Miranda didn’t answer her mother’s call. Joan became both enraged and frightened. What if? “No, that’s insane,” she thought to herself putting Jordan back in his crib. “Just stay there Jordan, just for a minute, OK? I have to find Miranda.” Jordan looked at his mom with empty blue eyes. Mom was constantly saying things he couldn’t understand, not like Miranda whom he ALWAYS understood. He put his thumb in his mouth and contemplated destiny.
Meanwhile, Tom had gotten a hot pad from the kitchen and was running back to Miranda’s room. He reached down and gave the lava knob a turn to the left. A spring mechanism caused the door, to, uh, yeah, spring open revealing a small staircase leading, leading where?
“I’m on the phone with the police.”
“Great, but come here. We can walk around with our phones now, you know.”
“How can you joke at a time like this?”
“You didn’t believe me when I told you it was ‘a time like this’. Look.” He pointed into the hole, to the child-size, crooked steps of stone. Joan looked down. Her stomach churned.
“Wow. Yes, officer. Last night. She came into our room saying she’d had a bad dream. This morning, we can’t find her. I don’t know. I think she’s wearing footed, pink jammies. She might have her bankie. Yes, I realize she’s five and that’s too old for a bankie, but I couldn’t take it away from her. She’ll outgrow…look, I didn’t call to discuss childrearing. I called to report my little girl is missing.” It dawned on Joan at just that moment that Miranda might really, truly be gone. She broke down and cried. “Here,” she handed the phone to Tom, “You talk to him.”
“What’s that, officer? Trolls? Yes, she did say a troll was chasing her. What do you mean it’s nothing to worry about? YOUR kid? What about YOUR kid? Yes, I think you should get over here RIGHT now and make a report.”
“We should feed Jordan,” said Joan through her sobs. “I just can’t believe she’s not SOMEWHERE.”
“I’ll feed him, honey. Some of the mush probably isn’t burnt.”
The truth was that Joan was filled with guilt. Why did Miranda piss her off so much and ALL the time? And then, at 2 in the morning, coming into their bedroom crying from a bad dream? Any little kid would do that, Joan remembered SHE had done that. Joan knew she hadn’t been understanding; she hadn’t even been kind. “Why,” she hit herself on the forehead with the heel of her hand. “What is WRONG with me?”
“You were tired,” said a voice inside Joan’s mind. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
“Yeah, but, I don’t think I like Miranda,” she thought. “Is that natural? Not to like your own kid?”
“Kids are people, too,” said the voice. “Do you like everyone you meet? The difference here is you have a job to do. With all those other people, you don’t. That’s why you feel guilty. Not because you don’t like your kid, but because you feel you didn’t do your job.”
“I’m an awful mom,” thought Joan.
“Quit reading ‘Mommy blogs’,” said the voice. “You’re perfectly normal.”
The doorbell rang. Tom, holding Jordan, went to answer it.
“You called. Your daughter is missing?”
“Yes. We’ve looked everywhere, but that’s pretty much beside the point now. Follow me. I found the most disturbing thing.”
The two men went down the hallway to Miranda’s room where Joan still sat on Miranda’s bed, holding Miranda’s blankie, tears streaming down her face, tears of guilt.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. We’ll do what we can, all right?”
Joan nodded and looked away.
“This. This is…” Tom gestured toward the trap door.
“Was your daughter’s bed above it?”
“Yes. I moved it looking for her. She thinks it’s funny to hide from us. She’s at that stage.”
“I’ll tell you, sir. Lots of missing kids. Lots of trap doors. Any mention of a troll or trolls?”
Joan looked up, “C’mon, officer. There is no such thing as a troll.”
“Then you explain the trap door, lady.”
“I can’t.” Joan broke into fresh sobs.
“Have you opened it?” the police officer asked Tom.
“Do you mind if I?”
“Here’s a potholder.”
“Ah yes. The tiny staircase.”
“You’ve seen this before?” Joan asked, suddenly grasping the situation. “We’re not the only family?” She’d been wondering WHY the cop wasn’t more upset, why he was acting like it happened every day. Maybe it did happen every day.