“Don’t you remember?” I say hearing my breath coming out in rasps.
Meredith shook her head, squinting her pale blue eyes up at me.
My hands trembled as I enveloped her in another hug, sinking into the smell of vanilla that always lingered in her. The soft pulsing of her heart was jubilant music to my ears. I kissed her auburn curls for the millionth time.
“Mum, what’s wrong?” she asked pulling back and placing the colored pencils she is holding on the counter, pale blue eyes suspicious as she looked me over. I opened my mouth to talk but no words spilled out. The chaos and mental torture of the last 3 days still screamed in my memory.
Three days ago, I had come home from work to find a schoolteacher waiting for me. Informing me that my only daughter never arrived at school. Even though I dropped her off that morning. Instant nausea and panic took over as I rushed to the police station and was lucky in managing to articulate what I knew. The sympathetic glances of the police officers concerned but also selfishly happy that it wasn’t any of their kids that went missing will always haunt me.
I was told to wait and as 24 hours ticked by and there was still no sign of Meredith, she was officially reported missing.
I’m knocked out of my trance as my daughter signals toward the clock. Quarter to six. “I’m hungry,” Meredith says with a small smile. I sigh letting out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.
I nod quickly. Maybe some food will help me think more clearly. Did I imagine everything? When should I tell the police? What is happening? The questions rang out echoing through my mind as I got to work almost on motherly autopilot putting some pasta on the stove and watching as the flames rose and the water bubbled. I looked over at my phone sitting on the counter. I should tell the police.
I didn’t want to call them in front of her but with all that happened to leave Meredith alone even for just a second seemed like a decision I couldn’t agree on. I grasp my phone and move towards the living room, sitting on the couch that would allow me to keep an eye on her.
“Hello? Sydney central police department, Officer Sarden speaking.”
“Hello this is Eslia Meunier, I… filed a report over my missing daughter three days ago,” I say into the phone, trying to keep my voice as low as I can.
“Yes Mrs. Meunier, have you found something about the disappearance?” I can hear the click of a pen and the ruffling of a notebook.
“My daughter she…” I say finding the words hard to believe myself.
“She…?” the officer prompts.
“She is home.” I spit out.
“What do you mean? Has she returned?”
“y-yes. When I came home about-” I look at the clock “about half an hour ago, she was sitting at the counter, but she doesn’t remember or tell me anything it’s as if the last three days never happened.”
There is silence.
“Mrs. Meunier, are you sure you have got this right?” I can feel the questioning judgment.
“I’m not crazy. She is here but I’m lost I don’t know what to do, I never asked her anything yet.” I confide feeling my heart pulsing.
“Okay. okay look, do not ask her anything I’ll be meeting you within the next hour or so. Just keep her awake and talking but do not question further.”
“I will,” I say feeling a sense of reassurance taking over.
It will be fine.
I sit opposite my daughter watching as she eats the food and chatters on about our favorite TV show. It’s as if nothing has changed. My mouth is dry as I try and keep a smile. Why am I not happy? Why does this feel wrong? I shake my head as if the thoughts would simply disappear. I’m still in my button-up blouse and coat, the shock of seeing Meredith was all I could think of as I ran and embraced her tightly.
“I’m bored, can I please go to my room now?” she asks again.
“Just a little longer honey, the guest will be here soon.” I lie.
“Mom, is anything wrong?”
I don’t answer I can’t lie again. Instead, I look up at the family portrait down the fall. A photo was taken two Autumns ago. My husband, wrapping us in a tight hug as we hung over the railing of the great Myers Lake the sky a mirage of hued red and orange tones over the navy-blue waters. It was all before he disappeared one day and three days ago, I watched as history repeated itself.
I look back at Meredith who is staring at me. Something about this makes the hairs on my arm stand up. Her eyes… the eyes I loved for the past eight years since she first opened them seem different somehow… Off. I need water.
There’s a knock on the door. I hurry though and swing it open to the now cool September breeze. Officer Sarden stands there, notebook in hand and in casual clothes possibly to not seem intimidating.
She gives me a small nod as I let her in and close the door. We walk into the kitchen, and I watch as the officer gives me a quick reassuring smile.
“Hey Meredith, I’m Chelsea nice to meet you.” She says sitting down next to her. I can feel Meredith’s eyes on me as I grab glasses from the shelf.
“Hi. Mum, what’s going on?”
“Meredith…do you know what day it is today?” the officer interjects approaching the topic cautiously.
“It’s Friday the 25th of June 2022”
“Okay, and did you go to school today?”
“Did you go to school the past three days that means from Tuesday till Thursday?”
“Yes, mum drops me off every day and I walk back, why are you asking me this?” She looks between the two of us, glancing accusingly.
“Well sweetie, you were never home for the past three days, and you were not at school either. Your mum here was worried sick, can you tell me what happened? And how you came home?” Officer Sarden continues her voice soft as places her hand on my daughter.
Silence. Utter silence.
It’s as if the moments are still in time and the atmosphere suddenly feels unbearable. The clock seems to have slowed down and every tick is painful.
I feel the glass of water I’m holding begin to tremble and quickly place it on the counter.
The soft clink that sounds echoes through the room.
“Meredith…?” I say not even realizing it's my voice.
She smiles. Meredith smiles finally looking up at us. There’s an almost golden glint in her eyes and an odd curvature in the way she smiles.
Not the smile I have known not the eyes I looked up to and would make me feel better even in the toughest times. It makes my throat go dry even with the water I drank.
One silent thought screams at the back of my mind.
This is not my daughter. But then… who is she?