The flat mate’s girlfriend saw them together in the morning.

        “He made her tea and they were sitting at the kitchen table, just talking,” she said.

        The guy introduced himself as Daniel and pointed to the note he put on the fridge, but the girl never said her name. She just smiled and nodded. The girlfriend had never met Daniel or the girl before; she was visiting for the weekend, and her boyfriend was only subletting for the summer.

The girlfriend had heard that Daniel was trying to finish his Philosophy PhD and apparently camped out at the university library every day. Even when he was in the house, he kept to himself and the confines of his room.

        “The power went off in the middle of the night,” Daniel commented curtly.

        “Oh that’s too bad, I suppose my yogurt wouldn’t last then!” the girlfriend said.

        “I suppose not, perhaps you should do the groceries later,” the girl said.

        “Yes, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to cook dinner either!” the girlfriend thought out loud.

        But sensing the couple were eager to continue the conversation she intruded, she grabbed the orange juice and some dry cereal and hurried out.

        “I’m so glad you’re here”, she heard Daniel say as she turned the corner and started upstairs.

        Later that afternoon, the girlfriend came back with new groceries and found the girl struggling with the lock.

        “Do you need help?” she asked.

        “I just got this key and it doesn’t seem to work,” the girl moved back to let the girlfriend use her key.

        Just as she was unloading the food into the fridge, the girl let out a sharp sigh.

        “I can’t believe I forgot to get groceries! I promised Daniel I’d make him dinner—his thesis is taking longer than he thought and he’s doing everything he can to wrap it up. I wouldn’t want to bother him with a meal out!”

        The girlfriend said she had plans for tea but the girl promised she’d be back in half an hour, before they came back. By the time the girlfriend got back to make dinner, the girl was gone and the key was already on the coffee table, but there were no new groceries in the fridge. When she heard the door downstairs open and shut near midnight, she figured the couple must have gone out for dinner and maybe a drink to calm the poor doctoral student’s nerves.

        The boyfriend and the second subletter also met the girl the next day. They were both in the living room when she came in, a grocery bag in one hand and toiletries in the other.

        “Here’s for you boys,” she smiled and handed over the toilet paper. “And snacks for Daniel in case he starves in his own room!”

        “I hope his thesis is coming along fine!” the boyfriend said, pleased to see his landlord’s girlfriend much friendlier than her partner.

        The girl was in Daniel’s room the whole afternoon, and when she left, the second subletter recalled, she took the grocery bag with her.

        “When I got Daniel’s email that he had to go home for an emergency, I thought maybe he was giving up. You see, just the day before, he came to my office absolutely devastated. His computer was stolen and he had lost much of his research. But then the email sounded very urgent, said his mum got into an accident, so I had no reason to say no,” said the Professor.

        When the detective asked if anything seemed suspicious, the Professor thought for a moment and said, “Daniel was desperate to graduate, said his parents were cutting him off and that they would sell the house and force him out by the end of summer. He was making real progress on his thesis too, so I thought—I thought what happened was just an unfortunate series of events.”

        “Did it seem strange to you he just left like that?” asked the detective.

        “Not really, in fact, it seemed perfectly plausible that he’d do that, leave us a note in the middle of the night. And his girlfriend—well that girl—told us because his mum was in the ICU, he even abandoned his thesis to be with her. Sure, everything seems slightly off now, but there was really nothing out of the ordinary,” said the boyfriend.

        So when the girl moved into Daniel’s room, no one had any objections. She wasn’t in the house a lot, but when she was, she always made extra food and bought supplies for the house.

        “To be honest, we liked it much more when she was there,” the boyfriend said with an uncomfortable sigh.

        “Was there anything weird about her?” the detective wanted to know.

        “Well, she likes spiders,” the boyfriend winces to remember. “I just got back from dinner and saw her cupping something in her hand and just humming to it. I said hi and she seemed a little spooked, but just for a second. Turns out it was a spider she found trying to climb out of the kitchen sink, but the sink was oily and it kept slipping. Said she feels sorry for the thing. I think she took it out by the shed in the back garden and let it go.”

        “What did the spider look like?”

        “Well, it’s one of those slim and spiky ones, dark red, about this big. If you ask me, it’s pretty fucking ugly. But I guess nothing wrong with a nice girl liking a few spiders.”

        That was why when the end of summer rolled by, everything came crashing down in a shock. When Daniel’s parents called the school after failing repeatedly to reach their son, his advisor was contacted and was equally confused to find the mother well and bellowing through the phone about her son’s whereabouts. The subletters were called upon but were not of very much use given how little they knew about Daniel.

        On the other hand, something interesting turned up in the shed in the back garden. The search team found a few dead spiders and a lizard on one of the disused shelves, so dry and dark and wrinkly it could only be caused by something extremely toxic.

        “How do you poison a lizard?” the detective asked the lab technician he took the dead little things to.

        “I suppose you poison its food.”

And before anyone noticed, the girl had not been back for over a week and anything that could point to Daniel’s mysterious girlfriend was gone. They searched everything in his room and back home, but it was as if the girl never left any trace in his life.

        “They might have eloped,” suggested the girlfriend, but everyone else was silent.

        A week later, someone in the team had the whimsical thought of scanning the meadow sealed off from public entry, and found Daniel’s phone in the grassland close to his college. The detective learned on his Facebook account he was trying to sublet on a local housing group, promising a “ridiculously low price” given it was already early July.

        By the end of September, the search taskforce was unofficially dismissed and most of the team went on to different cases. The detective still kept an eye out on the street and smoothed out tattered sketches of the girl on lampposts, constructed unconvincingly from the somewhat contradicting memories of the subletters. Next to hers were pictures of Daniel, a distant, school-boyish look on his face. If you rushed past without really looking, you would’ve thought the two were a thing.

The first day it started to snow, the detective wondered if Daniel might be cold, and if the girl had found herself a better home.

 

 

 

Published by Michelle Ko