Ciara Taylor was last seen on the 4000 block of 6th Street, Southeast. She was reportedly leaving her home on her way to pick up her younger brother from King Elementary School. She had skipped school that day. Sources cannot confirm why. She is sixteen years old but if you inquire further, she’ll proclaim that she is, in fact, sixteen and a half. She is five feet four inches tall and one hundred and sixty-five pounds. Her mother worries incessantly about the weight that sits at her daughter’s hips. Ciara has black hair and brown eyes. She and her little brother, affectionately nicknamed Stink, have their mother’s eyes—rich, troubled, the color of murky water. Stink’s eyes are unreadable as he waits for his sister in the school parking lot. His teacher, Mrs. Miller, who has yellow hair, looks on as Stink stands alone. Tardiness is so unlike Ciara.
“It looks like you’re going to have to walk home alone today, Martin,” Mrs. Miller mumbles, her mind far away, fixated on the mental image of the whisky bottle on her kitchen counter back home.
Martin walks himself home and looks for Ciara between every house. He makes a wrong turn, hoping his sister will be waiting for him there. He makes it home safely because he is brave and smart. He wishes Ciara was there to open the door. Martin wants to cry but he doesn’t because he is supposed to be the man of the house. Mama hides the spare key in the mailbox. He has to stand on his toes to reach inside. Once indoors, he thinks about heating up a pizza puff in the microwave, but he’s scared that Mama will yell at him.
If his mother was home, she could ask, “Where’s your sister, Stink?” and this would be proof that someone could miss Ciara as much as he does. But Mama’s not home yet so Martin settles himself on the plaid couch in the living room, watching Baby Boy on BET because he’s not normally allowed to watch that movie even though they cut out all the cuss words. Martin doesn’t move until he hears his mother’s feet dragging up the front steps. Her shadow enters the house before she does. She doesn’t speak to her son as she walks in. Martin hears the squeak of the bed as his mother plants herself onto the dusty floral comforter. He knows he won’t see her again for the rest of the night.
For dinner, Martin eats slimy black beans, straight from the can, which he opens himself. He makes sure all the lights are off in the house before he goes to sleep.
In the morning, Mama doesn’t ask about Ciara. Instead she wordlessly pours Martin his cereal, just as Ciara would have done. Mama doesn’t know that he likes sugar in his cornflakes. He breathes goodbye to his mother as she slips out the door, heading to her first job. When he walks to school, he feels someone’s eyes on his back. He doesn’t speak at all in school that day.
Ciara Taylor was last seen wearing a pink hooded sweatshirt, ripped blue jeans, and blinding white Nikes that her boyfriend bought. He refused to meet her mother, refuses to meet her friends. Some things ain’t everybody business, he says when he drops her off down the block from her mother’s house in his big car with the tinted windows. She walks home glowing. Ciara is good at secrets. She has always kept them dear.
If you have any information about the whereabouts of Ciara Taylor, please message her mother on Facebook. When your pleas are left unread, give up. Remain complacent as you’ve always been. If guilt compels you, write down what you know on a sheet of paper and fold it until you can’t anymore. Tuck the paper inside your cheek and as your saliva softens it, doubt if Ciara wants to be found. If ever Ciara crosses your mind, imagine her lying in the grass, looking at the stars, surrounded by the quiet hum of night. Picture her at peace. It’s easier this way, isn’t it?
Lauren Simone Holley is a writer and undergraduate student studying English with a creative writing concentration at Howard University in Washington, DC. At Howard, she serves as the editor of the university’s literary magazine Sterling Notes. Her work centers the fear, ostracism, and inner worlds of women and marginalized people.