--from The Southeast Review --Finalist for World's Best Short Short Story Contest
The man who abducted my daughter lives in my neighborhood. Today, when I’m driving to the grocery store, I see him outside mowing his grass. I watch him as I drive by, but he doesn’t see me.
At the grocery store I buy six frozen dinners and a bottle of bourbon before grabbing a copy of the Pleasant Hills Neighborhood Association Newsletter. In the parking lot of the store, I notice one of the fliers from two years earlier stapled against an electric pole. The red word MISSING is barely visible, the edges of the paper are curled from the weather, and the photograph is faded, my daughter’s face burned white by the sun.
When I get home, I thumb through the neighborhood association newsletter, and I learn that the man who abducted my daughter received the “Annual Christmas Award for Best Decorated Yard.” I call the number listed for the association, and I speak to the President, Peggy Marks. I tell her the man who’s been awarded the prize is the same man who abducted my daughter. I tell her that two years ago the police called him in for questioning, and that it’s quite possible he’s buried my daughter in his backyard. Peggy says she’s sorry about my daughter, but that the police never charged the man with a crime, that he’s a respected cardiologist, and that in America people are innocent until proven guilty.
Tonight at two am, half-drunk, I stand barefoot in the snow on the lawn of the man who abducted my daughter, dressed only in my white terrycloth robe, a rusty gasoline can in one hand, an ice pick in the other. I stare at the straw manger, the glowing plastic Mary and Joseph, the Styrofoam angels dangling from the branches of the trees. I stare with dead, empty eyes, the way he must have stared at my daughter the day he watched her step off the bus.
While snow freckles my hair, I strangle the inflatable donkey with a string of red Christmas lights. I rip the Styrofoam wings off angels, pry Joseph’s eyes out with the ice pick, stab the plastic Virgin Mary in the heart until the little white light in her chest flickers off. When I’m done, I douse the manger with gasoline, pull a book of matches from the pocket of my robe, strike the match, and toss it onto the straw roof. That’s when I notice the baby Jesus asleep in his crib.
As the flames melt Joseph’s nose into a black lump of plastic, I stumble over and grab the baby from his crib. I step back from the fire and kneel down, shivering in the snow, the heat of the flames warm on my face. I hold the baby in my arms, rocking back and forth. As I gently stroke his face, I hear what sounds like a baby whining off in the distance—the faint sound of a fire engine siren smothered beneath the cold, black air.