• Published 10th Jul 2020
  • 1,079 Views, 147 Comments

Three-act Play - Dave Bryant

Wallflower Blush didn’t show up for graduation. Sunset Shimmer is worried—but luckily she knows just the person to consult about it. If Rose Brass can’t help, no one can. • A Twin Canterlots story

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“I’m here to speak with you about your daughter, Wallflower Blush.” Rose sat as upright as she could on the shabby but still reasonably sound overstuffed chair.

The late-thirties couple facing her from the equally worn matching love seat glanced at each other with mixed emotions, few of them positive. She looked puzzled and worried. He looked puzzled and irritated. Rose suppressed a sigh; it was nothing unexpected, but there was a protocol to follow.

The wife was barely audible. “We . . . we don’t have a daughter.” Her brown eyes flickered in her round green face, glancing all around the small, rather stark living room—especially at the archway opening on a currently unlit hallway. Her simple flower-print dress was old but clean, making her look like a photograph from a housewares advertisement in a magazine of fifty or sixty years ago.

The husband definitely was more than adequately audible, riding over her last word. “And even if we did, I don’t see what business it is of yours.” He leaned forward, hands on knees and chin thrust out. His T-shirt and jeans were as generic as it got, and not quite as pristine as the dress.

Coolly Rose pointed out, “Once a case file is opened and approved, which I saw to personally, I have all the authority I need for this interview.” Indeed, she had gone to bat with her supervisor the day she’d opened it, though he hadn’t required much convincing. In his words, if Mama Bear thought it was a case worth pursuing, that was good enough for him. The nickname still made her a bit uncomfortable, but she long since had realized her discomfort arose from its essential accuracy, and she certainly was not going to be able to dissuade anyone else from using it. “I’m required to ask you, as her parents and guardians of record, a series of questions, and I need you to answer them as honestly as you can.”

Without consulting her case histories, Rose could not count how many such examinations she’d conducted, but this one became easily the most eerie experience of her second career—not excepting anything to do with the Dazzlings. She blessed the long sleeves and trim slacks of her business suit for concealing the gooseflesh that refused to abate.

For their part, the artificially amnesiac parents struggled with the queries thrown their way, all too often having no idea how to answer. Their moods became increasingly disturbed, the mother withdrawing much like her daughter did and the father growing ever more choleric. Being forced to review almost two decades of memories shot through with enough holes to remove a family member had to be terrifying as well as baffling. Rose suddenly realized she should have sat Sunset down beforehand and squeezed the young telepath dry of impressions about how that worked.

Every now and then, though, one or both of the couple would show a flash of recall. In general, Rose gradually discovered, the more a query involved external factors, the more likely she would get anything other than a shrug or a verbal equivalent. Eventually she began to slant her phrasing to emphasize events in their lives rather than their daughter’s. It wasn’t completely kosher, but the regulations allowed her a certain leeway to get at information, and she abused that loophole ruthlessly.

All in all it was a most unsatisfactory experience for everyone involved. By the time Rose wound it up with, “That’s the last of the questions,” both of the others appeared completely frazzled. On the mother it looked like a desire to sink into the cushions and disappear. On the father it looked murderous; Rose suspected only her official status and military bearing prevented anything more . . . demonstrative. For her own part, Rose wanted nothing more than to go for a good long cleansing run—somewhere up in the hills, green and quiet—but she wasn’t finished here.

Their disappointment was plain when, instead of making preparations to depart, she went on, “The other part of this is to inspect the client’s living conditions, current or former. For that I’ll need to tour your home.” A dawning realization lit in the mother’s eyes; on the other hand, the father’s slow burn seemed to interfere with his clarity of thought. Rose replaced the clipboard and yellow legal pad, with its neatly handwritten notes, in her messenger bag, hoisted the latter to her shoulder, and stood to wait expectantly, tapping her pen against her thigh.

After a fulminating pause, the husband snorted and pushed himself back on his seat. “Fine. Whatever. Help yourself.”

His wife glanced at him nervously out of the corner of her eye and, reluctantly, stood as well. In the same low tone she’d used throughout the visit, she muttered, “Uh—this way,” and gestured tourguide fashion.

Rose pocketed her pen, then pulled out her smartphone to snap stills or capture snippets of video as needed.

The tour wended first through all the communal spaces. The place was in reasonably good shape, adequately clean and tidy. The cheap discount-store furniture probably dated to the early years of their marriage and showed it in wear and tear. Almost none of it held books of any kind. Knick-knacks were sparse and, Rose suspected from their aggressively masculine character, nearly all his. Nothing hung on the walls—no art, no posters, no photographs—though she did spot scattered tack holes here and there, most showing miniscule lips of split and crumbled drywall at the lower edges. Magnets, all of them flat business-card advertising tchotchkes, held only a few scraps to the refrigerator door, mostly menus from cheap eateries.

When the two of them ran out of other rooms to visit, they fetched up at last before the narrow arch and the dim corridor beyond it. From the apprehensive manner of Rose’s companion, it might as well be the entrance to a sabertooth’s cave lair, but a flick of a light switch revealed a perfectly ordinary, and fairly short, passage. Only three doorways opened on it; cupboards and an abbreviated countertop capped its dead end.

Behind the two closer doors were a small but complete full bath and the utterly unremarkable master bedroom suite, tiny closets, restroom, and all. Rose dutifully followed her guide through them, but paid only cursory attention, just enough to use her phone camera. All her experience told her it was the other doorway, and the room behind it, she needed to focus on.

Stalling strategems finally ran out. Rose came face to face with the remaining door.

It was, of course, the same sort of cheap hollow-core interior residential door found in the millions throughout the industrialized world; Rose had learned all about door construction from similar scenes in both her careers. The hall-facing side showed a trio of shallow craters, as if a mallet had been applied forcefully and repeatedly. The upper one, at shoulder level, was the least of them. On the lower one, at shin level, a few black streaks were visible against the landlord-white paint. The largest, at waist height, also showed black smears, and splintered edges showed in rough arcs around its rim. Rose raised her prosthetic hand and placed her spread fingertips on the door panel beside the doorknob, then pushed. It opened easily.

The social worker nodded to herself, stepped into the small bedroom, and scrutinized the interior side of door and frame from top to bottom. The hinges looked sound—but the strike plate and the screws holding it in the doorframe were missing entirely, screw holes stripped and ragged. Once it had given way, the latch, held in place by the simple privacy lock, looked to have dug a furrow right through the soft wood of the jamb. The inner doorknob showed drywall dust, and the right-angle wall behind the door was damaged. Rose’s lips tightened as she reconstructed what probably happened, as clearly as if she’d been there.

Rose turned to look at the single aluminum-framed window. The sill was at chest height on the room’s former occupant, and the screen was still firmly in place. Flimsy children’s shelving stood below it, more obstacle than help for hasty climbing. She shook her head and turned her attention to the rest of the room.

It was like a high-schooler’s room, only bleaker. Again there was nothing on the walls. At least there were books, as many as in the rest of the place combined, most of them related to gardening. A few small potted plants stood in place of knick-knacks, all dead or dying. Bureau drawers were open and ransacked, a couple of garments dangling forlornly, and the wall closet’s sliding door stood half-open. The bed was messy, with sheet and blanket trailing off the mattress. Otherwise, aside from a little dust, the chamber was neat and tidy.

Rose frowned as she stood as close to the middle of the room as furniture permitted and pivoted slowly on a heel, her one good eye sweeping the whole of the space. No computer, and no evidence there ever had been one. No phone charger, but that wasn’t a surprise. No sign anywhere of the strike plate or screws, not on floor or furniture top. In many ways it was as blank and bare as a guest bedroom, evincing few personal touches other than the plants and books. With a sigh she raised her camera and made another turn for stills, then a last one for video.

Tour more or less complete, Rose turned back to the doorway, phone still half-raised, and silently beckoned to the woman still standing in the doorway dry-washing her hands. Unwillingly the other complied, glancing back up the hall before stepping in.

Rose had seen no framed photographs anywhere. No smiling faces, no cherished keepsakes, no proud achievements, no family groups—nothing. A sudden image flashed to mind of Wallflower dumping a stack of picture frames, hurriedly yanked off the walls of her former home, in a random trash can or waste container, maybe blocks or even miles away.

She waited until the girl’s mother stopped an arm’s length away, then spoke in a low voice. “I thought you should see who it is we’ve been discussing, who lived in this room.” She tapped her phone’s screen a few times, then rotated it to show the image glowing on it.

The younger woman drifted forward another step, drawn in spite of herself by the photo of a giggling girl, all greens with scattered freckles and wild hair, brown eyes twinkling and small hands raised, half-obscuring the round jawline. She blinked down at it, face sagging and brows working. “She looks . . . just like me,” came the bare whisper.

Rose nodded again. “Yes, she does. I noticed that right away when I arrived.”

One green hand reached out tentatively, as if to touch fingertips to the screen, then withdrew. Rose held the phone up a few seconds more, then turned it back and shut off the screen before sliding it into a pocket. “All right then. Thank you for your time and cooperation, Ma’am,” she spoke up in a brisk tone. “After you.” She gestured toward the door.

They returned to the living room where the father waited, still seated on the small couch. “Are you done?” he demanded as soon as Rose reappeared.

“There’s one last thing,” Rose replied, unruffled. “Would you care to see an up-to-date photograph of your daughter?” That was part of the official list, but only at the social worker’s discretion. In this case the circumstances seemed to warrant it.

“Why should I?” He sat back, arms folded, and glared up at her.

“I thought I explained that.” Rose shifted her messenger bag farther behind her and raised both hands a little, near her belt buckle, palms toward her. At least, given his seated position, she should have plenty of warning if things slid into the pot. He didn’t seem to notice the change in her stance.

The man snorted impatiently. “Yeah, you claim some girl we don’t even remember is our daughter. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. But even if she is, she left, right? And you said she’s eighteen, so she’s an adult. I don’t see why we should have to pay for her now.” He unfolded his arms to gesture backhanded in dismissal; Rose couldn’t help visualizing that hand meeting a green cheek. “She made her choice, let her live with it. We’ve got better things to do.” He didn’t even glance at the wife who stood, eyes downcast, to one side. After a moment, apparently remembering where the conversation started, he added with a sneer, “No I don’t want to see a picture of her! Now, are you going to leave?”

Rose’s face lost all expression and her breathing steadied and deepened. Also without looking aside, she said in a rock-steady voice, “Ma’am? Do you have anything to add?”

A mumble was the only answer.

After a long, deep breath, Rose pulled a small metal clamshell case from her jacket pocket and withdrew a business card. “This is my contact information. If you think of anything else or have any questions, please get in touch with me.”

Neither of them made any move to take it. After a beat she shrugged and bent cautiously to place it on the coffee table. “Thank you for your time and cooperation.” No hint of warmth colored the token pleasantry. She straightened and strode for the door, movements rigidly controlled.

As if compelled by ingrained habits of courtesy, the woman of the house twitched and scurried after Rose, meeting her by the front door and opening it for her. She mumbled something that probably was some sort of polite farewell, which Rose returned with a nod, eye watchful.

Once she stepped out the door she turned back to face the woman who stood in the half-open doorway, blocking the view of the man who still sulked in his seat. In an undertone she murmured, “Here.” The second card she’d palmed made its way from hand to hand, then disappeared into the kangaroo pocket of the other woman’s dress.

As she turned away to step down the stoop, Rose reprimanded herself. It was not proper to be wishing Wallflower had used a shotgun instead of the Memory Stone.

Author's Note:

Lacuna (noun, plural lacunae or lacunas)

  1. A small opening; a small pit or depression.
  2. A small blank space; a gap or vacancy; a hiatus.
  3. An absent part, especially in a book or other piece of writing, often referring to an ancient manuscript or similar.
  4. Any gap, break, hole, or lack in a set of things; something missing.

It isn’t just memories that suffer from lacunae in this chapter.

So: is Rose’s supervisor a conscientious fellow who trusts his subordinates’ judgment, or is he a bureaucratic drone who just rubberstamps things because he doesn’t care to bestir himself? You decide!