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LICORICE

Ben was sitting on the couch when he got his last glimpse of her. She was climbing the steps. Going up. She was crossing the landing. It was half past eight. Ben was reading Simon a favorite bedtime book--cartoons about slugs--and Leah went upstairs to fetch Simon’s pyjamas. Simple enough. Through the living room archway he could watch her climb the stairs as usual. She was barefoot. Leah’s ankles are strong, erect, broad-boned. She wore a dress to mid-calf (I know this although Ben didn’t say), and the wood creaked under her step. Then the creaking ceased. Ben thought, She’s in the bathroom. Then he thought, She’s looking out the window in Simon’s room at some kids playing under the bridge in the creek. Then he thought, She’s reading something at the desk, some newspaper or something. She’s on the phone, he thought.

She can’t find any matching pyjamas.

But Leah had never cared about matching pyjamas, before.

He thought, She hit her head.

And he went up to take a look.

There’s a closet in their bedroom, under the eaves. The door is child-sized. The space has room enough for boxes, crates, camp trunks, the floor rough-hewn, the rafters showing, no insulation, the air close and smelling of bats. After looking upstairs and finding no sign of Leah, and after looking in the kitchen, in the basement, and then checking on Simon, and then checking the front porch and up and down the street and even over in the creek where the boys still tossed stones, and after checking upstairs in the bedroom again and in Simon’s room behind the crib where she kept some of his clothing, Ben opened the door to the eaves and looked in there, first without a flashlight, then with. He showed the flashlight beam around and called, “Hey, Leah,” in what he described to us as a perfectly natural voice, because at the time it seemed entirely likely to him that she was in there. Then Simon started crying downstairs, and the telephone rang. It was us. We were calling to see if they wanted to go for a walk.

“I think Leah already went for a walk, or something,” Ben said,

“Oh. Is she headed this way?”

“She is?”

“What?”

“Is she headed your way?”

The New Yorker called LICORICE “bewitching.”