Saint of Disappearance
by Frances Chiem
As she often forgot them, three of Alisha’s neighbors had keys to the condo. This made things more complicated for Marie when small things started to disappear from the home while she was watching the dog during Alisha’s brief sabbatical in New Mexico.
The dog, a beagle mix, was prone to scaling counters and cabinets, so the first day that one of the six the small portraits of saints disappeared from the wall in the kitchen, Marie thought perhaps the dog had simply jumped on the counter and knocked it down somewhere or carried it under the bed where he hid most of his chew toys.
The missing portrait was of Saint Dorothy, patron of fruit trees. Saint Anthony, patron of lost things, was still there. Marie thought this meant the thief either had no sense of irony, was actively avoiding irony, or (more likely) simply did not know what the different saints represented.
Several days later, the portrait reappeared. It was re-hung in its original position, but in a frame that was a slightly different color of lacquered wood. This ruled out the dog’s involvement beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, there were no teeth marks to be found on the wood frame. Marie had looked, just to be certain.
Meanwhile, Marie was focusing on teaching the dog the nuance of the command “Put it in my hand” rather than the simpler, “Drop it.” The last time Marie had cared for the dog, Alisha had praised Marie upon her return, claiming the dog was more well behaved than he had ever been in his two short years of life.
The dog was smart. He understood that a pointing finger meant “Look that way,” knew the difference between “Where is your ball?” and “Where is your rope?” and, when he couldn’t wait for Marie to return from work, exclusively relieved himself on the tile floor in the bathroom where messes were easier to clean. He did not, however, seem to know how to communicate to Marie whether someone had been in the condo while she was away.
As a child, Marie sleep talked. Her most famous incident had been when she sat up in bed in a hotel room during a cross-country road trip and told her older sister, “Don’t eat the sausage,” before laying back down peacefully on her pillow. She considered, at first, that maybe her sleep talking had progressed to sleep walking in adulthood but things had never gone missing in her own apartment in the manner they seemed to in Alisha’s condo. Marie’s girlfriend, Karen, also confirmed that, when they spent the night together, Marie always seemed immobile when sleeping, not even moving enough to steal the covers from her bedmate. The things that went missing in Marie’s apartment were in the range of usual things: glasses left in the bathroom instead of set on the bedside table where they were meant to be, a can opener placed in the wrong drawer when Karen put the clean dishes away in the places where Marie herself would not have put them when doing chores alone, etc.
After the portrait reappeared, the dog woke up three nights in a row at 3am to growl at the end of the bed. This story combined with the moving saints worried Karen, but for different reasons than Marie.
“I think this condo might be haunted,” Marie told Karen on a night when she had come over for dinner. The dog was chomping on a new toy in front of the fireplace. “You’re going to make me regret getting you a squeaky toy, aren’t you?” The dog looked at the women over his shoulder before resuming his chomping.
“Why do you think it’s haunted?” Karen asked, grabbing the toy from the dog, giving him a chunk of rawhide instead.
Marie explained the growling and the saints. Karen insisted on spending the next several nights with Marie, later confessing that she was concerned someone might have been walking into the condo while Marie was sleeping, not because she was interested in potentially witnessing a supernatural phenomena.
The dog behaved himself while Karen was there and the saints stayed in place. Another friend of Alisha’s was meant to take care of the dog for the final two weeks of November, but they backed out at the last minute and Marie was left with the dog through the week after the Thanksgiving holiday.
She and Karen planned to make a small meal for themselves and a couple friends who were also staying in town for the long weekend. The Whole Foods nearest the condo was out of small turkeys, so Karen picked out a large chicken and roasted it with prosciutto laid on its skin. The dog was crazed by the smell. He spent all Thanksgiving morning hopping around the stove and knocking the burner knobs with his paws, twice turning on the gas, to be discovered by the women an indeterminate amount of time later when the condo began to smell.
Karen worried the dog would be too energetic with company over. She banished him and Marie from the condo for a long walk to curb his energy. It was cold, but not freezing outside and the grass was damp. The dog drove his nose deep into the turf and emerged with dew drops clinging to his snout and delicate whiskers. Marie tried to take a photo of it with her phone but he wouldn’t hold still long enough before sneezing or shaking his head and dislodging the glistening water. She later tried to describe how cute this was to Karen, but the effect was lost in the telling.
The friends arrived for dinner later in the afternoon. One brought fried chicken, another macaroni and cheese, and still more brought vegetables cooked in sundry animal fats. There was much too much food and everyone went home with some in tupperware surreptitiously borrowed from Alisha’s cupboard. Marie had had too much to drink and gave the containers freely, loudly promising that she would retrieve the tupperware from the friends at a later date before Alisha’s return.
On the following morning, Marie snuck out of bed with a headache, trying not to wake Karen as she set off in search of aspirin. She checked on the leftovers in the fridge to see if the ghost had pilfered them in the night. All food seemed intact. Not even an extra bite was missing.
Alisha’s condo was nestled beneath the I-5 north bridge going into Seattle’s university district and next to the ship canal bridge. Between the bridges was a narrow, green park where Marie took the dog to play fetch before she left for work in the morning and again in the evening so he was tired enough to sleep, sweetly nestled at her feet. The Monday after Thanksgiving, Marie was tossing the dog’s ball into the narrow piece of water connecting Lake Washington and Lake Union when Alisha’s boyfriend suddenly appeared at the entrance of the park. He walked down the concrete steps, waving sheepishly. He and Marie had only met each other once or twice during parties Alisha had hosted.
“Just thought I would come by and say hello to the beast,” he said. “I missed him.”
“Oh,” Marie said, “Do you work near here?”
“No, I was just driving home and thought I would stop by.”
Marie called Karen after the meeting. “It’s kind of weird, right? He would have no reason to know I would be in the park with the dog then.”
Karen agreed and once again spent the night with Marie in the condo.
The day before Alisha was due to return, Marie returned from work to find the boyfriend standing in the condo’s kitchen, the dog sitting placidly next to him. He thumped his tail happily when Marie came through the door. The boyfriend blushed.
“Sorry, I thought Alisha was coming back tonight.”
“Tomorrow,” Marie said.
“I’ll just leave. Sorry” He dried the drinking glass he had been washing and made a quick move for the door. “Hey.” He stopped. Marie froze. “Do you think Alisha will notice that saint is in a different frame? It broke when I came by to check on the dog. I hit it throwing his ball.”
Marie’s face burned hot with embarrassment. “No, I think it’s fine.”
Frances Chiem (née Dinger) has published work in Fanzine, Kill Screen, and Two Serious Ladies, among other places. She was previously a co-director of the APRIL Festival, an annual event celebrating independent and small presses held in Seattle during the last week of March for 6 years. She tweets at f_e_chiem.