Nowhere, by Rory Say
He only sees her sometimes. Maybe once or twice a year, if that, and only then when he’s caught off guard. When, preoccupied with exhaustion or the grim necessities of survival, she slips his mind for a moment that allows her to appear.
Sometimes she’s a girl who stops to drop change into his hat and read the words on the slab of cardboard propped in front of where he sits. Other times she’s only a face pressed to a car window. A passerby in the street, hand held by someone older, hurrying her along as she glances back. Taking her away.
What surprises him most in these moments — so rare and brief he can never decide whether they’re a gift or a cruelty — is that they prove his memory unreliable, the image of her as she was that he carries everywhere and always inside of him to be partially invented and therefore imperfect, false. He used to carry photographs to be shown to anyone who’d look, but over a fruitless period of months, then years, the gap-toothed face trapped in those small mementos became more than he could bear to keep.
Not even in his dreams does she show herself. In the most common iteration he finds himself standing in the kitchen of their old bungalow, counting down from ten with his hands over his eyes, allowing her time to hide. At first it feels playful. He knows she is somewhere; he knows he will find her if only he looks.
But it doesn’t take long to search the rooms and scour the closets and cupboards, and when at last he realizes that she’s nowhere and wakes with a start on a hard surface, his heart going like mad in the beaten cage of his ribs, it’s almost as though for an unreal second he’s waking twelve years earlier on a grassy slope overlooking a child’s playground, now empty, one swing among three in the set still swaying quietly on its chains, a book splayed open on his stomach and his throat filled with her name.
This story first appeared here.