The story opens with Raymond and Lamort playing in a field with leaves shaped like butterflies. Raymond is a young macoute and Lamort is a young woman living alone with her grandmother. Raymond is trying unsuccessfully to seduce Lamort, who distracts him by asking him to recount the story of how he got his limp. Raymond relishes the opportunity to show his bravery, and so tells Lamort the story again.
He was on guard the night of the regime change, but no one had told him about the coup in Port-au-Prince. Thus, Raymond was still wearing the old regime uniform when his friend Toto came up and saw how he was dressed. Toto didn’t know if Raymond was part of the old or new regime, so he fired his gun at him. In the chaos of the moment Raymond forgot the password given to all soldiers. He finally remembered when one of Toto’s bullets hit him in the leg. He yelled out the password and Toto stopped shooting.
Laughing, Lamort asks Raymond why he didn’t just take off the uniform. He ignores the question, instead asking her if she remembers the password he told her. She whispers the password, ‘peace’, in his ear. Raymond tells her to never forget the password, because it may save her life one day. Just then, a round of gunshots resounds through the air, signaling the start of curfew. Lamort says goodbye to Raymond, who blows her a kiss and tells her to be careful.
On her way home, Lamort passes by the gutted, abandoned houses of old-regime followers. Many of them died the night of the coup, and those who survived fled to the hills or took boats to Miami. Seeing a bed of red hibiscus near the houses, Lamort stops and picks a few before continuing home.
Lamort’s grandmother waits for her outside their house. She throws away Lamort’s hibiscus, saying that they grow with blood on them. Lamort’s grandmother has news to share. Someone has rented the yellow house they let, and she needs Lamort to bring their guest some needles and thread. Many of the visitors to Ville Rose choose to stay at their rental house, and it is always exciting. Lamort and her grandmother rush to make Lamort look presentable, scrubbing her skin with mint leaves and changing her clothes. Lamort’s grandmother tells her that their guest is a foreign lady, Mademoiselle Grant, and that she shouldn’t bother her unnecessarily. Lamort asks a plethora of questions about the guest, including if she is old regime or new regime. Her grandmother answers that the woman believes in God’s regime, and that she is here to “write things down for posterity” (Danticat 104). Lamort tells her grandmother that if the woman asks her questions, she will answer them. Her grandmother warns her that she will get into trouble one day. Still, she sends her granddaughter off to their guest, after telling Lamort she looks as pretty as Lamort’s mother used to.
Lamort arrives quickly at the yellow house and knocks on the door, calling out “Mademoiselle Grant” (Danticat 105). A young woman wearing jeans answers the door and asks Lamort how she knows her name. She lets Lamort into the house after Lamort says her grandmother sent her with the needles. The woman introduces herself as Emilie, and asks Lamort for her name. After Lamort introduces herself, Emilie asks how she came to be named ‘death’. Lamort explains that her mother died while giving birth to her, and she was named for that.
Emilie gives Lamort lemonade and butter cookies, and lights a cigarette for herself. Lamort asks Emilie if she is a journalist, and Emilie says she isn’t, she’s just visiting people in the area. Lamort asks who these people are, but Emilie evades the question. Lamort continues to ask questions until Emilie says that Lamort is the true journalist. She asks if Lamort can read and write, to which Lamort replies that she can’t read American. The words Emilie wanted Lamort to read were in French, which proves that Lamort is illiterate. Lamort is embarrassed, but Emilie tells her there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Evidently warming up to Lamort, Emilie reveals her true purpose for coming to Ville Rose. Her mother was old regime and a journalist working for newspaper called Libéte in Port-au-Prince. The last time Emilie’s mother was heard from, she was reporting in this region of Haiti. Emilie suspects her mother may have been killed the night of the coup, and wants Lamort to take her to the mass burial site. She takes out several photos of her mother and asks if Lamort recognizes her. Lamort does not, but agrees to take Emilie to the gravesite.
Just then, Lamort’s grandmother comes to the door. Lamort has to hide from her grandmother, or else she will not be able to take Emilie to the gravesite. She hides in Emilie’s bedroom and sees a purple cloth spread over the bed with many patches of square cloth laid over it. Outside, Lamort’s grandmother and Emilie make small talk before Lamort’s grandmother asks about her granddaughter. Emilie lies and says Lamort already left. Lamort’s grandmother doesn’t believe her, but leaves anyways.
Emilie comes into the bedroom with a flashlight and an American passport. Lamort asks her what the cloth is for. Emilie tells her that it was her mother’s dream to make a quilt using that purple cloth, and she wanted to fulfill that dream for her.
The pair prepares to leave for the churchyard. Lamort warns Emilie that the yard is guarded at night, and Emilie tells Lamort that the younger girl has a reputation: another journalist who stayed at the yellow house in the past told Emilie that Lamort would be willing to take her to the gravesite. Lamort takes the compliment in stride, and asks Emilie what she’ll do if she finds her mother’s remains. Emilie replies that she hadn’t thought that far ahead yet, and remarks that Lamort was born a woman.
Lamort and Emilie walk silently through the night until they reach the gravesite. They have barely entered the yard when a voice calls out, “Who is there?” (Danticat 117.) Emilie announces herself as an American journalist to a solider holding blinding flashlight. The solider is Raymond’s friend, Toto. In the night he doesn’t recognize Lamort and interrogates the women because they are out after curfew. As they stand there, two soldiers pass by, dragging a dead man wearing a shirt from the old regime. The sight enrages Emilie, who refuses to “see nothing” as Toto demands (Danticat 118). Lamort tries to defuse the situation by saying the password, but Emilie stomps on Toto’s foot. In response, Toto aims his rifle at Emilie’s head. Lamort screams peace, sees Raymond nearby, and pleads him for help. Raymond tells Toto to let them go, and escorts the women out of the yard. Back on the road, he tells Lamort that the password has changed, and that she should stop saying “peace.”
Lamort and Emilie go back to the yellow house. Emilie begins sewing her mother’s quilt immediately and Lamort says she has to go home. Emilie begs her to stay, saying that she will give Lamort more money if she stays with her until morning. Lamort says her grandmother will be angry, but agrees to stay. Over the course of the night and the next morning, the two talk about Lamort’s mother, named Marie Magdalène, Emilie’s mother, named Isabelle, Raymond, and Toto. In the morning before Lamort leaves, Emilie writes down those four names on the back of a photo of her mother and gives it to Lamort, along with some money. She tells Lamort to keep it for posterity.
When Lamort gets home, her grandmother is waiting for her outside. She doesn’t move or say anything to Lamort. Lamort speaks first, and tells her grandmother that she wants to be called by her mother’s name, Marie Magdalène.
The infamously violent and corrupt macoutes who plagued the main characters of “Children of the Sea” and the Haitian populace appear in “The Missing Peace.” Previously, the macoutes were only specters of violence and chaos. They seemed to revel in senseless acts of brutality and relish other people’s pain. At times, the macoutes appeared inhuman because of these characteristics. Through the story of Lamort, Emilie, Raymond, and Toto, we learn that the macoutes are indeed human beings with emotions. Raymond’s relationship with Lamort shows that macoutes can have light-hearted, open relationships with civilians. Intimidation tactics and shows of power aren’t necessary in every exchange between macoutes and pedestrian Haitian people. Toto’s exchange with Emilie illustrates how many actions of the macoutes are guided by their own insecurities about personal power and the need to be respected. Toto is taken aback and infuriated when Emilie refuses to respect him and obey his orders. His posturing with his rifle is a display meant to put power back into his hands and remind everyone who is in charge. The need to have power, the need to be respected, and the need to be feared are all human traits. Despite their inhumane treatment of others, the macoutes are still people.
The macoutes are not the only foreign presence in “The Missing Peace.” Emilie Gallant, a young American in search of her missing journalist mother, brings her own unique flair to the story. With her brash words and initial refusal to back down from Toto’s dominance display, Emilie disrupts the placid relationship Lamort had with the macoutes. When she refuses to “see nothing” in the face of the macoutes’ brutality, she forces all of the characters to reassess their casual acceptance of death and violence. This exchange does go both ways, however. When Toto shows little-to-no interest in Emilie’s American passport, and moves to shoot her despite her American citizenship, Emilie realizes that she has less clout abroad than she thought.
Emilie’s presence also adds a new dimension to the theme of mother-daughter relationships in the book. Most of the stories in Krik? Krak! feature moments of mothers sacrificing for their daughters–Célianne from “Children of the Sea” and Josephine’s grandmother in “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” come to mind. Rarely is this dynamic reversed, as it is in “The Missing Peace.” Emilie arrives in Ville Rose and starts asking dangerous questions, thereby putting herself at risk, all for the purpose of discovering what happened to her mother. Despite Lamort’s warning about the potential danger of going to the gravesite at night, Emilie still goes, determined to find and retrieve her mother’s remains. Emilie’s willingness to put herself in danger for the sake of her mother’s memory places her in the same category as Josephine from “Nineteen Thirty-Seven”: the category of daughters willing to sacrifice for their mothers.
Lamort’s relationship with her mother is another key aspect of “This Missing Peace.” Lamort’s mother died while giving birth to her, a fact that Lamort can never forget because she was named for this tragic event. This constant reminder that she is responsible for her mother’s death further complicates Lamort’s relationship with a woman she never really met. Lamort’s grandmother shapes much of this relationship. She is the one who named Lamort ‘death’ in the wake of her mother’s passing. She is the one who compares Lamort to her mother, telling the young girl that she is as pretty as her mother was. It isn’t until the end of the story, when Lamort says she wants to be named Marie Magdalène after her mother, that Lamort assumes control of her relationship with her mother. Rather than be named for her mother’s death, Lamort wants to be named in her honor.
Just as there is significance in a name, there is also significance in a title. The title “The Missing Peace” draws on two pivotal plot points from the story. The obvious one is the password Raymond tells Lamort to never forget. ‘Peace’ is the word that saved Raymond’s life in the past and saves Emilie’s life in the present. “The Missing” in the title refers to Emilie’s missing mother. Not only is Isabella missing from Emilie’s life, she is also the missing piece of the quilt-making process. Taken altogether, “The Missing Peace” is about the peace missing from the lives of all story’s characters. Lamort sees how quickly her peaceful life and relationship with the macoutes can quickly devolve to violence. Raymond learns that peace with civilians can be hard to preserve. And Emilie lacks inner peace because her questions about her mother’s fate cannot be answered or resolved.
Despite the lack of peace, “The Missing Peace” ends on a hopeful note. Lamort has claimed her mother’s name and her legacy, and seems determined to forge her own path in the world. Similar to Josephine in “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” Lamort has risen from the ashes of her mother’s death and is poised for a new beginning.