It is good to be back in the old neighbourhood. As much as the suburbs are quieter and safer for raising the kids, I have to admit I sometimes miss the city. Even the incessant sirens, constant sound of traffic and the general hustle and bustle of people
I've started collecting porcelain teacups which gives me an excuse to visit more often. The kids are staying with my parents for the weekend, so Jason and I have taken the opportunity to tour the neighbourhood’s antique shops, in search of new additions to my fledgling collection.
We walk leisurely hand in hand along the avenues, like not one day of the last 5 years have passed. We make a point to swing by the old apartment. Reminiscing about the crooked landing and even more crooked landlord. We lived here before the children, even before we were married and before Jason was promoted and we could afford this idyllic life of ours.
I find a George Jones teacup that I just can’t be without, Jason duly buys it for me.
“You’ll need a cabinet soon enough” he jokes as we walk along Rogan Avenue, as much as he’s joking, we both know it will be true one day. I hug his arm and feel a warmth roll of me.
“…treat you to lunch and the old deli?” my smile gives him the answer, this was turning out to be a lovely Saturday afternoon.
Something starts to rumble; it grows louder and nearer. I eventually look up to see a Texaco gas truck thundering down the street towards us. Suddenly a little girl, out of nowhere runs out into the street. Both Jason and I jerk in reaction to the disaster that we see unfolding in front of us but are frozen where we’re stood. The truck begins swerving from side to side. The driver has obviously spotted the girl, but the trailer is beginning to lose control. We watch as it skids, and crashes unchecked through the front of a store causing an enormous explosion. I lose grip of Jason’s hand as I shield my face from the heat and bright light. I catch a glimpse of Jason being propelled in the air and watch in horror as he plunges through another window behind us
Before I can properly react, there’s a gun being pushed into the back of my head.
“Don’t move” the male voice says.
“Jason!” I scream, trying to get on him,
“Shut up and come with me” the man grabs me by the shoulder, but I instinctively spin away, batting his hands away. We end up facing each other, his face is covered but our eyes are locked. This man has a worried look in his eyes, like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I’m determined to check on Jason, so I decide to risk it and turn to run but he grabs me by the wrist.
“I don’t want to shoot you, but if you run, I will”
“Then do it!” I yanked my arm back.
Maybe the adrenaline makes me temporarily deaf, but I don’t hear any shots behind me as I dart towards the store that John was propelled into. When I get to the busted-out window and look in, the store is much smaller than it looks from the outside, in fact it’s more like a window display than an actual store. The store front is a façade.
“John?” I call out, he’s not there, instead of broken glass on the floor, there’s tiny pieces of white paper, like confetti, like we had at our wedding. Before I can really process what was going on, a cloth is pressed to my mouth. I struggle but they’re far stronger than me and before long I’m fading into unconsciousness.
A door slamming jolts me awake, but I find myself in almost darkness. There is light shining from under a door about 10 yards in front of me. I can tell it’s a door as there is a keyhole and a halo of light around three sides. A carpet of light spreads to just in front of me but it’s not enough to illuminate the room. Suddenly I realise I’m bound to the chair I’m sat on. It’s tight as I can’t move a muscle but it’s not sore, in fact I’m not in any pain at all. Which comes as a relief
“…Hello?” I say with reservations of a response.
The lights abruptly flip on, long fluorescent lights flicker on one at a time above my head. The door swings open and a tall, burly chested man in a grey tailored suit came walks in carrying a file.
The walls are made of dark grey cinder blocks with no windows, completely empty, except a table and one other chair. The fluorescent light is harsh to my eyes as it bounces off the polished concrete floor.
“Mrs Jennifer Morgan”
I’m caught off guard, “How do you know my name?”
“You are married to, one, Jason Morgan” he reads from the front of the file he’s carrying.
“Is that a question?” I ask.
“Not particularly,” he brushes me off rudely, “we already know that for a fact”.
“Why am I here? How do you know my name? What’s your business with Jason?”
“You ask a lot of question for somebody who until recently was stuck in a dark room” The man says with cockiness in his voice and a smirk.
“I just want to know what the hell is going on” I snap at him.
“Whatever do you mean?” he feigns ignorance which I don’t fall for, even for a second.
“Jason and I were walking down the street, then there’s an explosion. I watched Jason fly through a window and then disappear. Now you have abducted me. I want some answers!”
“I don’t think you’re in a position to negotiate” he continues to smirk as he slowly pulls a gun from inside his suit jacket and lays it on table.
“But I’ve got some questions for you…” he sits down behind the table, and he opens his folder. Taking a pen from his inside pocket, he gives it a condescending click before putting it to the page, “So, how did you and Jason meet?”
“I’m sorry, what?” That wasn’t what expecting his first question to be, it’s clear that he’s wasting my time or trying to goad me. “Where’s Jason? What have you done to him? Is he alive?” My voice wavers, but I manage to catch my emotions and suppress the tear that threatens to drip down my cheek. “Our personal life is none of your business”
Without lifting his pen or his eyes to me, my interviewer nonchalantly says “just…answer…my questions” before casually tapping the gun that’s still sitting on the table next to him. It’s a silent threat, but I hear it loud and clear. I stifle my rebellious side and swallow my pride.
“What do you want to know?” I say calmly, through gritted teeth
“How did you meet?” he reiterated himself
I take a deep breath and slowly exhale through my nose, exaggerating the noise to display my displeasure at being forced to divulge such personal details.
“College.” I say bluntly
“I’m going to need more details than that” he says ignorantly not looking up. That’s what’s going to provoke me before too long, I detest rude people.
“Why do you need this information? What’s going on?” I ask, I’m getting frustrated. “Why was I kidnapped and tied to a chair? Where’s Jason? Is he dead after that explosion?” All my questions fall deaf on my captor’s ears.
We sit in silence for a moment, it’s clear that I’m not going to get answers before he does. I curse to myself and he is still not looking up.
“…Junior year, we were in the same photography elective”
“Jason declared Data Science, he likes numbers, and maths, and stuff…”
“And you?” he asks
“My degree is in Anthropology” he notes my answer without looking up and I wait for his next question with bated breath
“What is it you believe your husband did for a living?”
“What do I believe he does?” That’s a strange choice of words, I think to myself
“That’s what I said” the interviewer says curtly
“He’s a business analyst, isn’t he?” I ask, to no response from my interviewer. My thoughts begin to spin, that question has thrown me. What do I believe he does? Has Jason been lying to me?
“What else can you tell me about his job?” the questioning continues, my head whirls and darts around searching for answers. Jason never talks about his job, from what I can tell it’s fairly boring and mundane, at least to an outsider.
“Fine.” he says as if uninterested anyway, “…and what is it you do?
“I’m a self-employed realtor, but before we had children, I worked in PR”
“Children?” My interviewers head pops up. Shit! I think to myself. Why did I mention the kids? a sense of dread washes down my body.
“What are your children’s names?” I have his full attention now; he is eagerly staring at me awaiting my answer. I think about lying, but I can’t think of convincing names before the timer in my head starts going off that I’m taking too long to answer.
“Johnny and Katie” I say solemnly in defeat.
“Katie is 2 and Johnny is nearly 6” he scribbles down my answer as my stomach sinks into a dull ache. “Why do you need information about my kids?” However, he’s gone back to ignoring me. I’ve obviously given him what he wanted. He is clearly going to use my children to manipulate me or Jason to help his cause, whatever that maybe be. I try not to think that Johnny and Katie might be in any danger, but it’s hard. My mind starts to play tricks on me. Guilty, Fury, Desperation all come barraging into my head, I just make sure not to show them to my abductor. My dad is a former cop so I have faith the kids are safe, he’ll protect them at all cost.
“Any problem you have with me or Jason, should stay between us,” I try to reason with my captor, tears are starting to form in my eyes and this time there’s no fighting them off, “Please don’t do anything to my children” my voice wobbles as the ache in my stomach intensifies and shoots into my heart. I clench my teeth and let out a cry. The interviewer doesn’t lift his head, the cold-hearted bastard.
“I’M TALKING TO YOU!” I scream at him through my pain, I would be flying for his face right now if I wasn’t tied to this chair. I am an angry lioness, and he has threatened my cubs, but as calm as a Hindu cow my interviewer says.
“I just have a few more questions…”
“Fine.” hatred is pulse through me now and I’m already plotting the guy’s demise when I get my hands free
“Why did you move out of the city?”
“Why does anyone move out of the city?” I deflect his question, I’m being purposefully obstinate now, I’m done helping this guy anymore.
He sighs, “just answer the question”
“House prices are too high in the city, it’s quieter in suburbs, it’s safer for the kids, the schools are better, less pollution. Literally a hundred reasons” he gives a slight nod and jots down in his folder.
“You’ll be happy to know this is the last question…” he smirks to himself but before I can ask what happens after the questions, he surprises me with his last question.
“So, what’s with the teacup?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“When you were picked up you were carrying a bag containing a teacup, why?”
“Are you serious? That’s your final question? The teacup?” I can’t figure out how anything we have discussed would be helpful in any way.
“I would just like to know about the teacup…”
“Ok…” I say still puzzled “…I recently started collecting antique porcelain teacups. I have three at home and today Jason bought the fourth” I don’t know what else to say, nothing seems unusual about that.
“Ok, that’s fine” the interviewer says looking up after finishing his last note with a smile. He stands up from the desk, picks up the gun and starts towards me with determined strides. As he nears me, he raises the gun to point at me. My mind and my body go into full meltdown, I’m about to die and I sang like a fucking canary and now this guy has no use for me anymore. I have sold my family out and it turns out to be for nothing. So, I do thing only thing I can in the situation I start screaming for my life.
“HELP ME, SOMEBODY HELP ME” Suddenly there’s a blindingly bright flash of white light.
My eyes slowly adjust to the light, I’m not in the interview room anymore. Directly in front of me is a window looking out to a garden green grass, blue sky, colorful flowers. Not the harsh concrete room I seemed to have just come from
“Mom…” the room I’m in is warm and furnished, a beautifully made bed over by the window. I’m sitting in a comfy armchair and in the corner of the room is a tall, glass fronted display cabinet containing what must be 20, maybe 30 antique porcelain teacups. My grandmother’s dressing table is next to it adorned with photographs, my wedding photo is there and some holiday pictures that Jason took, but there are some of children and old folk I don’t recognise.
“Mom?” a voice comes from my left, when I look around the first thing I see in a tall man in a grey tailored suit, I recoil in horror, it’s the interviewer again.
“Please don’t kill me!”
“Mom, what are you talking about? It’s John”
“John, who?” I say trying to swat him away, but I can’t lift my hand, they must still be tied to the chair, but when I look down not only am I not tied to the chair, but my hands are deformed. Gnarled and wrinkly and completely lifeless. The man crouches down next to my chair and puts his hand on mine. I’m desperate to pull away but they won’t budge.
“Mom, it’s Johnny” he says softly, I laugh he must be at least 50.
“My son Johnny is 5 years old” This adult man has rimless glasses, a grey suit to match his greying stubble and crow’s feet around his eyes. Those eyes, those are Jason’s eyes, the same eyes Johnny has.
“Johnny? What’s going on? Where’s your Daddy?”
“Mom, Dad died 3 years ago…” Johnny says
“In the explosion…” I assume out loud, Johnny gives me a strange look
“What? No, it was cancer”
“I know you are Mom, you had a stroke” he rubs my hand but I can’t feel it
“I had a stroke? But I’m perfectly healthy woman, I’m not even 40” I insist
“You’re 83 years old, Mom. The stroke means you can’t move your arms and legs…”. I suddenly
“83? Where did my life go?” I ask through my sobbing realising I can’t account for the last 40 years of my life.
“What are you talking about, Mom?” Johnny puts his arm around me and pulls me into him. His stubble scrapes against my face. His father was always immaculately clean shaven, “you were there for it all”
“I don’t remember” I continue to sob
“I know you don’t, Mom. But believe me, Katherine and I grew up in a fantastic home, full of love, laughter and fun. You were a great mom,” his words make me forget why I was crying and listen as he continues “…your kids grew up happy and healthy, we both graduated college, got good jobs, got married and had kids of our own–“
“I have grandchildren?” I’m suddenly full of joy and pride
“You have 4 of them” my tears are back, but now they are tears of happiness
“…and in a few short months, you’re going to be a great grandmother for the first time”
“Really?” I squeal “that’s fantastic!” Johnny beams and nods “So, I didn’t miss a thing?”
“…what about Daddy? Where’s he?” I ask hoping to finally get back to Jason and celebrate the good news.
Johnny’s face dropped “…like I said Mom, Dad died 3 years ago”
I’m shocked, my whole world comes crumbling down, “Oh My God! What happened?”
“Cancer, Prostate Cancer” Johnny says sombrely
“He was only 35” I weep
“No Mom, he lived a long and happy life. He was 81, when he died, he worked hard all his days and he had a good retirement,” Johnny wiped a tear from his own eye, “when you guys weren’t travelling, he loved nothing more than spending time with his grandchildren. You two, were in love to his last day. His death was hard…particularly on you,” his eyes turn sorrowfully to me, “That’s why you’re here, so you can get some help”
I look out the window at the lovely day outside and daydream about my life with Jason. When I turn back Johnny is gone, in his place is a man in a grey suit, with a stubbly beard and glasses that I don’t know. But I’m not worried, my husband Jason will be here in a minute to pick me up.