The women who went to town returned to Westchester House on schedule, but Anne was not among them. No one knew where she had gone. Laurie was not unduly alarmed. Anne would show up later or tomorrow with some outrageous excuse for her absence. Three days passed with no word from Anne, who was now officially missing. Laurie was worried and so were their friends. At dinner, they sat at a table in front of the buffet counter, very dispirited as they ate, complaining that the roast beef was overcooked, the Parker rolls as hard as golf balls, and where in the fuck was Anne? “I phoned Deborah,” Fat Agatha said, her puffy face sweating, “and scared the hell out of her. She said homeless women were always in danger of being beaten up, robbed and ending up in the morgue.” “Vete el Diablo,” Rosie, interrupted, “don’t even think that. Wherever Anne is, she can take care of herself.” Nancy, as belligerent as ever, pointed her fork at Laurie. “Where did Anne go instead of shopping? I think you know more than you’re telling us.” “Screw you,” Laurie retorted. That was the last word on the subject. They finished their dinner in silence. Only Abigail, pale and withdrawn, had made no comment, eating her food with brooding intensity. Her room was next to Laurie’s, and after dinner they walked back to their quarters together. There was a gentle knock on her door. “Come in.” It was Mrs. Broady standing in the doorway. “I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, as Laurie rose to her feet. “We usually don’t question our residents about each other.” “No bother,” Laurie replied. “Do you know where Anne went when she left here?” “She said she was going shopping.” “Do you have any idea where else she might have gone?” “No,” Laurie lied. “We have notified the authorities that she’s missing. Anne can go wherever she pleases, of course; we just want to know that she’s all right. If she contacts you, I would appreciate it if you let me know.” “I will,” Laurie said, now fully alarmed. “And please keep me informed, if you hear anything.” “Of course.” Turning around to leave, Mrs. Broady stopped. The shawl covering the mirror had caught her attention. “Laurie, why is…?” Interrupting, Laurie hurried to explain. “I read somewhere the folklore that when somebody died, all the mirrors in the house were covered. That’s so their spirit wouldn’t get trapped in the glass and be unable to continue to the next world.” Mrs. Broady nodded. “I’ve heard a similar Irish folk tale. So you’re mourning the loss of someone dear to you?” “Yes.” “Please accept my condolences.,” She looked so weary, so haggard, that Laurie inwardly cringed. Mrs. Broady had enough to deal with without this crazy shit. Tell her the truth, that you covered the mirror so you couldn’t see your hateful self in it. Tell her now. “Sometime soon,” the house manager said into the silence, “perhaps you will share this folklore with us at a group session. Good night, Laurie.” ***** The garden was a sanctuary. The evergreen pines smiled down on the peonies and hydrangeas that lined the pathway, and they in turn, secure in their floral beauty, encouraged the troubled female soldiers to sit on the benches and admire them. On the way to her psychiatrist appointment Laurie sat down in the garden for a moment to compose herself, attracted by a purple hydrangea swaying in the gentle breeze. The blossom was so lovely, its florets so delicate and exquisite, that she allowed it to occupy her mind and soothe her, which was unusual. She had not been bewitched by the flowers before. The psychiatrist’s office was a small room sparsely furnished. When Laurie arrived Dr. Anita Holloway was putting some folders in a file cabinet next to the window. An attractive, trendy woman, she was wearing a v-neck ruffled blouse, her stiletto heels tapping rhythmically on the floor, as she walked to her desk. She had grey eyes that intrigued Laurie, eyes so colorless that they were not a barrier but an invitation to step inside, trust me. The analyst had two children and a psychiatric degree from Columbia University. Laurie decided that if her shrink could juggle all of those responsibilities, then she herself could surely get her act together. “Good morning, Laurie,” Dr. Holloway greeted her. “I love it when my clients appear on time. It means they’re looking forward to our meeting, and I don’t have to hunt them up like a witch on a broomstick.” “You’re a good witch,” Laurie replied, “and I’m glad to know you.” She sat down on the chair facing the desk. The analyst smiled. “Thank you. “I’m going to turn on the tape recorder now. Okay?” “Yes.” “Other than Anne still being missing, is there anything in particular upsetting you today?” Laurie was startled. “Why do you ask? “Your hair is on the wild side.” Distracted, Laurie had not picked and shaped her Afro as usual, and her wooly hair was shooting out at in all directions. She patted it into shape, a sheepish look on her face. “I dreamed about my dead grandmother last night, doctor. She was straightening my hair. I said, ‘Mamarita, don’t you like my Afro?’ She didn’t say anything, just kept on straightening it. Then I woke up.” “What do you make of that dream?” “Nothing much. My grandmother was a beautician, and that’s what she did for a living. Straightened people’s hair, including mine ever since I was little. Since she didn’t answer me, I guess my Afro’s okay with her.” “Is that important to you?” “Well, I always wanted to look like her, and she didn’t have an Afro. She was a black beauty really. Once, when I was little and she told me, if I ate my carrots, it would make me petty, I gobbled them down and raced to the mirror. To my disgust I hadn’t changed at all. Even eating carrots couldn’t make me beautiful like her.” “Sounds like you loved her very much.” Laurie nodded. “She was always so proud of me.” “Why did this dream about her disturb you?” “The Viet Cong never called me a nigger.” Dr. Holloway did not blink. “The Viet Cong, Laurie?” “That’s what my grandmother said quoting Muhammad Ali.” “She was one of his fans?” “Not a boxing fan just him refusing to fight in Vietnam.” “And what has that to do with you?” Laurie’s voice grew stronger tinged with self contempt. “The Iraqis never called me a nigger.” The words sat in the room like a living presence, an accusation she could not deny. “I went to war willingly, doctor. The National Guard had been good to me, so I was paying my dues. And I was too young to be afraid of dying. Death was not my friend. I would do my tour of duty honorably for my country and come home a respected veteran. But I should have been a conscientious objector. Perhaps if I hadn’t called them fucking hajjis and ragheads, I wouldn’t have been so trigger-happy. My grandmother would not be proud of me. I refused to think about how she hated war. Shoved it into the back of my mind and forgot about it.” “Until now.” “Yes. It made me feel so guilty.” “Let’s get this straight, Laurie. You feel guilty about being a soldier but suppressed the fact that your grandmother was anti-war. Correct?” “Yes. It seemed like double jeopardy.” “Indeed it is,” the doctor agreed. “One of our goals here is to unravel guilt and its damaging trauma. But we can’t do that when there is concealment.” Stubbornly Laurie repeated. “My grandmother would not approve of what I did.” “That’s understandable. She may not approve, but would she disown you?” “Disown?” Laurie repeated, her mind tangling with the word. To not own me, her flesh and blood? Her beloved grandchild. Mamarita, I call your name and you always come. No disrespect came from the grave. n ***** Inside her room Laurie collapsed in the chair, feeling that it wasn’t like Anne to leave her in the lurch. How could she cover for her friend, if she didn’t know what in the hell went down? Anne did not cry, which Laurie understood. Weeping did not alleviate guilt married to your soul.