unfortunate incident

by Susie Applegate

There Painted Hills 1is a disconnect in this town. On the one hand everyone acts like I should already know everything that took place in Germaine during all those years that I was not here and on the other hand, they seem to think I know nothing about Germaine at all. Even my own mother looks at me with absolute consternation when I ask her what happened to Susannah and Albert Arlington. As if I should know, by some special Germaine osmosis, all the details about the incident that everyone seems to know, but no one will tell. And my father is no better with his oblique references to the “unfortunate incident” at the Restin’ Easy in that article about the Patels renovating and reopening the motel.
 
    The Restin’ Easy had been closed and boarded up for nearly a year when I came back to Germaine. Mom and Dad said that there had been a crime at the motel and that the Arlingtons had been thinking about retiring and this just pushed them toward it. Dad didn’t know for sure where they went. Probably Arizona.
 
     I really didn’t think about it very much. I was so busy getting settled in above Aratolla’s and reacquainting myself with the newsroom at The Germaine Truth. It really didn’t occur to me that they could be lying to me. I’d never consciously known them to lie to me before. I remember thinking that I couldn’t remember Mom mentioning the crime in her letters to me. She was more than willing to recite the obituaries of elderly Germainers who were practically unknown to me. She kept me up-to-date on all the weddings, who was having a baby, and what stellar careers other graduates of Old Paiute High might be enjoying. It seems like an abduction, possible murder, the disappearance of the Arlingtons might warrant a passing mention in one of those letters. She hadn’t written a word. I’m sure of it. I just don’t think I would forget something so startling.
 
    I was nosing around The Germaine Truth morgue in my parents’ basement again today. I’ve been jumping around from the old newspapers to more recent issues. Today’s random selection was 2002. Frankly, I don’t even open up each issue. I just read the headlines and if one piques my interest, I read the article. I shuffled through the papers arriving at the September 27th edition at a point when I was about ready to quit and go home. Arlingtons and guest missing. Missing what? I thought it was a poorly worded headline. By the time I finished reading the article, I was furious. I heard my mother moving around upstairs. All right, Mom, I’ve got some questions and I want answers.
 
    “I didn’t tell you that they disappeared because they didn’t,” Mom told me.
 
    “Yet, here it is in black and white written by my father and your husband,” I said. I’m pretty sure that I actually shook the paper in her face.
 
    “Oh, that,” She said. “That was before we knew that they were okay. You can settle down. Nothing bad has happened to Sue and Al.”
 
    “Where were they? How long did the Immaculates pray for them? Did they call up from Arizona and say, ‘Gee, we’re sorry we gave everyone a scare?'”
 
    “I really don’t remember, exactly. I’m sure it’s in the paper. Why don’t you just go back downstairs and keep looking. Are you staying for dinner?”
 
    I did go back downstairs. I didn’t stay for dinner. Or rather, I didn’t come back upstairs for dinner and no one brought it down though I could hear Mom and Dad up in the kitchen scraping their chairs across the floor as they settled at the table to eat. I think they hoped I would just be satisfied with what answers I could find in the Truth and leave them be.
 
    The articles I found were mostly written by Dad. There were wild letters. Willie Walkingstick was particularly fierce in his condemnation of Sheriff Sweet. It was two weeks before the citizens of Germaine found out that Susannah and Albert Arlington were living in some undisclosed location, names changed, under protection of the Federal Government. My head was reeling. I committed sin; I took September and October home with me.

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