The Missing Case Of Adelaine Faye
by Koa Beck
Adelaine disappeared for a year when she was twenty and never told anyone where she went. It was a secret that she held close to her, always to her chest or side like a book that she would not let others know that she was reading.
When she did resurface shortly after her twenty-first birthday, she sent her parents a letter informing them of her whereabouts.
“I’ll come home,” she wrote in the second paragraph, “only on the condition that you don’t ask where I was.”
They consented and opened their front door to find her with only one suitcase.
The first meal that she requested was pancakes and, considering that it was still morning, her mother didn’t question it.
In generous reaches for the syrup pitcher, Adelaine asked her parents about the current events of the last year – the newly elected president and an attack by a suspected secret society in the northeast.
“We had funeral arrangements prepared.”
Adelaine paused her chewing and looked to her father. Within a couple of blinks of her green eyes, she reaffirmed the sentiments of her letter.
“Let’s not do this now.” He reached for his wife’s elbow, suggesting that the two of them go to another room.
Adelaine told her parents not to bother getting fresh sheets. She knew where to find them. Upon entering her childhood bedroom with a stack of paisley cotton, she found that her vanity, the sundresses that hung in her closet, the trinkets that lined her nightstand – everything was exactly as she had left it.
She tugged idly on the canopy, sliding her feet into her slippers and eventually choosing a book to read from her yellow bookshelf before bed. She slept soundly while just on the other side of the wall, her parents lay wide awake – convinced that they should not examine this blessing too closely.
Adelaine returned to college that autumn and news of her return had been slowly building since summer. The other young girls whispered her name across the dormitory hall, insisting that they had seen her at registration, at the bookstore with her fingers to book titles, or at the café eyeing pastries.
“How does she look?” asked a particularly inquisitive blonde carrying two biology books.
“The same, evidently,” said another. “Not a hair is different. She’s even wearing the same clothes.”
The blonde surveyed the campus, remembering vividly two springs ago in which her chemistry professor pulled her aside with a question that he deemed urgent.
“Yes, Dr. Bower?”
“Miss Marrow, I understand that you are roommates with Miss Faye.”
“I-I am.” She remembered her palms pressing into the spine her notebook, her eyes drifting to the window as she was interrogated.
“Have you seen her today?”
There was that flash of her face at the coffee shop. The rigorous way her pencil kept to the page and the laugh she gave to the girl beside her.
There had been an exam the previous day and Adelaine had not been in attendance. This was unlike her.
“She was also absent today. Is she ill?”
“I-I don’t know.”
“I see. Well, thank you Miss Marrow.”
“Thank you, Dr. Bower.”
Miss April Marrow had run all the way back to the dormitory, tearing up the stairs and pushing girls out of the way. She arrived at her door and fumbled with the keys.
All the drawers were drawn out, bare of Adelaine’s sweaters and blouses, and the closet door was wide open. What April had not told the police was that the empty hangers were still swaying slightly when she got back to the room.
Adelaine’s parents immediately told the police that she had been kidnapped – an assertion that was disproven by Adelaine’s hasty packing.
“Our little girl is not a runaway,” her mother had told a local reporter – a quote that other newspapers took a liking to and reprinted many times.
People of all walks – students, faculty, and police – looked to April as their last clue.
“Was she unhappy?” was the question asked most often. “What was the last thing she said to you the previous evening?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you know?”
April found it difficult to explain the nuances of college girl life to the older man with the suit and tie. There were many nights that they returned to a dark room, assuming that the other was asleep. They didn’t turn the lights on one another, mindful of the fragile slumber underneath quilts and sheets.
“I assumed that she was sleeping.” She remembered looking to her shoes. “I didn’t want to wake her.”
“But she wasn’t there when you woke up?”
“And you didn’t tell anyone?”
It wasn’t uncommon for April to awaken to find Adelaine’s bed already made, her purse gone, her coat missing from the hook on the door – especially that spring.
“So it didn’t occur to you to tell anyone that she was missing until later that afternoon? When Mr. Bower spoke to you?”
“She probably married an Italian and jumped a plane to Europe,” said one girl as she folded up a game of solitaire.
April bit her thumbnail and watched the fireplace, the cooling ashes and embers inciting a nervousness deep behind her ribcage.
“You don’t suppose she’s knocked up, do you?” the solitaire player suddenly proposed, her surprise soon melting into a grin.
The girls swapped theories while in their nightgowns, ad-libbing details with toothpaste in their mouths. They traded notes in classrooms with long narratives about her whereabouts, romanticized with details of far away places.
“After giving birth to her lover Eduardo’s baby in Spain,” read one that April received, “Miss Adelaine traveled to Switzerland to model and marry a sovereign prince. She is rumored to split her time between their palace in the Alps and their vacation home in Nice.”
“This isn’t funny!” April found herself turning back to her biology class, hissing as she crumbled the sheet. “She could be hurt!”
“Adelaine Faye?” The two redheads in the front with gray cardigans spoke up. “Who could hurt her?
They spoke of the incident during Adelaine’s freshman year in which a boy from the resident town attempted to rape her on her walk back to campus. Adelaine had apparently hurled a weighty rock into his face, blinding him in one eye and breaking his nose in six places.
Suddenly, the other girls looked at the plain-faced brunette differently, wary of her as she walked down the hall or asked for a sheet of paper.
“Just don’t throw a rock at me, Adelaine,” they said with fingers curled under their chins.
She starred in a couple of plays that year, always assuming the female lead and evoking a sadness so deep in her audience that even her fellow cast members had to squint back tears.
“You can’t very well cast Adelaine Faye as a tree,” April remembered one of the girls commenting after auditions. “Her personality cannot be effectively marginalized.”
It was true that Adelaine’s hand was always the first one up in class, her answers always correct and articulate. Her paper on the real choices of Hamlet’s Ophelia was read aloud in class, causing the other girls to shift uneasily in their seats. Puzzled faces studied the walls, the floor, and the ceiling and by the conclusion, they each weren’t quite certain what had been expounded to them.
“So what you’re saying,” asked a girl afterwards, “is that she was a fool for getting involved with him in the first place?”
“More or less,” Adelaine had folded her arms.
She had had a couple of boyfriends at Harvard – boys who studied medicine or law or business. Adelaine brought them to campus as it suited her, the prominent “H” on their sweaters not going unnoticed by the other girls. But Adelaine always found herself speaking more than they did, confessing to the other girls that her dates were often rather boring.
“Well, who cares with a face like that?” said her freshman roommate.
Adelaine nodded slowly, adding that that was indeed true. “And the sensibility of a gnat.” She dragged her pencil across her notes.
The boyfriends always seemed devastated when she asked to meet them at the café nearby, handing back their jacket or their ring or whatever token had cemented them together. She finished her milkshake regardless of if they cried or not, offering up friends as a quick replacement.
“Rebecca likes you,” she closed with every time.
She was rumored to have gotten serious with a boy that summer – a young man that she had grown up with who Mr. and Mrs. Faye adored. He had stayed in town after high school but always looked forward to the day in late May when Adelaine would come home for the summer. Always on a Sunday, he would identify the car coming down the street with the luggage strapped on top. Adelaine would soon emerge from the backseat, a scarf around her neck, appearing a little sleepy from the drive. Her mother would hug her by the door and the two would go inside while her father collected his daughter’s suitcases.
The very next day, Adelaine would be on the front lawn in her bathing suit, reading Ariel from behind her sunglasses and sipping from glass bottles of Coke. She would yawn when the other boys approached her, answering questions in “yes” or “no” monotones that seemed to elicit even more interest.
But the boy across the street, the one with whom she vaguely remembered making paper cut outs on her bedroom floor, started visiting with different questions. He was curious as to what she was learning at college and if it was true that she read five novels a week.
“Six,” she corrected as she lowered her sunglasses.
When fall came, Adelaine confided in April that they had been engaged for a day in August. She reconsidered and gave him back the ring in the driveway of her house, making up an excuse that her parents had ultimately disapproved of him.
“What was the real reason?” April had asked, cross-legged on Adelaine’s bed.
Adelaine had eyed her freshly brushed hair in the full-length mirror from over one shoulder.
“That morning, I woke up and he was the first thing in my mind,” she said into the mirror. “I went to the bathroom and promptly vomited.”
When Adelaine asked April to swear not tell anyone, she agreed, as even when the police asked her if Adelaine had ever had any serious boyfriends, she said, “no.”
Adelaine’s return to college was marked by an upper classmen English course on the construction of the novel. When the door slammed, the students were reading aloud Virginia Woolf. Adelaine’s face appeared at the tail end of a descriptive passage about the beach. She apologized for being late and assumed the only empty seat by the window.
They watched her, their eyes flickering with a narrative that they had already invented. And even though it was supposed to be Woolf’s voice that dominated the room, their silent stories about where Adelaine had been and what she had seen seemed to louden over the desks and chairs to a decibel no one could ignore.
“Have you asked her yet?” one girl asked April as they exited economics.
“Asked Adelaine what?”
“Asked her where she’s been?” The girl brought her books up to her nose. “Beth and I think that she went away to – you know, one of those homes? My cousin went to one last summer. I think the baby is now with a family in Iowa.”
April hesitated by the drinking fountain and surveyed the lawn.
“I-I haven’t said anything to her yet.”
“Well surely you’ve seen her?”
There was that brief moment in which the café had become very small and April recognized that distant figure with the blueberry muffin as Adelaine. Adelaine’s wide eyes settled on her the way they had in art history once the year before, and April felt herself being acknowledged. Adelaine didn’t wave but the flutter of her eyelashes, the way she looked away and then looked back, felt the same.
“I hear they roomed her with a freshman,” said the other girl. Someone whose years at school didn’t reach far enough to place Adelaine in her proper context.
“Can you imagine?” she tugged at her cardigan. “Rooming with Adelaine Faye and not knowing?”
On their first night together as roommates, April remembered not knowing quite what to make of the furtive English major who often read sideways on her bed. Her eyes quick on the page, she didn’t seem to fear things like the dark, big cities, public scorn, or even men.
“You got a beau?”
April heard the question as she lifted her last few books out of boxes.
“No,” she said as she turned around.
“Good.” Adelaine’s eyes danced up from the page. “Then I won’t have to see pictures of him around the room.”
Adelaine liked to keep the walls bare, April recalled, sometimes buying postcards of paintings that she liked.
“Before I go to sleep, I like to gaze at Cezanne,” she had said one time with her stomach to the sheets. “He gives me the most amazing dreams.”
At night, they would speak about their grown up lives. Adelaine’s tone never changed as she said she wanted to be a poetess just like Edna St. Vincent Millay and take long train rides along the countryside. April hesitated but admitted that even though she was a biology major, what she had always wanted to be was a dancer.
“Then why don’t you?”
April heard Adelaine shift under her covers.
“I-I can’t.” April felt the explanation expand and then collapse. “My parents would never have it.”
“I don’t mean now. I mean later, after we graduate. They can’t stop you then.”
The conversation dissipated soon after and April suddenly found it to be morning. When she sat up, she saw that Adelaine’s bed was made, her absent coat and shoes indicating that she had most likely been gone for some time.
Later in class, April realized that she had confessed a secret to Adelaine that she had never told anyone. She had never articulated the childhood fantasy that seemed to haunt her into late adolescence – that over lab notes and equations, she sometimes felt a rhythm that turned out her feet and made her sit a little wider on her hips.
Adelaine never mentioned their midnight conversation either. She crossed the lawn with the other girls and introduced April as “my science roommate,” and nothing more.
But the notes that Adelaine left on April’s bed always began with “Dear Ballerina,” writing that she hoped that they could study together in the library or sit together at dinner.
When April went to go meet Adelaine in the very back of the library, Adelaine pointed to the seat beside her. On the seat was a biography of Isadora Duncan and a collection of Degas paintings.
“Just some light reading,” Adelaine whispered from the palm that held her chin, “should you tire of double helixes.”
The private joke that they shared shifted though when spring came and on the first relatively warm day, Adelaine announced that she had an idea. She traced the lines on her palm with a ballpoint pen and told April that the lines could be bus or train routes.
“Let’s not become our mothers,” Adelaine said in the dark, staring up at the ceiling of their room. “Let’s become something else.”
April carried the proposition with her for days, studying her palms with a pen in hand but somehow unable to make the same marks herself.
“But where would we go?” April glanced beyond the fence that scaled the campus and said that it was too foggy to see.
Adelaine named the cities that she always wanted to see in alphabetical order, stopping when she reached the letter “L” because of the look on April’s face.
“What’s waiting for us anyway?” Adelaine yanked the barrette out of her hair and tucked it into her purse. Her eyes slow under the café light, she described the endless afternoons at the soda fountain, propping up sinking conversations with remarks on favorite movies or actors while checking her watch under her napkin. She said that the most that they could hope for would be a ring by senior year and perhaps that summer wedding with a dress that wouldn’t induce pregnancy gossip at the reception.
“And then what?” She described the relief in producing children that resembled her husband in every way, appeasing in-laws that would be skeptical of her anyway considering that her casseroles were always slightly cold in the middle.
“Do you know what happens next?” she looked up from her cup.
April nodded and said that she could hear the story without even trying to listen. Adelaine exhaled long over her half empty cup and asked that April look out the window again.
“Isadora Duncan would go,” she had said. But Adelaine hadn’t pressed April beyond that night, as she collected her books and said that she would see her tomorrow.
“Where are you going?”
Adelaine paused by the door.
“To study. I have a chemistry exam tomorrow.”
Now, April watched Adelaine saunter across the campus as if nothing had happened. Her steps over the grass, her hands to her books, she kept all conversations stapled to academic subjects – her comments never straying from this new academic year.
She fell into the casual groups by the fountain, putting her fingers to the water in the fifteen minutes between classes. The other girls told April that some details would fall into the conversation – a film released the previous year or a new book of poems by someone that Adelaine admired.
“I actually didn’t think much of it,” she would offer occasionally, shaking the water from her hand.
Their heads turned and they found themselves confronted with the questions they actually wanted to ask. “But where did you see it? When? In what part of the world? In what language?”
By the time their inquiries became clear, she was already gone, having excused herself to go buy coffee or face powder from the drugstore.
“That’s why you have to go,” April’s physics partner announced in the library. “That’s why you have to ask her where she was.”
April blinked and shut her book, wondering how she would pose the question that was already so loud — articulated in whispers and along bathroom walls, in cups of mild tea and in the sundaes that the girls treated themselves to on Saturdays. Melted in with milk and sugar and fevered gossip was the same essential question.
“Where was Adelaine Faye?” April studied the single sentence as passed to her in a note from the back row of her afternoon class. Turning back to face them, April saw not a one of them assume credit for the penmanship. The inquiry seemed to come from all of them, their arms folded over their textbooks.
“Have you asked her yet?” asked another girl running to catch up with April.
April walked faster, crossing the path and pulling her books closer to her chest.
The other girls conveyed their impatience with more notes that term, slipping pieces torn from their notebooks that simply read “Adelaine Faye?” and “A.F.?” She ignored them and chose to dispose of them in a public fashion, tearing them up in the bathroom trashcan with the print face up.
Balanced along a brick wall or perched by the rosebushes, Adelaine never appeared to be receptive to inquiries in her idle time. As even while alone and obviously frittering away the minutes as she studied the waves of her own hair, Adelaine’s determined gaze marked the minutes as important and not to be infringed upon by others; April found herself perpetually watching Adelaine from twenty feet away.
While alone in the library, April saw a group of girls file in slowly with low eyes and shuffled steps, assuming the empty seats around her.
“Well?” said the one with the red hair. “What do you know?”
April steadied her pencil and said that she didn’t know anything.
“She’s lying.” The one across April rolled her eyes.
“I am not.”
The redhead folded her arms and April immediately fled to the bathroom. Locking herself in the stall on the farthest end, she put her hands to her elbows. She didn’t recall hearing footsteps along the tiles but the little knocks on the stall suddenly announced another presence in the bathroom.
She crept up onto the toilet and watched the feet with the turned down socks approach the teal door. There was another slight knock and when April curled around the toilet seat, the girl said, “It’s Adelaine.”
April released the latch. Adelaine peered in with her hands to the wall, studying her old roommate briefly. She turned to lock the door before stepping up onto the toilet to sit beside April.
April gazed into the white tile and explained the way everyone’s voices would quiet down at the mention of her name – the way they spelled it out with a question mark and heavy underlines.
“I see.” Adelaine eyed the hem of her skirt.
“Does anyone know?” April asked, her ankles grazing the porcelain toilet.
Adelaine shrugged and said that she had told her fellow passengers on the train each a different story: that she was visiting her estranged grandfather, escaping a loveless marriage, returning to her nunnery or – to the very inquisitive man with the moustache and glasses – she admitted that she was actually going to visit her lover.
“I never told a single person who I actually was,” she said. Assuming the names of women that she admired like Edna, Mary, Esther, or Ruth, she found herself creating a script as she went along, merging plots from literature and taking lines from poems.
“And I rather liked that,” she admitted, touching the silver chain that came around her throat.
Occasionally, she said, as she nodded off in the afternoons, she would awaken with the lurch of the car and feel exposed. Perhaps while she was dreaming, her forehead to the glass, they had caught sight of something that compromised her role as nun, wife, granddaughter, or mistress.
She would hurriedly fix her hair in the reflection and go back to sitting as she imagined her character would – a book to her lap or knitting needles to her side.
When the train would stop and those convinced of her ailing grandfather or devout faith said that it was lovely to make her acquaintance, she would quickly part her hair the other way and assume a different tone of voice.
For the passengers getting on at the next town, she wanted to be someone else.