The Mailer Review/Volume 13, 2019/Silent Night

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« The Mailer ReviewVolume 13 Number 1 • 2019 »

When Carol disappeared, she was fifty years old. The police department flier described her the way I remembered her: five feet six, blond, thin, a smoker of cigarettes. In this way it was as if high school Carol was missing, the girl with the best clothes and the eyes and the beautiful, drunken laugh. Her disappearance brought back our town with its main street and its winding suburban lanes clotted with fallen maple leaves. It brought back Paul Ruskin and his truck, and my receptionist job in the manufacturing company across the street from the gas station where he worked, the Grote & Weigel hot dog factory next door, the Hole-in-the-Wall Theater and its production of Hair.

Some suggested Carol was careless. These were fellow high school classmates who straightened out and went to college, married well and had three children. Carol waitressed at a tavern and went into the beauty industry, suffered addictions and, sometimes, driving into trees, and arrests with drugs and paraphernalia in the car in towns like New Britain and Derby, places my father called the armpit of Connecticut. He meant our town was nothing like these.

Once, looking through a book of picture riddles with my grandson, we came to the final page, titled “Silent Night.” It was a snowy nighttime scene, a town with a church and a railroad crossing and a farm with a fence and small, safe houses with snow-covered roofs tucked along the road, their windows a pale yellow glow. Beyond the town were the edges of woods, crests of hills. The photographer claimed to have constructed the four by eight foot set out of wood and chicken wire. He used baking soda for snow. But in the photograph the town looked real—the moon lighting everything bluish, the night so dark the objects we sought were barely perceptible: a glove, a horse, a gate, a silver coin, the shadow of a skate.

“This is just like the town I grew up in,” I said, and then immediately wanted to pull the words back."

Carol’s house was two down from mine. We were friends from childhood up through high school, though she was a year behind me. I graduated and got a full-time job filing and answering phones and filling in pink “While You Were Out” slips. Carol cheered at Homecoming and made culottes in Home Ec. That first year of work, I went to my company Christmas party at the Sheraton ballroom downtown. I wore a peach satin halter dress, one that I imagined Carol would have worn herself. I had the money, finally, to buy the clothes I always wanted—still living at home, paying a small car loan. The only coat I owned was a parka, and I didn’t think it matched the dress, so when Paul Ruskin picked me up in his truck I rushed down the front walk of my mother’s house with nothing on but the dress and a pair of black velvet heels. I never brought a purse with me on dates. The house was always left open, and I knew I didn’t have to pay.

. . .