to our apartment I didn’t suspect a thing. I should have, the first clues were there. Our neighbours, perennially unemployed, always heard me come up the stairs after work, and always greeted me through their open door. I should have been surprised when their door was closed, when instead of a cheerful hullo I was met with uncharacteristic silence. They already knew, but I was tired, and I didn’t notice.
At first glance, nothing was out of place. I think I would have noted if the television had been missing, or if the furniture had vanished. Instead when I opened the door I saw nothing out of place, and as I threw my bag across the couch and placed the mail on the kitchen counter, I didn’t see that her favourite couch cushion was missing.
As I pulled a jug of milk from the fridge and rummaged through the kitchen cupboard for a cup, I didn’t notice the space where her favourite mug used to be. “Little Miss Sunshine”, it used to read, emblazoned with a smiling cartoon. I gave it to her after the first week. She’d loved it.
I wasn’t completely unaware. As I sipped the milk and ruffled through the mail, I noticed her mother’s fruit bowl was not on the bench. It had been a moving-in present, the red stained glass adding a touch of class to the usually messy apartment. I glanced across at the dishwasher, my assumptions prepared. I would check it later, I thought.
It was then that I saw the letter, placed in the downstairs letterbox with the rest of the mail, hidden inconspicuously between the bills and the advertising. No stamp or address, just my name in her handwriting. Even then, as I stared at the envelope in confusion, I did not realise something was amiss.
If someone went into your house and took small items, would you notice? Items that individually hold little significance, but together tell a wonderful story. How long would it take you before you would see one picture out of five gone, a pair of salt and pepper shakers absent from a dinner set, a folder on your computer missing? In the moments after I read her letter, I saw the items that were gone. The apartment was empty.
How could I not have noticed? Perhaps if I had paid more attention. Perhaps if I had noticed. They wouldn’t be gone. She wouldn’t be gone.