So Much Closer Now

The girl detective has just turned fourteen. She will be kidnapped a week before her fifteenth birthday, ice cream in the freezer, balloons wilting on the dining room table, birthday cake gone stiff and dry. The housekeeper will sweep up ashes from the girl detective’s father’s cigars, she will run the dishwasher, do the laundry, leave meals out on the table that grow cold while the girl detective’s parents wait for a ransom call that never comes. The housekeeper will keep the house fresh with opened windows and lemon polish, she will find blank pieces of paper hidden in places she thought she had already checked, turn them over in her hands, over and over, crumple them up and throw them away.

The girl detective, at her fourteenth birthday, has 19,000 followers on Instagram. She shows them pictures of the magnifying glass her parents gave her, what do you want with a thing like that, her mother wondered, poured herself a glass of red wine. The girl detective’s mother doesn’t have as refined a palate as her husband when it comes to wine; she tells the housekeeper to keep something nice on hand for guests, drinks from the same cheap bottles she did when she was young.

The girl detective was holding her magnifying glass above her hand, admiring the wrinkles and hairs and tiny scratches of her skin, she was thinking everything is so much closer now, and her father said, it’s time to start thinking about growing up.

When the girl detective was small, there was a nanny. The girl detective doesn’t remember the nanny, but there she is in the family albums, standing in the background at the girl detective’s birthday parties, one, two, three.

The nanny is smiling in the photographs and the girl detective is smiling and the party guest and her parents are smiling. The girl detective thinks everyone was so happy then.

The girl detective doesn’t recognize anyone in the family albums except her mother and father. Even the little girl in the photos, she thinks, was that me? Was that really me?

The girl detective, sometimes, asks her mother things, like what happened to the nanny, who is this in the photo, can we get some ice cream?

The girl detective’s father goes on business trips from time to time, that’s what she’s heard her mother tell people, he goes on business trips from time to time. The house is always quieter and somehow heavier without him. The girl detective and her mother leave his place empty at the dinner table, scrape their forks across their plates.

What happened to the nanny? the girl detective asks.

I don’t remember, her mother says. I don’t know.

At her fourteenth birthday, the girl detective shares a video with her Instagram followers. She is writing a message with invisible ink.

It’s just lemon juice, she says. It’s not hard. It’s science.

She shows her followers how heat brings the message forth, browning her words into reality.

I’m here, the girl detective writes. She tears off scrap of paper after scrap of paper.

I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.

Cathy Ulrich had a science kit when she was young, but she mostly made messes. Her work has been published in various journals, including CutBank, Adroit, and Wigleaf.

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