Trouble – Part Three: The Case of the Missing Wig
August 1, 2013
At seven o’clock one recent morning, Alice called to report that her wig had been stolen, the very wig she’d just told Nadine she was considering buying, but which she actually already had in her possession.
I hardly knew where to find the phone to answer it, let alone how to think about theft in my mother’s apartment. My first thought was the incredibly long drive we would have to take to replace this wig she insisted on purchasing but never wears. (See Wigging It.)
“Are you sure?” I asked.
Why is this the question everybody asks when something goes missing? I guess in some fantasy world, things are never lost or stolen, while in this real world, things are lost or stolen all the time. You could fill an ocean with all the missing things. Whole ships have been lost, for example.
It had been a long night. I’d just gotten back to sleep for the fifteenth time. At midnight a medical aide at The Place had called to say Alice was terribly sick to her stomach. Alice called me a bit later to say she felt better and was going to bed and not to worry, this was just her usual bad stomach/acid reflux event that happens once a month or so.
She now told me she’d slept soundly through the night, felt fine, and had started to get dressed when she discovered that the wig, which she keeps on a mannequin head in a Fred Meyer bag, was no longer in her closet.
No resident in search of a full head of white hair would have a key to the apartment, and no medical aide or caretaker at The Place is over thirty-five. “Why would anyone take a wig?” I asked.
“To sell,” Alice said wearily, exasperated at having to explain the ways of the world to me. “And I know who took it. It was the med aide who was here late last night helping me when I got sick. He’s a very large man. He broke my scale.”
“He was weighing himself?”
“No, he was in the bathroom with me. He must have kicked it out of the way. The plastic cover over the numbers came off. Do you think you can fix it?”
“Maybe. What was that about the wig again?” I was awake now. The sun was bright in my windows.
“You better come over and see for yourself.”
I stepped out onto the deck and spotted a heron on a nearby log, fishing. “Good morning, Neighbor,” I said. “Wig missing. Scale broken.”
When I arrived Alice directed me to the bedroom from her La-Z-Boy. “Just you go see,” she said in a sort of oddly satisfied way. “You won’t find it! He had to go in there to get a towel for me, and he must have seen the wig and taken it,”
I looked around the bedroom for a black bag that might have been tossed or kicked under the bed or into a corner in the hubbub of sickness and a search for towels. Nothing.
I examined every shelf in the linen closet and lifted up all the sheets and towels hoping to find a squished wig underneath. I looked on the shelf in the clothes closet. I looked in the bathroom, even checking behind the shower curtain. No wig.
I reported the missing wig to a staff person. She said she’d look into it.
We waited for word on the theft. In the meantime, Alice continued to eat lunch and dinner with Nadine in the dining room. She’d decided not to talk to her about the man absconding with her wig because Nadine, she remembered, is a “blabbermouth.”
“If I tell her,” Alice said, “pretty soon everybody here will know I have a wig.”
“Not if you never wear it,” I pointed out.
“Oh that doesn’t matter!”
The next day Alice called to say she’d told Nadine about the missing wig.
“You told me she was a gossip, that she’d tell everybody…”
“I swore her to secrecy,” she said.
“Will that do any good?”
“Now just hush up about it,” she said. “It’s too late to take it back.” She hung up.
I leaned back on the sofa and closed my eyes. Brio snuggled up next to me. “Why do I have to be involved in this wig thing?” I asked my dog.
She acted like she didn’t care.
Two days later Alice found the wig in the Fred Meyer bag on a hanger in the clothes closet. “Now how did it get there? I never kept it there.”
I acknowledged that I hadn’t seen it there either, but I could have missed it because I wasn’t looking at the clothes, only the shelves above the clothes. In any case, the wig, which had cost a lot of money, was now back.
Alice was more agitated by the wig’s return than when she couldn’t find it. She wanted to get to the bottom of it. Had a med aide brought it back while she was sleeping? A caretaker? A cat burglar?
Since I hadn’t closely examined the clothes hangers, I couldn’t say whether or not the wig had been in the closet all along. Why accuse someone if you don’t know for sure? Besides, if he’d done no wrong, how would the med aide respond to her needs the next time around?
Maybe he’d first checked the wrong closet first for the towels, I suggested. Maybe, as he rummaged, the wig had fallen off the shelf and he thoughtfully put it on a hanger to get it out of the way. Maybe the cleaning woman had found it and put it on the hanger. Or maybe the wig had been taken and returned, but perhaps by someone else, not him.
Alice looked at these options as if they were choices at a deli. She said she wanted to tell Nadine the man who had come to help her when she’d been sick had stolen the wig and returned it.
“But you don’t know that,” I said. “And she is a gossip, remember? She could upset the people who work here by implying that one of them is a thief. It would be different if we knew for sure what had happened.”
“I don’t want to upset the caretakers,” Alice said. “So what should I say to Nadine?”
We carefully rehearsed a short speech she would give at lunch. She would speak only the truth. “I found the wig in the closet. I don’t know what happened. It could have been there all along.”
It took all she had to stick to this version of events. In her mind, it needed one more sentence to be wholly true: Maybe the med aide took it and brought it back when I was sleeping.
“Or maybe he didn’t,” I reminded her. “If you tell her that last part, Nadine will make a big drama out of all this.”
Right before lunch she called me again to rehearse her lines, then off she went.
I called the staff person I’d reported the missing wig to in the first place. She’d checked into it. No results. Nothing else in the building had gone missing. If one of the workers had taken it, I was satisfied that they all at least knew now that Alice was sharp enough to tell when things disappeared from her apartment.
Alice called me immediately after lunch. “Nadine just shrugged her shoulders when I told her,” she said.
And then, as sometimes happens with human beings when we’ve gotten a desired result from someone by way of reading their characters and evading their weaknesses, Nadine became more attractive to Alice.
At their next meal, they played Tic-Tac-Toe. At the following meal they laughed and laughed, Alice said, when Nadine did some family math incorrectly and came up with numbers that wrongly indicated she’d delivered her first baby at age thirteen. “Oh, we thought that was so funny,” she said.
Since then, the bad news about Nadine, such as:
“She never compliments me on any of my outfits and she thinks she’s so smart with those clothes she gets from Old Pueblo Traders.”
Has been outweighed by the good, or, at least, mixed good:
“I think Nadine is jealous because you come to visit me more often than her daughter comes to visit her.”
Alice has an appointment to see Marveen to have the wig trimmed. I plan to be present to try to make sure it doesn’t end up with the George Washington look, the style Marveen tends to give all of her customers at The Place.Most important of all, the trouble between Nadine and Alice has simmered down a bit, and Alice and I can speak of other things.