List of People Who Disappeared Mysteriously at Sea
11 February 2023
Her favorite game isn’t really a game, not a game like the other bus passengers play with zombie armies or crushed jewels. She plays games like that, but not on the bus. In the sight of others, she needs to appear to spend her time more productively. So she plays her own secret game: She opens a browser to an online encyclopedia and clicks the “Random article” link.
A hockey player named Mike St. Lawrence. “The Skeleton Key,” the synopsis of an episode from a television series she has never seen. Mary Constance Wyndham, Countess of Wemyss and March. Caladenia longicauda subsp. calcigena, commonly known as the coastal white spider orchid.
She doesn’t always read the article that pops up at the end of the link. She skims to get the idea or passes it up for the next one. Every once in a while, she finds an article she wants to read all the way through. She usually forgets them later. But she can spin away the time from the office to her apartment in something resembling enlightened enrichment that doesn’t require real effort.
The solar eclipse of March 16, 1942. “Amy, Wonderful Amy,” a popular song from 1930 about the first woman who flew solo from the United Kingdom to Australia. A neighborhood in Mexico City named Colonia Buenavista.
An older woman lands in the seat next to her, plastic shopping bags bulging into her space. She pulls her coat tighter around her and shrinks closer to the bus window. Frost rings the window outside and it’s not much warmer inside, but she keeps her gloves in her pocket so she can keep touching her phone screen.
She presses the “Random article” link again. She reads: “List of people who disappeared mysteriously at sea.”
It’s a long list. Some of the notable names have their backstories filled out in a paragraph or two, but the bulk of the article is nothing but names and dates. Most of the dates are clustered in the 1700s and 1800s, but a few are within the past fifty years. People, it seems, can get lost at any time.
At the end of the list, there is one name without a date. The name is hers.
She scrubs at her cracked phone screen with her thumb as if that would clear up the confusion. Her name, in plain black text, sits at the end of the list.
The woman next to her shifts and a loaf of bread falls out of one of the bags and hits her shoulder. The woman doesn’t seem to notice or care. She doesn’t care either. She is fixed on her phone, her mind running through explanations. It could be someone with the same name, but why isn’t there a past date of disappearance like the other names? It could be a joke, but no one thinks about her enough to want to play a joke on her, and there is no way to guarantee she would ever randomly stumble across the page to get the joke.
She grips her phone in both hands and shakily logs into her encyclopedia user account. She has contributed before and she knows how to edit pages. She deletes her name from the list, noting the lack of citation as justification, and refreshes the page. Her name is gone. She puts her phone to sleep. The loaf of bread wobbles off of her shoulder and onto the bus floor. She turns her eyes toward the window as the woman next to her huffs to retrieve the bread.
She holds out for five minutes before she turns her phone on again, opens the web browser, and navigates to the list of people who disappeared mysteriously at sea. Her name is back on the list. She clicks through the page’s history of edits and sees that another user immediately replaced her deletion after she made it. Their user account shows they’ve only contributed to this single article, but several times.
She returns to the page and deletes her name again. She refreshes the page. Her name is gone from the list. She refreshes again, again, and again. Her name is back on the list.
She drops her phone into her lap and stares into the crowd wriggling inside the bus. The woman next to her sniffs and coughs, shopping bags rustling. A kid behind her tugs at the hood of her coat. The chaos of the world around her washes over and through her, and in its wake leaves an odd kind of peace. She has always wanted to have a space of her own, dedicated only to her. Now she does, in that final line at the end of the list of people who disappeared mysteriously at sea.
She slips her phone into a pocket of her backpack and zips the pocket shut. She settles back into her seat and watches out of the bus window. At last, after a lifetime of waiting, she has something to look forward to.