They said they would be back in an hour.
They told us they were just gonna take a quick hike, that fresh air and company would be good for mom. They went for a day trip to the national park while we cooked dinner.
Five years later, they never came back. The police never found anything.
No scarf on the trail, no protein bars wrappers tossed aside, no shoes, no belongings whatsoever.
No nothing. It was almost like they just vanished into thin air. Well, actually they did find something. A single gold hoop earring miles off trail. They said the evidence couldn’t be traced back to who it belonged to. No one had recognized it anyway. Now here we sit at the table five years later with traces of turkey and gravy caked onto our plates as retired relatives drone on about politics. It's always the same talk every year.
“What’s on the news these days”.
We sit and we eat. We break the wishbone. We argue. We paste on smiles.
It's a written routine.
As the lights outside start to dim and the wine is drained from the glasses surrounding the table, there's a clamor in the kitchen.
“What’s that racket?”
There’s another noise of pans clashing and grandma, muttering and swearing under her breath, heads into the kitchen.
A scream erupts from the inside.
There is a stilled silence as a figure walks out of the doorway. There stands mother, wearing the same green striped sweater with a scarf wrapped around her neck and blue jeans as well as the same pair of brand new work boots, seemigly untouched by dirt or grime. Her hair looks kept up and the same as it did when she left the house five years ago to the date. Not a single strand out of place. Her lipstick is not smudged. There is not a single pull in her sweater. There she stands, prim and kept up. She offers a smile to the stunned crowd and passes out food onto the finished plates. “I hope you’re hungry! I’ve been cooking all day”. No one speaks. No one breathes. Father walks out of the kitchen. He looks the same. Clean shaven. Fresh cut hair. Same button up and blue grey sweater. Nothing was out of place. It was as if nothing ever happened. Dad sits across from our great uncle and tucks a napkin into his shirt, like nothing's changed.
Nobody moves. Nobody remembers how.
Mom finds her place at the table and flashes a beam to her family.
Then we notice.
She’s only wearing one earring.
Only one gold hoop earring.