Girls keep disappearing. First in Bridgeport, then Mystic. The third girl goes missing from a small town that rhymes with Holland. You imagine her walking through a field of tulips in wooden clogs.
No wonder she couldn’t run away fast enough when The Strange Man grabbed her.
Ma says there are a lot of Strange Men in the world. Most of them have mustaches. They drive white panel vans and smoke Marlboros. Sometimes they have a silver claw instead of a real hand.
If you’re a girl, you better watch out for them, or else your last school portrait will end up on the front page of the New Haven Register. The picture will show you with your bangs cut straight as the teeth of a comb across your forehead and your real teeth crooked as the garden fence. Underneath it’ll say, last seen walking down North Street wearing white ankle socks, patent leather Thom McAns, a polka dot dress, and a scapular.
* * *
You’re scared of polka dots and scapulars. But you’re more scared to walk to school by yourself until your sister tells you Strange Men never kidnap ‘talian girls.
They want ransom, she says.
Money from Ma and Da.
But Ma and Da don’t got money.
Which is why you won’t get kidnapped, stunod—because what would they ransom you for, a box of spaghetti?
* * *
After that you’re glad you don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder for The Strange Man with the mustache and Marlboros and silver claw. But you’re disappointed, too.
Some day, you tell yourself, Strange Men will twirl their mustaches at you and offer you cigarettes and reach out with real fingers to touch your diamond rings. But you won’t stoop so low as to get into their seedy panel van. You’ll wrap your mink stole around your shoulders and click your heels as you strut on by, giving them a little Marilyn Monroe-like wave before you climb into the back seat of your Lincoln Continental and your chauffeur takes you back to Park Avenue, where you live in a penthouse so high that only God can touch you.
Rita Ciresi is author of the novels Bring Back My Body to Me, Pink Slip, Blue Italian, and Remind Me Again Why I Married You, and three award-winning story collections, Second Wife, Sometimes I Dream in Italian and Mother Rocket. She is a professor of English at the University of South Florida, a faculty mentor for the Bay Path University MFA program in creative nonfiction, and fiction editor of 2 Bridges Review.
Cover Photo by Tap Tapzz