for Barbara Struncova
Chapter Three, continued
Where are your teeth, Barbara?
Where are your bones?
In the brackish muck of an estuary, delivered by the tide?
On the bottom of the deep?
In the belly of a shark, a crocodile, a worm?
Are you resting near the coast you loved, enshrouded in the makeshift stolen coffin?
I know you are in the ocean you loved, in the country of your dreams.
The warm touch of the sun is your fingers, the brush of the wind is your breath.
In the thunder, I hear your crying and feel your tears.
None of it makes any sense.
Her family didn’t go to look for her. No one. Surely the sister speaks English and could have pressed Jim, if she had gotten there in time. They could have pressured the police. They could have raised holy hell, like the parents of the young man who disappeared two years before. All of us know his name and recognize his face, even if we’ve never seen him alive or dead.
Ivan took everything, even her clothes, and left. I don’t understand.
Why did they prevent the police from checking her phone, her computer and the rest of her things? Could they not have realized this would be the result?
Who is Ivan? Did they really call him?
Why would Jim have left her things untouched in the first place? Shouldn’t they have disappeared with her if we were supposed to believe she was traveling? The board bag was big enough.
After the OIJ made contact with Barbara’s family, a terrible silence fell over it all. The family asked the OIJ not to talk with her distraught housemates, who were facilitating the investigation, and the OIJ asked the housemates not to talk with anyone else.
Barbara’s uncle in Prague sent private investigators to Costa Rica. They trudged around frowning, sweating, asking questions and taking notes; then they were gone. Why didn’t he come with them? Why did a massive search for her body not ensue?
I see there is more I don’t know about Barbara than what I do know. More I don’t know about Jim, too. It didn’t matter until now. We were all expats from somewhere—all of us—with families left behind, the stories we told and the ones we didn’t. It didn’t matter, then. We were friends and that’s all—eating together, laughing and playing volleyball on the beach on hot Sunday mornings. Nothing mattered but us, here and now. Until, suddenly, everything mattered, and it was too late.
What stories did you not tell us, Barbara? Could they have saved your life?
I talk to my husband about it. He calms me, saying it was surely an accident. A strong man like Jim, with a precisely or poorly aimed blow to the temple, could kill a person, large or small.
“And the blood?” I ask.
He says she could have fallen unconscious to the floor, causing her head to bleed. We all know head wounds bleed a lot.
But that much? Enough to fill a closet and leave a trail to the door, then into the trunk of a car?
“And the saran wrap? And the duct tape?” I ask him. I can’t help it.
“Drugs,” he says, as if it were obvious.
I should have known he would say that. Strange behavior, in his mind, is always the result of dealing in drugs. He says that if you need to pack up drugs, presumably marijuana and cocaine, you wrap them in layer after layer of saran wrap with things like coffee grounds and oregano leaves in between. If you’re good, you can even fool the dogs.
“So Jim had drugs to pack before he left?”
“Sure,” my husband says, shrugging.
I don’t know. I don’t see it. I don’t see it at all. Of course, I wouldn’t. No one saw any of this.
“Why do you think her family didn’t come?” my husband continues. “And why else would Ivan take all of her things and made them disappear?”
He thinks there is some dirty family business going on. I know he does. Jim’s dim past, Barbara’s obscure job, and the family with money who gave every appearance of squelching the investigation… He’s Italian, and can find the shadow of the mob behind every bush in the garden, if he looks long enough.
I’d like to argue with him. I like think I’m being fair. I’d like to have something to say in their defense, but when I open my mouth, I have nothing.
Of course there are dangerous sexual practices that can result in death. Nothing about Barbara leads me believe that she was voluntarily asphyxiated, accidently past the point of no return, but how would I know? Each possible scenario is more preposterous than the last.
And I insist like the refrain in a song sung by devils: what about all the blood? Or whatever it was that left a trail from the closet to the car. Something happened in that room that has not been told. If Jim is innocent, then why did he run away?
We lost two friends. Barbara is somewhere turning into sand, her bones in the deep or in the bellies of estuary crocodiles. Jim turned up in Texas again, but I haven’t exactly wanted to stop by.
I hope it’s all a scam—an elaborate, indecipherable scam to delude everyone who knew them—that Barbara and Ivan are living somewhere on their own paradisiacal island, bought for her by her family with dirty money that was somehow laundered in her supposed murder by her lover Jim. I hope it was all a setup. I hope to God that Jim is innocent, and that we have all been cunningly outwitted.
I would love to apologize to him on my knees.
I don’t expect to.
They are still together among my photographs, embraced, smiling.
I remember you, Barbara. I insist.
Everything is not alright.
May your lover be brought to justice for betraying your life.
Where can he hide from what he has done?
In my dreams, one day, perhaps very far, Interpol will knock on his door and they will drag him away with metal around his wrists and make him tell what a wicked thing he has done.
I want to see his face in the newspaper, hear he has been captured.
I want terrible men to make him say what he did to you.
I want him to say it, whatever it was.
I want to wring this secret from him with my bare hands.
Haunt him, Barbara
Haunt the ocean.
Look up at him from beds of kelp that wave like your hair.
Haunt him, beautiful friend.
Find him in the country where he is safe because no crime has been committed.
No one wept at your funeral.
No one can prove that you are dead.
Everyone moved away. In January, two somber couples moved out of the beautiful beach house that three entered. None of them could bear, even in brightest daylight, the ominous quiet of the empty room. At night they jumped at every shift and rustle of the breeze, glimpsing, from the corners of their eyes, the glow of blood. They took Jim’s belongings and threw them away—all of them. No one wanted any of it. Randy adopted the dog.
No one is left at all. Nothing remains to bear witness: no monument, no marker, no voice speaking a name in the silence.
I remember you, Barbara.
I do not forget.
I feel your smile in the sun.
I hear your laugh in the rustling leaves of trees.
I know you are somewhere in the rain, evaporated from the sea.
You are in the mangrove tree, growing from the fertile mud of the estuary, where lies the crocodile who snapped your finger bones.
I don’t know where you are.
You are everywhere.
Read the “Afterward”
(additional information that I have learned during the writing of this story)
Us (except “Jake,”) at Marco and Rebecca’s wedding, July 2010: Barbara, “Paige”, “Marco”, my husband, “Rebecca”, me and “Jim”
Barbara Struncova disappeared on December 5, 2010 and is still one of Costa Rica’s cold case missing persons.
All of the names of people and most of the names of places have been changed.
All of them except Barbara’s.