Her phone keeps going straight to voicemail. “Hey, it’s me. You can leave a message, but I’d prefer a massage.” Massage. I was with her when she set up that recording. We giggled, though admittedly tipsy, and I assumed she’d change it later. She never did. It usually makes me smile, but today it’s unnerving.
I let myself into her house a few minutes ago with my own key. I can tell it’s empty by the way the dust is settled and the silence is loud. Neither Kate nor her boyfriend are home. I’ve wandered through the rooms while calling Kate’s phone over and over, hoping to spot a clue, an indication that this is all a misunderstanding. Maybe something will jog my memory that she had a trip to take, and I can roll my eyes about all the time I’ve wasted worrying.
I haven’t heard from Kate in two days. Yesterday, I figured she was busy with work. But today, anxiety has been twirling in the pit of my stomach. Something's wrong.
I have no idea why she would go radio silent. I don’t think it has to do with me. We’ve known each other since childhood, so we’ve had enough time to argue and annoy each other and work out the kinks. Our friends sometimes call us “Mary Kate,” one name instead of two, a nod to one of the Olsen twins. It stemmed from the idea that we, Mary and Kate, are inseparable. We’ve celebrated our school successes and career wins together and have held each other as we've sent our failures—namely, ex-boyfriends—up in polaroid-photo-melting flames.
I turn up the ringer volume and set my phone down on Kate’s bedroom dresser. Next to my phone is a framed photo of us jumping in pink bikinis, our bodies frozen in mid-air. We were celebrating high school graduation with friends at Orange Beach. Our smiles are exploding off our faces, despite our evident sunburns. That was a dozen years ago, but I can see the same joy in our eyes in the photo next to it from last year when we finally visited Central Park for the first time. We were wearing matching NYU sweatshirts—despite the fact that neither of us attended school there—that we wore on the same day on purpose and with zero qualms.
The sudden sound of a thump causes me to twist and knock over one of the frames, which makes a p-pat sound on the top of the dresser. I crouch, instinctively, and tip toe toward Kate’s closet. As I get closer, I can hear scratching, which is nearly drowned out by the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. I say a quick prayer under my breath and swing open the door.
Kate’s cat shoots from the floor of the closet flying out of the bedroom in one millisecond. “Lucy!” I squeal, then breathe the biggest sigh of my life. “What were you doing in there?” I ask aloud to the empty bedroom as I shut the closet door.
To my left, a spot on the floor of the bathroom catches my eye. In the center of a white square tile is a perfectly round drop of blood. I grab a cotton swab from the counter and dab it. It’s nearly dry, but it smudges. Kate must have been here today. Though, it could be her boyfriend’s blood. But he’s not the one who’s missing.
I lay the cotton swab on the edge of the sink, just so, where I can save the evidence, like I’m an amateur forensic scientist.
The front door to the house opens and shuts, and in a startled state of confusion, I hide myself in the small toilet room, closing myself into pitch blackness. It could be Kate coming home, but in case it’s not, I don’t want her boyfriend, Matt, finding me in the house uninvited and snooping. As far as I’m concerned, he’s my prime suspect because no one else would have been in Kate’s bathroom besides him. And, well, me.
I hear talking. It’s Matt’s voice. He must be on the phone.
“Yeah, man, I’ll be there in 20. Let me just drop my stuff off and change clothes.”
He doesn’t sound too concerned about Kate’s disappearance. Oh no. He has to change clothes, so he’ll have to come into the bedroom. My phone is on the dresser. Did I pick up the photo that I knocked over? My throat tightens from panic. How could I explain being in his house without Kate here, moreover my hiding in the bathroom in the dark? I pray to God that he does not need to pee.
I hear him come into the bedroom and open the closet door. Two minutes later I hear him leave the bedroom. Then, the sound of tsk-tsking in the kitchen. He must be talking to the cat. A minute later the front door clicks shut.
I wait for what feels like ten more minutes before emerging from the dark. In that time, I rack my brain for answers about where Kate might be, but the answers are just as black and bleak as my surroundings. My eyes squint as they adjust to the late afternoon light streaming into the bathroom from the bedroom windows. I pass by the cotton swab evidence and walk into the bedroom over to the dresser. I pick up my phone, which has no missed calls or messages—heart-wrenching but expected because I didn’t hear it ring. The picture that I knocked over is still lying face down.
The beach photo, still upright, stops me in my tracks. It’s not what I saw before… It’s different. It’s only one person frozen in mid-air, one smiling face, one pink bikini. The person looks just like me.
The answer to this puzzle is flapping around in my mind like a string that is trying to tie itself into a perfectly logical knot but is being flung in all directions by a strong wind. I need it to slow down, to tie itself, to make this make sense.
With a heavy hand I lift the photo that’s face down, the one from Central Park. Like the beach photo, it’s a picture of one person in an NYU sweatshirt, standing alone in the park. It’s a picture of me.
I slink over to the edge of the bed and sit. The room is slowly spinning like a nightmarish carousel playing a cacophony of sounds, nothing harmonic or sensible. I form fists and press them to my temples, rocking my body back and forth. What is this? Where is Kate?
One piece of my mind’s string comes into grasp, a piece that is telling me this has happened before, that it happens often, that I can discover the answer with help. But where, what, or who is my help?
I slap my pants pockets, searching on my person for a clue. I retrieve my wallet and frantically pull out cards, tossing them on the bed all around me. The string begins to tie itself at the sight of the name on my ID. A loose knot forms as the true pieces of my life attempt to separate themselves from the make-believe.
Lucy, the cat. She’s my cat.
I put my fingertips to my nose. The blood on the floor of the bathroom was mine from this morning. I had a nosebleed. Here in this house, in this bathroom. My bathroom. That’s right. Blood dripped onto my shirt, onto the floor. I changed in a rush, didn’t notice Lucy’s entrance into and entrapment in the closet. My closet.
This is my house.
Matt is my boyfriend.
I recite these truths in my mind as though I’ve rehearsed them many times before.
I reach for my phone, go to the settings and press play on my own voicemail recording. “Hey, it’s me. You can leave a message, but I’d prefer a massage.” Massage. I can’t get through to Kate because I’ve been calling my own phone number.
The truth knot tightens further when I see, on the bed, a business card for a therapist. My therapist. I recognize her name. I search for her in my phone contacts. Adrenaline pumps through my shaky finger as I press her number. It rings twice.
Her voice is familiar. I say nothing.
“Mary Kate?” she says. “Hey, are you there? Mary Kate, you can tal--”
I hang up and stare at the photos on the dresser, willing my other half to reappear. Who am I without Kate? I can’t remember. How often do I slip into the alternate reality where she exists? I feel numb.
The phone rings. All I can think as I stare at the screen is that Kate would want me to answer it. So, I do.
“Mary,” my therapist says gently. “Mary. Let’s talk.”