From the Antipodes to Here- Part 5

At last, it happens: I go to fix Mrs. Simmons’s hair for dinner and she is not there. I search the whole house for her, calling out her name so loud that Lucille comes running from the kitchen. We look in every room, and everywhere outside, in case she had a dizzy spell or, worse yet, began to bleed again and fainted. But we don’t find her.

“What are we to tell Mr. Simmons?” says Lucille. Her fat face is shiny with sweat and worry.

“We’ll tell him…” I stop to catch my breath. I’m practically dizzy myself. “We’ll tell him that she turned into a fish and swam away.”

“What are you saying, now?”

I tell her not to worry herself about it. Then I go to find Johnson, and he goes straight to the telephone.

The phone rings and rings all week. Sometimes it’s Mr. Simmons calling, who promises to come home right away from New York. Sometimes it’s the police, or a neighbor.

The next week, someone finds the Tin Lizzie in a ditch not too far from the Bay, and Mrs. Simmons’s jaunty yellow hat inside. I overhear Mr. Simmons on the phone with Dr. Hayes: “Sometimes, doctor, women do strange things, when they lose so many…I heard of a woman who was catatonic for practically a year after she lost one…” He asks if Dr. Hayes thinks it was a self-murder. Then he says, “I see, I see.”

I spend a long time that afternoon thinking about those words: self-murder. I don’t think that Mrs. Simmons would be able to murder herself. But Mr. Simmons is right: women go all strange in the head sometimes, and Mrs. Simmons did that more than most.

There are little pictures of Tintagel in all the newspapers for the next month. Then they disappear and are replaced by a sketch of a portrait of Mrs. Simmons, along with a two hundred-dollar reward for information which Mr. Simmons placed himself. People call sometimes and say that they’ve seen Mrs. Simmons in a tearoom for lunch in Norfolk, or walking down a street in Williamsburg, or getting ready to set sail on a trans-oceanic steamer. But it is never her, and so Mr. Simmons keeps the reward.

Finally, Mr. Simmons lets me go from the household. “It’s not because of money,” he says. He seems very sorry. “But without Bernadette here, there’s not much for you to do. I think you’d find better employment elsewhere. Johnson will provide a reference for any of the families near here, should you wish to seek local employment.”

“I expect I will,” I say, and I realize all of a sudden how much I don’t want to go back to my sister’s in Richmond. “You’ll tell me if she comes back?”

“You have my word,” he says, and grasps my hand. It is the first and only time he touches me. His thin fingers are light on my skin.

Before I leave Tintagel, I go to Mrs. Simmons’s room. I find her diary, and I squirrel it in my trunk. No one sees me do it. I’m glad, because I couldn’t explain why I wanted it. The truth is that I don’t want anyone else to see it, not even Mr. Simmons. I feel like it’s a secret that Mrs. Simmons and I had. I wonder if she knew I was looking this whole time. I take the Anne of Green Gables books too, and the pink shantung dress. No reason they should go unread and unworn.

“What time is your train?” Johnson asks me. He’s driving the new Oldsmobile, which Mr. Simmons had ordered after Mrs. Simmons and the Tin Lizzie disappeared.

“Half past three.”

The engine spits and rumbles as we ease down the drive. We pass by the bay on the way to the train station, and I look for the little bubbles on the surface that mean there are fish below. I swam all the way from the Antipodes to here, Mrs. Simmons had said. But we’re going too fast, and I can’t see anything at all.