It was a gray day on a block always the color of the weather, a windy open city street where the neighbors mostly knew and liked each other, a block of block parties. Three children played hide and seek on the paired properties of their next-door houses, indoors and outdoors allowed, with the street as their frontward-facing boundary. They were a twelve year-old girl, a ten year-old boy and an eight year-old girl, the oldest and youngest sisters native to the block, the boy their neighbor friend for several years now. Mavis, the oldest, was counting with her face in the front steps, sort of the lap of the house, while Anthony and Ella scrambled to Anthony’s, Ella following him halfway down the open, concrete-and-potted plant-and-trash-and-hose-and-recycling-and-green waste-barrels side yard on his family’s clearly delineated side before cutting back to her side’s recycling and folding herself yogi-like into an un-broken-down box on the ground that maybe two pairs of boots might arrive in from the internet. The top closed over her and was still, and the boy entered his back yard left through a gate that squeaked as he opened it and again but with the opposite inflection as he closed it behind him, the latch silent in his hands. The girls’ mother sat on their porch, watching the front, a radio from inside the house buoying her with soul music; Anthony’s mother was inside her house clearing her head in the sound of a blender; they, the mothers, were sharing a wandering pitcher of margaritas that had recently been recaptured empty and was being refreshed. It was a Saturday and the men were on separate child-free excursions: gym for Anthony’s dad and Home Depot for Mavis and Ella’s. All four parents the biological parents, fully devoted. The air, hot but not too hot, smelled of trees, cars and baking paint. There was a boy of about eight half a block down rolling toy trucks down his steps, the mild crashing as audible from say the sidewalk halfway between the houses as Mavis’ counting or the squeaking back gate or the blender or music. Except during his fetching of the trucks, the truck-launching boy was in sight through an open front door of a mother who was never in sight of the street. In nobody’s sight at the moment was a silhouette watching the movements of everybody in or moving in and out of sight, the brain of the sillhouette hosting surging kinetic visions beneath which scrolled stuttery calculations as to when, if ever, to step into the daylight. When, if ever, it might all synch up. The silhouette was male, with wavy hair and glasses.
The girl’s mother went inside; the silhouette walked into the light but did not spring features. 12 year-old Mavis, “It,” stopped counting at 30 and with the standard warning cry hurried left. She passed right by her sister’s box, flipping trash and other bin lid flaps and glancing inside each bin in a perfunctory way, as if passing through a gauntlet of boys who demand greetings, before turning the backyard corner Anthony had turned, through the squeaky gate, which she had heard. Part of the spine-tingling anticipatory awesomeness of hide-and-seek: an opening door, footsteps. Maybe peering from one’s hiding spot or maybe only able to listen. Ella in the box, only listening, her breath thrillingly/comically close and controlled, felt the box lifting and hurrying; she was quiet, then screamed joyfully and then annoyed and then in showboaty rage, rocking up and down but sealed up beyond even kicking out against the top or sides, until in a blast of light and air and controlled discomfort, her head was pulled out of the box and a hand covered her mouth. They were turning the corner of the block and she was stuffed into the trunk of an orange car by a man with wavy hair and glasses who, panting, wrapped thick metal-looking and -tasting tape around her mouth and hair, twice all the way around, and slammed the trunk closed. She kicked and pounded the box and trunk and yanked at and ripped off the tape and hair and screamed for real and the engine started seemingly below and around her and the car backed out and then forward, loud, but she knew her screams and pounding and kicking were louder, but that really didn’t seem to matter, except to give her hope later.
Anthony’s mother came out with the blender pitcher of margaritas and two salted fresh margarita glasses made of green-tinted plastic, each with a bisected-to-the-rind lime wedge impaled on the rim moistening the salt around it, and met eyes across the space between the stoops with Mavis and Ella’s mother, who was also just back outside, the look between them neutral but unresolved, referencing quizzicality without quite asking anything, unpanicking in a way that was like braking by downshifting, then both gazes lowered to scan the space between their houses, the still, gray street, and return to Mavis squeaking with captured Anthony back into the side yard, everyone looking for Ella. The boy down the block with the trucks standing still atop his steps, facing out, one truck in hand. The mothers silently trying to reconcile the box-muffled scream or screams they’d both almost definitely heard with the absence of Ella and the It-looking presence of Mavis, who had almost definitely heard the box-muffled screams too and was taking her awareness of that likelihood for the moment as a kind of tricky clue, alongside the impatient and regretful but interest-piqued face of Anthony, disinclined towards a prolonged search preceding his own term as It but openly although not aloud wondering what hammy little Ella was exactly up to. As the youngest of the crew even among her cousins, Ella had learned to grab attention in various ways, was possibly not above “crying ‘Wolf!’” if she thought it was funny, or misleading them all with a fake horror scenario and hiding somewhere illegal like across the street, watching. Both kids looked to both mothers. For an eight year-old girl, Ella was pretty and friendly and girly, so as a rule you more than just generally kept her in sight, you also looked around to see who was looking. As a rule. The four of them wove through the side yard and into the back yard and around the front, checking the usual hiding places as they passed them, their pattern more web-like than grid-like but in collaboration, Anthony’s mom not pouring the drinks or setting down the pitcher and glasses, lifting the top of the recycling bin with the bottom of one of the glasses, shouldering open the back gate and backing through. Mavis’ mother raced up the street and around the corner on the exact route that Ella had gone, stepping through the space where the car had pulled out and leaning out into traffic looking both ways. A neighbor over there opened her front door and got into her own car, the whole time watching Mavis and Ella’s mother. They didn’t exchange words. Mavis appeared at the mother’s side and asked, “What’s going on? Where’s Ella?” The mother looked back at her, terrified, her ears perked, holding the street while she looked at her first daughter, the whole rest of herself like her ears, so straining to perceive that she could not make a sound. A straining that continued as over the next days and years they searched and researched their houses and yards, their cabinets and closets, between their coats and clothes, their crawl-spaces and sheds, their hinge-topped benches and chests, their trash and recycling and green waste bins, their bushes and trees, under covers and behind drapes, the spaces behind their water-heaters and furnaces, under steps, and their neighbor’s yards and garages and sub-porch spaces, the sidewalk and street, the shadows between and under cars, and the whole neighborhood and beyond it, the outward-spiraling roads and parks and businesses and homes and schools, the clusters and groves of trees, the tubular slides, the dumpsters and lakes and cemeteries and parking lots and alleys, the highways and suburbs and farms and forests and oceans and newspapers and television channels and everywhere.