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Authors: Katherine Holubitsky

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BOOK: Hippie House
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“Look at me,” I sniveled to my dad. Shortly after I'd slammed the door and flung myself across my bed, he'd knocked softly, and after receiving no answer, walked in. “It looks like I fell into
a roll of metal fencing and couldn't get up again. I hate these braces. I want them off my teeth!”

“Emma, you know that would be a mistake.”

“But they make me look so ugly. And my hair. It's so thick and ratty. I iron it over and over again and I still can't make it straight.”

“Hmm.” Having no idea of current fashion trends, yet not wanting to belittle my need to follow them, my father was at a disadvantage. He thought for a moment, considering what in his world would work as a solution to my problem. “Well, if you come up to the workshop we could try the soldering gun. How straight does it have to be?”

And suddenly I began to laugh nearly as hard as I had cried.

He smiled, obviously relieved. “Emma, you can only be who you are. Don't ever try to change that; but make the most of it.”

They were such simple words, but I've never forgotten them. I only wish I had begun to follow them at that moment. But I didn't know who I was at that moment, so it is probably not remarkable that I didn't follow them, not for many more years.

Angie broke up with Eric shortly after Halloween. He did not tell me the circumstances, but I think it had just run its course. He didn't appear overly devastated, but again, my brother was so very good at keeping his feelings inside. Eric reverted back to his old ways, combing his hair once a day and, in a pinch, wearing whatever he found on the floor. He did his chores and occasionally even offered to do mine. Tired of studying crosswinds and radio communication, wandering around the house in no particular direction on a Sunday afternoon, he stuck his head in my door and asked me if I wanted a game of Monopoly.

I was teaching myself to install this great new invention—an invisible zipper that was sewn in a sort of inverted way. I had already sewn it in wrong. I was ripping it out, anxious to do it the right way and curious to see the end result, but I hesitated
only a moment before setting the seam ripper aside. “Alright, I'll have you a game.”

Eric leaned against the doorjamb. “By the way, I need you to fix the pocket on my red and white shirt. I caught it on a nail in the tractor shed.”

“Okay. But not until I get this zipper in right.”

“I'll go set up the game. What do you want to be—the usual?”

The usual when we played Monopoly was the thimble. Eric was always the car.

“Yeah. No, you know what? I think I'll be the horse this time.”

“The horse? Okay, if you want.” He turned to leave, but a thought seemed to bring him back. “One thing about Angie— she couldn't sew.”

It was not said with any particular distaste, but rather, it seemed to strike him as a curious fact.

“Oh really?” I said. Although I didn't think it the mystery that Eric obviously did. I'd never thought of it as a particularly glamorous or difficult thing to be able to do.

But he continued to stand there. “Yeah. She couldn't even sew a button on a shirt.”

“Well, maybe she just didn't like it. Lots of girls in home ec think it's boring.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Eric said.

MEGAN AND I WERE
at the castle when we first heard that Katie Russell had disappeared. Ruby was teaching us to macramé. As the snow blew outside and a fire spit and crackled in the mammoth fireplace, we sat on the rug gathered around her while she demonstrated the double half hitch. Hetty had just dropped
American Woman
on the console stereo at the same time as the telephone in the kitchen rang. Ruby left to answer it. Hetty
lowered the volume while Megan and I fumbled through a couple of double half hitches on our own.

From where we sat we could hear Ruby's concerned voice. She was obviously talking to Hetty's sister, Tanya, attempting to calm her down. Hetty turned the record player off and we listened. It seemed that Katie had not come home the night before and Ruby was agreeing that it was certainly not like her not to call.

Pike Creek was hardly a dangerous place, but as Hetty quietly informed us as we listened to her mother's side of the conversation, Katie and Tanya had always let one another know where they were out of courtesy.

Ruby tried to get Tanya to remember if Katie hadn't said something that she might have forgotten, a date that might have slipped her mind. But judging from Ruby's end of the conversation, Tanya must have been quite positive that Katie had not mentioned going anywhere. Yes, Tanya had contacted the seniors' home where they both worked, and Katie had completed her shift, which had ended at ten o'clock. Tanya had also called Katie's parents, who had not seen her and could not guess where she might have gone. And now they were frantic. No, she had not packed anything, taken anything—for heaven's sake, her insulin kit was still there. Tanya knew Katie had not come home and gone out again because it had not been disturbed. Ruby ended the conversation by assuring Tanya that she would be right over.

“I'm sorry,” she apologized, collecting her car keys from the hall table. “We'll have to finish another time.” After donning her coat, she stopped briefly before the door. “Now, where could that girl have gone?”

It was said without fear, but with true curiosity. Because, indeed, in Pike Creek, where could Katie have gone? Hetty wanted to accompany her mother, so Ruby dropped us off at Uncle Pat's farm on their way into town.

Aunt Alice was in the kitchen, where she had just hung up the telephone after speaking with Mrs. Fraser. Apparently the last person to see Katie was Mrs. Bolton, Jimmy's elderly grandmother who lived at the seniors' home. Unable to sleep, she had been sitting alone in the common recreation room watching the late-night news on TV. Three days earlier, police had raided the hideout of the FLQ members responsible for the murder of Quebec's minister of labour, Pierre Laporte. Only one of the members was arrested; the others had managed to escape. The whereabouts of British trade commissioner James Cross, who had also been kidnapped, was still not known.

Mrs. Bolton recalled that she was watching the terrifying images of tanks and military troops rumbling through the streets of Montreal when Katie walked into the room.

“The whole world has gone crazy,” she'd told Katie when she stopped to give her a hug on her way out.

“Only outside of Pike Creek,” Katie had answered. “You and me, we're just fine. See you tomorrow.” And she'd headed out the door.

Once she had told us this, Aunt Alice sat down at the kitchen table. “I wonder where Katie could be?”

It was the second time I had heard the question asked in the space of half an hour. But this time it was asked in a much more apprehensive tone. This, I thought, was due to the diverse nature of the two women I had heard ask it. Ruby, who thought in the abstract, who I considered to be carefree and probably, as a young woman of eighteen herself, more likely to follow a whim on her way home from work late at night. And my aunt, who organized her life in accordance with the demands of the farm: crops to be sewn when the weather was good, and people and animals to be fed at specific hours. My aunt, who used a map no matter where she was going because she did not have a speck of time to waste driving around.

“Maybe she met up with friends,” Megan suggested. “Maybe they asked her to a party and she ended up staying overnight.”

But Aunt Alice had known Katie's mother for many years. “I doubt it,” something made her say.

The telephone rang. It was my mother, who was worried because there was no answer at Hetty's house and I had not yet come home. She asked to talk to me. Yes, she knew all about Katie Russell's disappearance. Eric had told her and she had given Jimmy's mother a call. Wasn't it odd, and just where did we girls think Katie might have gone?

For the rest of the afternoon, Megan and I stayed close to home. We understood that it was difficult for the adults to know what to do. For Katie was a capable adult of eighteen and not an innocent child.

Dinnertime came. In our need to channel our nervous energy we collaborated on making a pizza. The air in the kitchen smelled wonderful, all warm and doughy, but once we had pulled the pizza from the oven we discovered we had little appetite, so Carl devoured most of it on his own. The evening passed and still there had been no word.

Hetty and Ruby spent the night at Tanya's apartment along with Katie's mother. The next day, Tanya moved back to the castle. It was temporary, she told Hetty—until Katie came home again, or—she didn't know.

On that second day following the disappearance, restrictions were placed on our movements. If I was going somewhere with Megan, we were to phone upon arriving. If I was going out alone—well, it just wasn't allowed.

Because of the age difference, Megan and I did not really know Katie Russell. We really only knew of her, and in fact, in trying to remember her, we recalled seeing her only a handful of times at a distance the previous year. Yet we quickly became part of the strange atmosphere of uncertainty and conjecture that
settled over the town during the next few days. Everyone seemed to have a theory. Some of these were quite creative. I discovered this as we discussed her disappearance in the smoking area at school.

Mandy Green, who dramatized everything since landing the part of Nancy in
Oliver
!, suggested that maybe Katie had just had enough of Pike Creek. The place couldn't be more stifling. “After all,” she said, taking a last drag off a cigarette before flicking it to the pavement, “wouldn't any of us split if we were given half a chance?”

“Huh, well maybe,” Megan answered. “On the other hand, it could be amnesia. It could have been something as simple as tripping at an intersection and bumping her head on the curb. It's been known to happen. Maybe she's wandering around somewhere right now thinking she's Natalie Wood or Grace Slick.”

Mandy ground the cigarette butt beneath her heel as the school buzzer sounded, summoning us back inside. “Yeah, well if she's lucky, no one will set her straight.”

Over the next few days, my parents and my aunt and uncle were involved in the search for Katie. They were only a few of the many people who spread across Pike Creek. Katie was an adult, but, as they would with any disappearance, Uncle Pat told us, it was best to rule out certain things. Working through grids, the search parties tramped across the parks and public grounds. They scoured the surrounding woods and the ditches lining the highways and secondary roads.

“What do you think happened to her?” I asked Eric after he picked me up at Hetty's one night.

“Spontaneous human combustion.”

I looked at him. “What's that?”

“Her body chemistry was out of whack. For some reason she generated so much heat that she ignited and—poof!—she vaporized.” Eric came to a stop at an intersection.

“I don't believe you.”

“Okay, don't believe me, but there's at least three or four hundred cases reported in Ontario alone each year.” He glanced to his right before making the turn. At the same time he took in my horrified expression. He must have suffered an unusual pang of guilt for teasing me because more quickly than usual he relented. “Alright, so it wasn't spontaneous combustion. But how do you expect me to know?”

Megan and I meant no disrespect considering the gravity of the situation, and we told each other so, but we didn't think Katie was very pretty.

“Her nose has got a ski jump and it's too big,” Megan commented when we first saw her picture in the local newspaper. “I mean, not that it's her fault or anything like that.”

“No, I think it's that her eyes are too close together.”

“Maybe that's it. And her hair is so thin. I don't know how you could do anything with it. Maybe if you used a whole pile of Dippity-Do and rolled it in Coke cans for about a week.”

“She's got a lot of freckles.”

“They could still be there from the summer. Like Hetty's, the way she says they get way worse in the sun.”

“Why would he pick her?” I wondered.

“Who?”

“Well, I mean, just say she was abducted. Say that some pervert was just driving around and picked her up and is keeping her as a sex slave. Don't you think if he had a choice that he'd go for someone really good-looking?”

Megan thought about this. “Like Angie Lucas you mean?”

And for a very brief moment I had a sympathetic thought for Angie. Maybe being amazingly good-looking did have its disadvantages. But it quickly passed. “Yeah, like Angie.”

Megan shrugged. “Maybe there isn't a lot of choice in Pike Creek that late at night.”

A full week passed. Katie had left without a trace, and hope was beginning to fade. Despite this, a few people continued to suggest possibilities, although after consideration, most of these were unconvincing. They simply lacked the conviction of those put forth in the first few days.

Perhaps it was a cult, suggested Mrs. Chisholm. Or perhaps she had been depressed and would soon snap out of it, someone else said. To this suggestion, both Katie's mother and Tanya vehemently protested, “Absolutely not.” Katie was as happy as any girl whose whole life of starry opportunities glittered before her and who had just moved out on her own. Mrs. Russell became incensed that the police were asking so many personal questions. They should be concentrating their efforts on finding her instead of searching for flaws in her family when there were none to be found. Mr. Russell was emphatic that Katie was just not the type to accept a ride from a stranger. Everyone who knew her well agreed.

When another week passed and there was still no word from Katie, it was difficult to imagine anything other than the worst possible scenarios.

How awful it was to see her parents in town quizzing people, searching on their own for any whisper of Katie. How familiar we all were with the abduction and murder of Lynne Harper in Clinton, eleven years before.

BOOK: Hippie House
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