Entry 28: The Nephew: Friday August 5
I thought about Wednesday’s night dream all morning. It wasn’t really the images of the dead kittens floating in the pool that bothered me, but the question of who had done the drowning. Did Mischa’s mystery friend really do such a thing? And if so, did that automatically classify him as a murder suspect? And just who was he anyway? Tommy Blaine said he was the Pastor’s nephew, but even he couldn’t remember his name. But was Tommy even telling the truth? I find it hard to believe he would forget the name of the boy who may have been competing with him for Mischa’s affections. I really wanted to know who this guy was, and if he was any way responsible for the girl’s disappearance.
So after doing a little cleaning this morning at the church, I thought I’d check its library and see if I could find anything on the Pastor’s elusive nephew. I went through all the photo albums from the seventies I could find. I tried to keep it to seventy-five and seventy-six, where I had once located the picture of Mischa herself. There were a lot of pics of the Pastor by himself, and I glazed these over, not even paying attention, until I finally came across the nephew’s picture by accident.
I had flipped a page and the photo came loose from the paper, falling to the floor by my chair. I leaned over and picked it up. Looking upon the picture at first, it meant nothing to me, but as I was putting it back in its place on the page, I saw the writing in the empty spot it had come from: “Pastor Shiflett, wife, daughter, and nephew. Easter portrait 1975.”
In the picture, the preacher was smiling, as his wife held a newborn baby in her arms. Beside them, a gangly teenage boy with pimples grinned at the camera. The boy had kind eyes and was a good-looking kid. But who was he? What was his name? And then something struck me about the caption. Pastor Shiflett? Could that be right? I looked closely at the woman in the photo. She was standing in the picture, but sure enough, it was the wheelchair bound woman who had told me to never come back to visit her.
So that’s why she has been lying all this time. Her own nephew was connected to Mischa. I found myself wanting to get in the car and go back over there to confront her. Instead, I flipped through the photo album some more, hoping for something else. Within a dozen or so pages, I found it. A picture of a Sunday school picnic. The pastor stood smiling, his arm around his nephew: “Pastor Shiflett and nephew Eric.”
Bingo! His name was Eric, his uncle was the preacher at the time of Mischa’s disappearance, and his aunt was the Mrs. Shiflett I knew. Now all I needed to do was find him. I knew the only way of locating him was by going back and confronting Mrs. Shiflett again. I didn’t look forward to such a thing, after my last visit there, but it seemed to be my only option. Either that or forget it. But something told me that Mischa would find a way to not let me forget it. I have learned she is a very persistent girl.
I sat in the car outside the Shiflett home for ten minutes before I could work up the nerve to go up the porch and knock on the door. As one could imagine, when Shaedra opened the door she looked pretty surprised to see me.
“Mrs. Shiflett is not receiving visitors,” she said.
“You mean she’s not receiving me,” I mildly corrected her, remembering the outcome of our last visit.
“She’s not receiving visitors,” she stressed.
I stood there for a moment, the silence stretching between us, as if one were daring the other to say something else. “Tell her I need to ask her about her husband,” I finally said. “And her nephew.”
Shaedra seemed taken aback for just a moment, but she told me, “Wait here.” Then she closed the door and was gone.
I had to wait there a little while. I think they both did that on purpose, but finally the door opened again. Shaedra had a smirk on her face, as if she were privileged to a private joke, most likely concerning me. “Come on in,” she said, and led me to the parlor where her mistress waited in her wheel chair.
“So what is it now?” the old woman asked. “Come here to blame my husband or nephew for that girl running away?”
“No ma’m, I’m just wondering where they fit in.”
“Fit in? Well, that’s easy. One was her Pastor, the other her friend. And like everyone else that cared about her, she let them down.”
“You had told me your late husband had worked in the barbershop. Why didn’t you tell me he was the Preacher at Resurrection, too?”
“You didn’t ask,” she grinned. “And what would that have mattered anyway?”
“It would have helped fill in the picture a little.”
She leaned forward in her chair. “I’m afraid your picture is made of conjecture and opinion, not facts nor the truth.”
I ignored her snide comment. “What of your nephew?”
“What of him? He’s a nice boy. He’d been friends with Mischa. Then when she ran off, his school studies slipped and he didn’t handle her leaving every well.”
“Because she was his only friend. He never fit in with the rest of the children. Being the new kid isn’t easy, and teenagers can be cruel to each other at that delicate age.”
“Why were they cruel to Eric?”
She looked hard at me. I think she knew I was fishing around, trying to get her to admit something to me. “I think you already know,” she said.
“Because of the kittens?”
She nodded. “Rumors can follow you all your days.”
“So it was just a rumor then,” I prodded. “He didn’t really drown a bunch of kittens in a kiddy pool back home?”
She looked disgusted. “What does it matter now if he did or not? That was before he came here and stayed with us. That was before Jesus came into his life. It was a child’s prank that went too far, nothing more.”
“So it did happen?”
I could see her temper trying to flare behind her eyes, but she held it in check and smiled. “Have you ever done anything you regret?” she asked. “Something you knew was wrong, but you did it anyway?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
“What happened with my nephew and the kittens was just like that. He felt bad about it, but he got over it and went on with his life.”
“And when Mischa disappeared?”
“He didn’t want to stay here anymore. We sent him back home.”
“Is there some way I can reach him, maybe talk to him? A phone number or an address?”
She looked at me incredulously, as if I had just asked her the dumbest question in the world. “Are you trying to bait me again?” she asked.
“No ma’m, I’d just like to talk to…”
She held up her hand. “Stop,” she said. “My nephew adored that girl, and she broke his heart along with everyone else’s. He has done his best to forget her and live an exemplary life. If she is dead, as you seem to think she is, then let the dead rest and the living live.”
There was a hard look in her eye as if her pent up anger would spill over any minute.
“Sometimes the dead can’t rest until the truth is known.”
That did it. Her face turned beet red. “And you know the truth! Mischa was a bad girl. She got pregnant, she ran away, and that was that.”
“She didn’t run away.”
“So YOU say.”
“I doubt she was pregnant either.”
“And I’m having a hard time believing she was a bad girl.”
“Well you didn’t know her, now did you,” she spat.
“No, not then. But I know her now.”
“As I said before, your picture is guesswork and your own opinion. But the truth is, she wasn’t the good little girl you have placed on your pedestal.”
“Why do you dislike her so much, Mrs. Shiflett?”
She hesitated for a moment, and then answered. “She broke our hearts.”
I reached into my pants pocket and pulled something out. It was a Kleenex. “Here’s a tissue,” I said and dropped it in her lap. “Sounds like you’re the one who needs to get over it and move on.”
I turned around and left. I kept expecting to hear words of rage aimed at my back on the way out, but it was silent. Even Shaedra was quiet as she followed me to the door. As I stepped out on the porch, I thought of something. I turned around and Shaedra was standing in the doorway, leaning against the doorjamb, one hand on her hip.
“You don’t know her nephew, do you?” I asked.
“Not very well,” she replied. “Over the years he has come to visit on occasion, but I don’t know much about him.”
I nodded and turned to go.
“…But I may remember more over a candlelight dinner,” she suggested.
I stopped and looked at her. She was smiling quite seductively.
“It’s amazing what candlelight can do,” I replied.
She continued to smile and raised an eyebrow.
“But most of all, it reminds me how much I miss my wife,” I said. Her smile vanished and I went down the walk.
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“Resurrection Diaries” by Paul D Aronson.
Original text copyright 2007.
10th Anniversary Edition 2017. All Rights Reserved.