This happens in Chapter 20, “The Blackberry Kiss.” It seems as though Phoebe’s mother has left the family, at least for a short time. She left notes for Phoebe, Prudence, and their father. Phoebe’s note says to keep all of the doors locked. Prudence’s note has instructions to heat up the spaghetti for dinner. Mr. Winterbottom’s note says “I had to go away. I can’t explain. I’ll call you in a few days.”
Sal gets a sinking feeling in her stomach because this scene is an all-too-familiar one. Her own mother left her, too. Although she sent Sal postcards from her travels, she never physically returned home. Sal was afraid this would happen to Phoebe and her sister, just as it happened to her. Phoebe immediately fears the worst: that her mother has been kidnapped by that “lunatic” they keep seeing on the street. When Sal goes back home, she tells her father about Mrs. Winterbottom and the notes. “She says she’s coming back, but I don’t believe it,” Sal adds. Her father replies, “People usually come back.” His answer gives Sal a bit more hope that her own mother will somehow return someday, too.