Lost and Found

Sometimes life’s greatest mystery is, well, locating your mom


By Maria Johnson

Where was my mom?

I had no idea.

I’d arranged for a friend of mine — a ride-share driver — to take my mom from her house to a water aerobics class, a step toward post-vaccination normalcy.

And now, at the appointed hour, my friend was texting me to say that he’d arrived at my mom’s house early, but there was no sign of her. He rang the doorbell, waited, then left.


I called her cell phone. No answer.

I tried the landline. No answer.

I felt my heartbeat pick up.

“I’m going over,” I told my husband.

“Yeah, you should,” he said. “Lemme know if you need help.”

If I needed help. I knew what that meant. He did, too.

But it was probably the same situation as last time she didn’t answer. She was on her patio, puttering in her flowers, and her cell phone was inside.

I rang the doorbell once . . . twice . . . three times.


I heard her dog barking inside the house. If my mom were on the patio, her faithful guardian would be with her, not in the house. I fumbled with my keys and opened the door.

“Hellll-oooo-oooo,” I called.


There was her dog, wagging away.

“Where is she, Ella?”

Ella ran to the back of the house. I followed.


The bed was made in her room. Everything seemed to be in order. I closed my eyes for a second and made myself look in the bathroom.


I walked to the kitchen. There was her coffee cup, and her favorite flannel jacket, with a soft blue plaid, hanging over the back of the kitchen chair where she sits. A blue gel pack, thawed, lay on the kitchen counter. Was she having a pain she hadn’t told me about?

I swept through the dining room and living room, out onto the patio. The rainbow lantana was vibrant, and the swamp hibiscus was blooming in wide pink saucers.

But nada mama.

I walked back through the house, stopping briefly at a shelf full of family pictures.

There was my dad.

My mom’s sister. Their mother and father. Their maternal grandmother and grandfather.

All gone.

“Do Y’ALL know where she is?” I asked the gallery.

No response.

So much for the view from heaven.

I scanned the house again, looking for clues, and decided she’d left on a mission.

Did she find another ride to the class?

I headed for the Y.

“I’ve, um, lost my mom,” I said to a woman behind the counter. “Has she checked in?”

“Oh yeah, she was in here earlier. She said her ride didn’t show up.”

Now I was really stumped.

I looked toward the glass wall that separated the lobby from the pool. Was she still here?

Across the pool, a group of women splashed with foam dumbbells. One woman, with her back to me, looked sort of like my mom. If that bobbing noggin belonged to her, I didn’t want to scare her by showing up on the pool deck. The class would be over in 30  minutes. I set my phone alarm and headed to the gym to calm myself with a few dozen sets.

When my alarm stuttered, I walked to the women’s locker room, which was dripping with grannies. Literally.

I checked the locker aisles and the dressing stalls. No ma. I hit the showers. All of the curtains were pulled shut. I thought about calling her name, but there was no way she would hear me under a stream of water, without her hearing aids.

I had an idea: We’d just gotten a pedicure together. I knew her color. Plus, we have the same crooked toe on our left foot. I bent double and inched down the row inspecting soapy feet as nonchalantly as possible — which is not very.

“Have you lost something?” a woman behind me asked gently.

“Yeah, my mom,” I said popping upright.

In that moment, I knew I sounded like that kid who, long ago, in the toy section of a store called Value Village, realized her mom was nowhere in sight. The kid who went running to find her. The kid who finally found her a couple of aisles away. Had I wandered away from her? Or had she wandered away from me?

I couldn’t remember.

I just remember how relieved I was to see her, and the look of surprise on her face when she saw I was distressed.

Fifty-some-odd years later, I had help in my search. A squad of soaked grannies was on the case, calling my mom’s name around the locker room while I checked the pool and sauna.

I was standing on the pool deck, utterly flummoxed, when one member of the search party came out of the locker room, waving
at me.

“I found her!” she said triumphantly.

She led me to the locker area — which I’d passed on the way in — and there sat my mom on a bench, wrapped in a towel.

“Hi, honey,” she said, smiling. She seemed surprised to see me.

“When did you . . . why did you . . . how did you get here?” I began.

She’d gotten mixed up, she said, and thought her ride was coming an hour earlier than we’d planned. When he didn’t appear, she’d called me, but I didn’t pick up. So she’d asked a friend, who happened to be helping her in the garden that morning, to take her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should have left you a message.”

“But just now,” I said. “A few minutes ago, where were you?”

“Oh, in the toilet,” she said, dropping her voice. “I couldn’t get my bathing suit back up. You know how hard that is when you’re wet. But, look, I’ve met the nicest people.”

I stood there, eyes wide.

It all made sense.

Sort of.

And she looked so happy.

A new friend walked by her.

“I can tell that’s your daughter,” she said. “She looks just like you.”

“Thank you,” my mom and I said in unison, involuntarily.

I turned to leave her with her new pals.

“I’ll be in the gym whenever you’re ready,” I said. “Don’t take another ride home.”

“I won’t,” she said, laughing and turning to her soggy classmate. “Well, lemme tell you what happened.” 

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Contact her at ohenrymaria@gmail.com.

Favorite children’s book? Not exactly. More like nonfiction, encyclopedia-type books about dogs and horses. “They didn’t do much for my narrative skills,” she says, “but I did know everything about Saint Bernards and draft horses at a very young age.”

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