by Tamuira Reid
Nadia was missing. She had been missing for three days. Three days, two hours, six minutes. Each time a pair of feet clunked up the stairs, a set of keys jangled, someone coughed, laughed, sighed, or took a piss I’d push the door open a crack, still bolted, because it’s New York, because I am conditioned into doing these things. I’d peer into the long hallway, searching for her face only to come up empty.
We officially met in the middle of the night, after a failed attempt at baking on my end. I was standing on a chair, half-naked, using a throw pillow to fan the air around the smoke detector. Ollie cried from the bedroom.
Are we on fire?
It’s okay, baby. Nothing is on fire.
There was knocking at the door. A pounding at the door. I jumped off the chair and put a jacket on.
It’s the firemen, mama! Did they bring a dog?
I stared through the peephole and saw the big blonde Russian from next door. She moved in a month before, right after the drummer moved out. She was a lot quieter than him and wore winged eyeliner and red lipstick and had tattoos wrapped around her neck like scarves. Sometimes I’d see her at night, when I’d climb out onto the fire escape and smoke a guilty cigarette after my boy had fallen asleep, stretched across the width of our bed. She was out there smoking too, hips bumping against the metal rail, looking up at a starless sky.
Can I help you?
Shut that shit off.
Let me in. I’ll do it.
I pulled my jacket tighter around me. She was even taller than I remembered, and somehow prettier. In a matter of seconds, she pushed past me, grabbed an umbrella from its hook on the wall, and gutted the detector with one swift swing. Silence.
It was love at first sight. Who cared if I was straight. I’d make it work somehow.
I gave her no choice but to be my friend. I wouldn’t go away. I asked to watch her TV because mine was too old and cutting everyone in half. I told her I uncovered black mold in our bedroom and we could die of asphyxiation. I told her I smelled gas in my apartment and needed a safe space for a while, just a day or five, until Con Ed could fix the problem.
She made an effort to be a friend back.
She waxed my moustache for me.
How do you walk around with this on your face? Like a man.
I don’t have time. I’m a mom, remember?
A mom with a moustache.
She watched my kid for me once when my train was delayed. They cooked pelmeni together, Nadia demonstrating how to hand-roll each dumpling, how to curl it around the meat. Like this, she said, putting her hands on his until he got the movement. Good, Ollie. Again. And when they sat down later to eat, she would show him how to tuck his napkin into the top of his shirt. Now you save all the crumbs and juice for later.
Mama says I eat like a rhino.
Worse. You eat like a four year-old.
When I finally did make it home, they were passed out on the sofa, the one from Ikea that sloped down on one side because I wanted to put it together myself to save money. A plate of pelmeni waited on the counter.
No evidence of foul play.
There is nothing truly out of the ordinary here. If everything had been left behind – phone, keys, wallet – then that would be something.
She’s an adult.
It’s different than when children are reported as missing.
It’s called a voluntary disappearance.
She voluntarily vanished. Just like that.
The more he came around, the less we saw of her. I started to get a lot of I’ll text you later/been busy at work/just tired. She didn’t come out on the fire escape anymore, either.
His name was Simon. He was from the UK and wore these oversized Polo shirts and cheap gold chains and had big dead eyes. His front tooth was chipped and he’d run his tongue over the jagged edge while he spoke to you.
There was something about him that bothered me. His voice. His shiftiness. The way he looked at Nadia. Or maybe it wasn’t any of these things. Maybe it was that he had taken her away from me. You are being stupid, I told myself. You’re a lonely woman without a fucking life and now your only friend, who you barely know, has ditched you for this asshole.
I bring it up with her later, when we are sitting on her side of the fire escape, drinking chicken broth from coffee mugs. My grandmother’s recipe. Nadia left Moscow after she died of a heart attack and never looked back.
She was making this same broth. And then, boom. Dead.
Doesn’t it make you sad to drink it then?
Sad? Why? It tastes fucking good.
We sit silently, except for the slurping. And the newlyweds bickering on the floor above us.
So, Simon. He’s sorta interesting.
He’s not a fucking psychopath, if that’s what you’re thinking. He’s just a regular man with a good dick That is all. She lights a cigarette on the stove and sits down at the Formica table, using her free hand as an ashtray.
Regular? That’s being generous.
He makes me laugh, okay?
You know, your face looks more Russian in the moonlight, I tell her, squeezing her perfect jaw and moving it side to side.
See. He’s not that special.
How did Nadia and I know each other? Neighbors.
How long did you know her? Three months.
How close would you say we were? Not very.
Did she say where she was going? No.
Did she have family here? They’re all dead. And in Russia. Dead in Russia.
A boyfriend maybe?
Simon was questioned and cleared. I only fucked her, that’s it. He told them she was mentally unstable and that she burned herself with cigarettes when she went into one of her rages. I tried to stop her, but she was a crazy bitch. Hot but crazy. Then she just stopped answering my messages and I moved on to the next. But if she came back around, I’d hit that shit again.
I miss her, or I miss what I got from her. Attention. A return to control, a place that feels safe to me. A place where I can manipulate another into thinking they will always need me.
I don’t know what happened to Nadia or if I will see her again. I kind of hope I don’t. I can say Simon did this. I can say Simon killed her and hid her body in a place no one would ever think to look. I can say all of this even though I know it’s not true. Because I am jealous of her voluntary disappearance. Because I don’t have the courage to do the same.