Years ago, before their son was born, she stopped asking his name. He doesn’t call her during the day. He doesn’t own a cell phone.
When he’s in the shower, she opens his briefcase. Once she found hundreds of cough drop wrappers; another time, pieces of a violin. She has found many things: tinfoiled pizza, porcelain tea cups, dried sage, a swallow nest, two maracas, a half-burned candle. She has never found a wallet, a receipt, a photo, a letter, a pen or pencil, or a woman’s hair.
This time, as he sings to their son in the shower and she hears the tiny voice mimicking him, the briefcase holds three orange peels and a flashlight.
If he showers, it means he’s spending the night. She makes the bed fresh, puts as many toys away as she can, pushes books under the bed.
The water is off. Tonight she won’t have to answer “Where’s Dada?”
In the morning, three hundred dollars on the stereo before he leaves for work with a note “Don’t spend it on bills.” A smiley face is below his handwriting. Four swipes of the pen. One for the head, two for eyes and the fourth for the cheerful mouth. She puts the note in the envelope underneath her sweaters.
She doesn’t know what he does for a living. He returns while the child is in the highchair eating curly pasta and beans. At shower time she finds a single palm frond.
In the morning he leaves cash to cover the entire month’s bills on the stereo just like he does every first of the month. A note is clipped to the money. “My briefcase is my private property.”
The child bangs his bottle on a chair, “Mamma, mamma.” He points to the bookcase.
The palm frond leans there, curved, as if it is lazily swaying. A breeze from the overhead fan blows the frayed tips. Did she leave it out last night? Was a tip of it showing?
She is embarrassed, she never asked what he carried, nor did she let him know that she peeked. She gives the frond to the child who waves it around the house, touching the dog’s tail, the backs of chairs, the dishtowels.
In the afternoon, at the beach, she buries their son’s legs in the sand and practices in her head explanations.
After dinner he is still not home. The child falls asleep on his stomach, legs tucked under, diapered bottom in the air.
The air is hot and she opens the windows, hoping and praying the bed won’t be empty for long.
In the morning, the stereo is empty.
The next four mornings are the same.
On the fifth morning—he has never been away this long—she gathers all the notes. While the boy is sleeping, and after she studies him for signs of his father, she spreads the notes on the table in the order received. There are forty-nine notes, ranging from “Good morning sleepyhead,” to “A little extra just because.” None of them are stern, unhappy, or challenging.
On the eighth morning, she removes money from her savings to buy cat food and a new set of bed sheets with a wild purple iris print.
On the seventeenth morning, she looks in the phone book for private detectives.
On the thirty-second morning, she stays in bed and calls her mother to babysit.
On the thirty-seventh morning, her mother says that if a person is so sick they can’t get out of bed for five days, they should go to the doctor. Her mother leaves.
On the fifty-ninth morning, again she thinks she sees him in the park, but it isn’t him.
On the seventy-third evening, while dancing with her son to a recording of Russian lullabies, the door opens and a man with a briefcase enters. This man has a beard, is gaunt, and pale. He says, “My name is Richard.”