I thought about Shelley this morning, and realised that we hadn't heard anything for an abnormally long time. Usually, the hospital rang up every two months or so to let us know if there were any changes, to ask us our opinion on any new treatments they were thinking of giving her. But it suddenly dawned on me that it was over a year since the last phone call.
I was suddenly overcome with the urge to hear her voice and see her face. My daughter. Why hadn't they called? Could it be that there was something wrong? Hastily, I took the phone from its cradle and looked around for the number. It was pinned to the board as usual. Pressing in the numbers, I held the phone to my ear.
"Hello? Apollo Mental Hospital, how can we help you?" The brisk, officious secretary answered the phone. I was lost for words.
"Could I speak to Michelle, please?" I asked politely.
"I'm sorry, what was her surname?"
"Surely there's only one Michelle?" Previously, I'd never been asked for any details, even when I rang up on her birthday and demanded to speak to her, despite the fact it was against policy and she was currently undergoing treatment. Her birthday! It was Shelley's birthday last week. I'd missed her birthday.
"Let me just check for you." I could hear the tapping of keys. "No, I'm sorry, but there doesn't appear to be a Michelle on our records."
"But she's been there since she was nine! She's got to be on the records. You must be mistaken..." My voice got higher and higher and I found myself growing hot. Of course she was on the records. What was this woman talking about?
"Oh, I've found her. Yes, Michelle left the hospital fifty four weeks ago. In other words, over a year. I'm sorry, she's not here."
"Well, then, where is she?" My voice cracked. "Where have they taken her? Where has she gone?"
"There is no record," she replied. "If you wish, I can ask one of the doctors to talk to you, but her particular doctor disappeared at the same time. One of the others would be happy to speak to you ..."
I dropped the phone and collapsed into a chair. Michelle was gone, and I didn't know where. Where had they taken her? My Michelle was gone, and it was her birthday! I'd always rung up on her birthday ... just not this year. It had slipped my mind. So her last one must have been the day or two before she 'disappeared'. But where could she have gone?
I went over to the window and looked out. "Oh, Shelley, where have you gone?"