On her bedside table lay Go Forth and Find, a leather bookmark near the middle. Later I read the book cover to cover. It was a romance as banal and unbelievable as the stories of Frank Merriwell's athletic prowess, and I assured myself that the book hadn't influenced her in any way. She'd read many such romances, and surely she knew how far-fetched they were. Besides, she'd told me it was tedious. She hadn't finished it, and didn't bother to take it with her, because maybe, at long last, she'd found the real thing. I wanted very much to believe that.
One afternoon, not long after her departure, Father sat on the sofa beside me in the parlor, wearing only his undershirt and pajama pants, his fake glasses and moustache gone, his stopwatch abandoned.
"You sure?" he kept asking me. "She didn't talk to any men?"
I never mentioned Harry Jones to anyone. I told myself that I was keeping our secret, and that Mother wouldn't have wanted me to blab, but that was only part of it. Harry Jones seemed like a fantasy, a figment of our imagination, and I didn't want to expose him to the harsh light of conventional Lafayette. Besides, she could've gone anywhere, with anyone.
"None?" my father said again. "No men at all?"
I recalled her saying good-bye to Buster, thanking him profusely. "Nobody except Buster," I told my father, and he wrote the name in a notebook.
I felt terrible that I might've caused Buster some trouble, so I lashed out. "Dottie told me she saw you in Indianapolis. With your cousin."
He flushed but didn't hesitate. "That's preposterous. I haven't gone anywhere near Indianapolis in months." Then he gave me his superintendent's smile. "Dottie's not too bright, son." He patted my good leg, got up, and left the room. He never again pestered me about Mudlavia, and after a while he refused to speak about my mother at all.
For a while I thought about trying to write to Harry, or waiting till I got a little older and looking him up in Chicago, but I did neither of these things, telling myself that Harry Jones couldn't possibly be his real name. I tried to accept my losses, feeling deep down that I was at fault for losing both my leg and my mother. Of course, when I was angry, I also had to ask myself how she could have gone off and left her only son. Especially one who needed her so badly. Perhaps it was because I needed her so badly. Or perhaps her flight had nothing to do with me, or with my father, or with Harry Jones, or with anything or anyone we knew about. I kept expecting to turn around and see her, and often thought I heard her calling me on the street. Even now, even though she's long dead, I'm still waiting for her to reveal herself, wearing her egret-feather hat.
After I went away to college in Bloomington, I received a letter from my mother's sister, May, in Cleveland, whom I hadn't seen or heard from in years. Aunt May wondered if my father had told me the truth about what happened to my mother. My mother had written to me many times, the letter said, but May suspected that Father had never shown me her letters. My father, she wrote, had been notified that Mother was hit by a trolley and killed not even a year after she left home. She'd been living alone in San Francisco, working in a hat shop, trying to make a new start. Someone had sent her the money to go out there, set herself up, and hire a lawyer. She'd served my father with divorce papers, which he'd refused to sign. "You must believe," my aunt wrote, "that your mother loved you and didn't want to leave you. She intended to send for you, but she had to escape first." May said that she had no idea who had given my mother the money she needed, but I thought I knew.