ROUTINE

 I am a creature of habit. I routinely do the same thing every day and if there’s a break in my routine, I’m very sensitive to panic. For example; if I am not having my dinner at 6.30 pm on the dot, I’m overcome with anxiety and worry. My routine is broken, and my nerves follow shortly.

My wife knows this about me. Everybody in my family know this is just the way I am, and they cater to this. Because we have a deep understand for each other’s emotions and we know that the distress is beyond my control. I love my family more than anything. And I am so grateful that they can suffer me when I am insufferable.

Every day I drive to the school at 8.15am and I drop my daughter off. Her school isn’t too far from my offices and I can drop her off at 8.15am and by time the drive from her school to my work – and arrive at work for about 8.45am. My shift starts at 9am, so the extra 15 minutes gives me time to make a coffee, start my computer and pull out the files I intend to work on for the day. I’m sorry if I am boring you. This is the type of guy that I am. Like I said – I am a creature of habit.

My daughter understands, like the rest of my family. She’s seen how enraged I get if she’s talking to her friends too much and I’m waiting in the car 2 minutes more than I should. She knows that she has to be out the car at 8.45am prompt and back in the car at 4.45pm prompt. But she’s an angel. She’s my world. I know they say you shouldn’t have favourites with your kids. But all of my hopes, my dreams and desires I put on Ann-Marie. I love my daughter more than life itself. I mean, with the other two, Steven is a bit of a loser. An insecure mesh of lost dreams and social anxiety. A regular Biff type of guy.

Declan – I barely know Declan. An emotionally unavailable adolescent. The moody, brooding type – that is impossible to bond with.

Ann-Marie gives me everything I want and need from parenthood. Thirteen years old and she’s got more wisdom and foresight then those two knuckleheads put together. Of course, I still love the boys. But when Ann-Marie sits there and gives me some sage advice on how to handle her mother – my heart just swells.

Give mum space when she needs it Dad. I can hear the words now.

And my wife. Of course, I love her, but we too have grown distant over the past 3 years and it’s since I adapted my routine and I’ve gone from insufferable to sheer torment. She does try however, she tries, and she tries. I love you Celeste because you try so much more than I ever will.

***

It was Monday. And I think everybody could see how tightly wound I can be on Mondays. Especially on Mondays.

My wife cooked me a big breakfast and spoke to me in cooing baby-esque whispers. Patting me on the shoulder and rubbing me on the back like I’m a care patient. In the office that day people were asking why I’m even in.

I’d give the same response every time:

“It’s just a normal working day and I got a lot to do”.

I could feel the hushed tones as I approached to get a coffee or walked into the social room on my lunchbreak. I could feel my ears burning in the office whenever my back was turned. I just knew that they knew something I didn’t know – or maybe I too knew and just didn’t want to accept that I knew.

I’d worked the same job, in the same company for the passed 26 years. All the clients knew me, and I guess they too knew my habits and my quirks. Everybody on the phone that day was super nice. Overly nice. The falsities irked me. And I hated it. I didn’t want to be fawned upon. I just wanted my fucking routine.

If there was one sweet spot to this Monday. It was picking up Ann-Marie – because I treasured picking her up from school. She never patronised me.

***

4.47pm and no Ann-Marie.

I started to freak out.

Where was she?

It had only been two minutes. Don’t panic. She’s probably talking to her friends. EVEN THOUGH SHE KNOWS THAT I HATE HER TALKING TO FRIENDS AND MAKING ME LATE.

It’s ok… It is ok. If it gets to 5.00pm then you can panic.

I checked my mobile. A natural response. I checked and I checked, and I checked my mobile.

I called to Ann-Marie’s mobile, but it went straight to voicemail:

Hi, this is An…

I called again.

Hi, this is A…

I called again.

Hi, this…

I could only call so much.

I decide to call Celeste:

“Celeste it’s nearly five and she’s not here.” I shouted down the phone.

“I know honey. Just keep waiting.” Celeste said and I can hear the contempt and impatience in her voice. I could almost hear the eye roll.

“Celeste. How long am I supposed to wait? She knows about my routine. She knows I can’t wait here every day.”

“Honey. I will see you in a couple of hours.” She said and hung up.

How could she not care about her daughter? Her daughter was potentially missing.

After 30 minutes, I got out of the car and I started pacing up and down the car park. My anger sporadically coming out in clenched fists and stuttered shouts.

Mr Taylor approached me in a wide and open gesture. He had this big, patronising smirk on his fucking face and his body language just screamed I COME IN PEACE.

“What is up buddy? You are waiting for Ann-Marie again?” He said.

“I never wait for Ann-Marie. She knows my routine and she’s never late.”

I spat back, the anger already rising in my throat.

“I know, I know. Listen. We just can’t have you out of the car and pacing around. You’re scaring the other kids.” Mr Taylor replied with his big goulash-eating shitfaced grin.

My daughter was missing, and he was the headmaster of this school. How could he not give a shit too?

“If she doesn’t hurry up, I’m holding the school liable.” I shouted.

“I know you will…. I know.” Mr Taylor said.

What the fuck does he know. What does he know?

I decide, it’s better for everyone if I go and wait in the car.

Within the confides of the car I start to cry. I beat on the steering wheel. I shake with all my force the wheel and I can feel the inside of the car violently shake. She’s late… She’s late… She’s late. I see a crowd gathering and muttering to one another. I can sense the herd realisation from the crowd. I can pick it up on it almost telepathically:

Oh, it’s him and it’s Monday…

I start to hyperventilate, and Mr Taylor was right. The passing children (and the parents) were petrified.

I begin to realise that Ann-Marie isn’t just late. She’s missing. She’s disappeared. Up and vanished. And the sinking feeling within me overrides my lust for my routine, and my preciousness about my OCD and turns into something much darker. That feeling that somebody that you treasure with all of your being is gone – and gone indefinitely.

Mr. Taylor the worm clearly called the police because two knuckleheads appear in a meat-wagon.

“You waiting for your daughter again?” Some loud prick bellows into the car.

“My daughter is missing.” I cry through the open window.

“We know that sir.” The other one said. And I swear I catch the loud one elbow him in the ribs and say shhh.

“How do I file a missing person report?” I asked.

“Well, we can take you home. Talk to your wife. Get the papers completed and go from there. How long has she been missing?”

“56 minutes.” I say

They stare at me dumbfounded. I’m surprised at how precise I am, as sitting in that car crying has been a blur – but as you can see, I am methodical about time – to say the least.

“Sir… Your daughter has been missing for…” One officer goes to say something.

“Just… get him home.” The loud one yells to his colleague.

Two hours of paperwork and coffee and tea and biscuits AND AM I THE ONLY PERSON THAT GIVES A SHIT ABOUT MY MISSING DAUGHTER later and it’s time for these dumb fuck police to leave my house and get someone decent on the case.

Before they left, I tried to make them understand my fear and frustration and I grabbed the loud, obnoxious one by the arm and I said:

“She’s always there at 4.45. She’s never late. She’s NEVER late. If only you could feel this pain. This torment of waiting for someone you love and knowing that they will never return to you and that you’ve lost them forever.”

The office went to say something, my grip tightening and again, I see that discreet shoulder push and that not-so-discreet grunt from one to the other one, and they walk away following my wife to our front door.

***

Late at night when I am in bed, I try not to let my mind go there. But sometimes it does….

And I envision the multiple fates of Ann-Marie.

My mind is invaded with thoughts of Ann-Marie’s pretty face. But instead it’s mutilated. Horrific train-lines run up and down and zigzag across, the blood seeping and oozing out.

I imagine the piece of shit that picked her up from school. I try to imagine his tormented face but, in my dreams, he doesn’t have a face (I don’t know what he looks like – how can he?). He’s a blank canvass of hate and torment.

I see Ann-Marie as an adult. On a street corner. Some ghetto in Paris or Hamburg – a thumb out waiting for her next client. Some European pimp cracking a whip over her. Hustling her for money.

Or in a dark room, awaiting the bidders. Some auction taking place for her. I see the paddle boards going up as the bidders do their business and hedge their bets, with wide demonic smiles across their faces.

I see her hand sticking out of a garbage pail and everyone just walks by and doesn’t notice.

I see her at the bottom of a river; her skirt up by her head. Her body stiff and lifeless as the plankton rubs against her white body.

I see Ann-Marie in the back of a van tied up. Or chained to a radiator in someone’s homebuilt cell.

And I have this recurring dream. I see Ann-Marie back at the school. And there’s a red mist everywhere and the school is deserted, except for me and Ann-Marie. She’s naked and holding an umbrella and as I walk through the red mist across the purple sunset, she says to me:

I won’t be late dad.

Just wait for me.

Monday at 4.45… wait for me.

Wait for me dad.

I picture Ann-Marie everywhere but where she belongs… HOME.

***

I hear Celeste by the doorway with the officers. I hear the shuffling of pockets and grateful hands taking what is clearly money from my wife’s hand.

I hear Celeste’s tired and frustrated voice:

“Thank you for doing this officers – it’s getting expensive. But it’s only on Mondays. He just wants to wait at the school, freak out and pretend it’s only just happened. It keeps him sane.”

That keeps him sane.” I hear the obnoxious little prick shout.

“Have you considered getting him counselling?” The other deadbeat said.

“This was what the counsellor recommended. It just helps him come to terms with it…”

“Any why Mondays?” One officer asked. Clearly a rookie.

“Because it was on a Monday three years ago when she went missing.” Celeste said. And I hear that nostalgic bitter tint in her voice.

“The case is still open Celeste.”

“She’s not coming home and she’s never coming home.” Celeste said.

She is coming home. One day. If I keep up my routine, if I keep hearing her in my dreams. And keep going to that school every Monday and try to recreate that day she first went missing.

She’ll come back.

She has to.

My Ann-Marie.


Stock Video: Spooky Little Girl Exterior ~ #43182349 | Pond5


The End 


This post was originally posted on the Reddit community r/nosleep 

Popular posts from this blog

DINNER FOR TWO

CLINICAL (SHORT STORY)

AFTERMATH