Roisin Ingle on . . .

a gone girl


She’s been missing for one minute. But I will find her. I will. Or she will turn up, laughing, asking for a lollipop. It’s only been a minute. Get a grip. It’s just that the panic steals away your breath and makes one minute feel like one hour.

She’s missing and nobody in this busy park seems to care. They carry on regardless having a Family Fun Day that doesn’t feel like much fun any more. Parents and children are queuing for face painting and queuing for balloon animals as though the world is still the same.

I am focused on finding her but random thoughts keep invading: next time I come to something like this I will bring my own face paints and fashion my own balloon animals (there must be a how-to video on YouTube) because I can’t handle these queues.

Focus now, breathe and focus. I will find her. I will not dwell on the worst that can happen. I will not dwell.

The man organising the egg-and-spoon race is laughing at something and his face looks all wrong, like something in a fairground mirror. “My daughter has gone missing,” I tell him and the words sound silly as though I am reading from a script of a bad film. He arranges his face into a concerned expression and calls her name on his loudspeaker. He has a spoon and a slightly cracked boiled egg in his hand. I stand there waiting but she doesn’t come.

Two minutes ago I was on a picnic blanket with my friend basking in the sudden ferocious blast of May sunshine and the fact that the fathers of our children had taken them off somewhere allowing us to relax. While I am relaxing one of my children wanders away from her father. I get a panicky call from him telling me not to panic but that we have a gone girl on our hands. Like the book I’m reading for book club. Gone Girl . Just like that.

Now I am walking around in circles looking at the world through different eyes. The fear is making everything hazy. I do notice how many little paths there are out of the park. And I think how enticing they’d look to an inquisitive girl aged four. I remember the busy road we crossed to get here. I am looking and looking but I can’t see anything. All of these children look the same. And none of them are mine.

Five minutes. What is she wearing? Any distinguishing features? She has a T-shirt with flamingos on it. She has plaits. She will do anything for an ice-cream. She likes climbing and jumping. It’s one of her ambitions to be able to do a hand stand. She likes home-made vegetable soup but doesn’t like marshmallows. She sings Tomorrow from Annie on demand. She sometimes deliberately sings the wrong words. “Next week. Next week. I love ya, next Friday,” that kind of thing. What else? She is the most beautiful girl in the world. Obviously. She is somewhere that is not here.

Seven minutes. I tell the man in an ambulance that my child is missing and he tells me kindly that he already knows. “Don’t worry we’ll find him.”

“Him? She’s a girl!” I say.

“Yes. I meant her,” he tries but I have moved on. Anyway, I know she is okay. I know we will find her. But I hope she’s not traumatised when we do. I think about the time I got lost on a mountain a few years ago with three other adults. One of them had an anxiety attack because of the time he got lost as a child. The long-buried trauma came back and he collapsed, a better word is crumpled, under the terrifying weight of the memory. But I will find her. She will not be traumatised. She’ll be fine. I will not think of April. I will not think of Madeleine. This story is a different story. The ending is not the same.

My phone tells me it’s 10 minutes since she went somewhere I know not where and now the phone is ringing.

“We have her,” says my friend. “She is here.” And I run.

She was sitting under a tree when they found her saying she didn’t know where her Mummy was. She is laughing with her sister a moment later. I hug her and she says that I’m hugging her too tight but she stays squashed in my arms anyway. And yes, I know it was only 10 minutes. And yes, I know I knew I was always going to find her. And yes, I know it happens all the time. Big deal, right?

Right. But I just needed to get those terrible 10 minutes off my chest.

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