“Disappears” by Joe Meno
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Joe Meno (Office Girl, Hairstyles of the Damned, The Boy Detective Fails) takes us on a surprise trip to Homewood, IL. Next week, Arthur Nersesian (Mesopotamia, East Village Tetralogy, The Fuck-Up) sets his revenge drama within New York’s East Village.
by Joe Meno
The vice principal asked if I wanted a ride home. It had just started to rain so I said okay. I was walking down Plum Street and was just about to disappear into the forest preserve when he pulled up. He was driving a station wagon that looked like it was twenty years old. There was a rusty patch on the passenger side door that looked like a dark red hand.
I always walk home through the forest preserve ever since last May. Last May I got my period in school and everyone made fun of me. A few weeks later someone slid a small piece of paper with a red dot on it into my locker. I didn’t know what it was supposed to mean. It was one of the reasons I walked home alone. I felt like there were all these signs, that everybody was always talking in some sort of code.
When Vice Principal Gladney pulled up, I was thinking: Is this how it’s always going to be?
I was thirteen and had never ridden in some stranger’s car before, some adult who was not my mother or father or some other person, like the parent of one of my friends. The only friends I had were from music class, and no one but my parents drove me there.
The thing was, I didn’t know Vice Principal Gladney; I recognized the odor of his cologne which smelled kind of green, like pine trees. I had smelled it when I got sent to his office because of the thing with my period. He was the one who called my parents. I got to sit in his office until they came.
I climbed into his car and closed the door and then put the seatbelt on and then Vice Principal Gladney drove away. It was a couple of minutes before I realized he did not ask me where I lived.
We drove around Homewood for about an hour in silence before he pulled up to the abandoned water reclamation plant. There were the empty drainage pools, the rusting, hulking pumps, the oval-shaped water tower that said Homewood, City of the Future. But it had never become an actual city, and as for the future, everything in Homewood had disappeared. The quarry was empty; the paper mill was closed. The International House of Pancakes had become a dry cleaner’s. The strip mall was deserted. They had changed the name of the high school football team from the Pioneers to the Phantoms. The cheerleaders didn’t even have uniforms. They dressed in see-through plastic garbage bags.
I got nervous when Vice Principal Gladney parked beside the shadow of the water tower. He shut off the car and stared out the windshield for a couple of moments and then opened the glove compartment. Inside there was a gun. It looked like an automatic or a semi-automatic; I really don’t know which one. He took the gun in his hand and showed it to me and then he asked me if I had ever been in love.
I told him no and then he got real quiet. I asked if I could please go and he nodded and then I climbed out and ran as fast as I could back to the forest preserve. I ran all the way until I got home. I didn’t say anything to my mom and dad. I just hid in my room until dinner.
The next day at school the vice principal’s car wasn’t in the parking lot, and he didn’t read the announcements on the PA during homeroom, and he wasn’t out directing the school buses after school. Later it turned out he had disappeared and so had his wife. I never told anyone what had happened. It was one of those things. It gave me a reason to go on believing anything might happen, even in a place like this. Since then I have stood in the shadow of the water tower for hour after hour, wondering what would have happened if he had taken me with.
* * *
JOE MENO is a fiction writer and playwright who lives in Chicago. He is a winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Great Lakes Book Award, and was a finalist for the Story Prize. He is the author of multiple novels and short story collections including Hairstyles of the Damned, The Great Perhaps, How the Hula Girl Sings, The Boy Detective Fails, Tender as Hellfire, Demons in the Spring, and Office Girl. His short fiction has been published in One Story, McSweeney’s, Swink, LIT, TriQuarterly, Other Voices, Gulf Coast, and broadcast on NPR. His nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times and Chicago Magazine. He is an associate professor in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago.
* * *
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the submission guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to email@example.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Feb 25, 2013