In the March 2003 issue of FATE (a magazine devoted to unexplained phenomena), columnist Rosemary Ellen Guiley introduces readers to a recently coined word: "jottle." It's a term for objects that disappear and reappear in unlikely places...disappear and reappear where they always should have been (but weren't)...or simply appear out of the blue.

These objects present small but baffling mysteries, which students of the paranormal are at a loss to explain. Hence the good-natured name: derived from the acronym JOTT, it stands for "just one of those things."

Jottles.

So that's what they were...

Thirty-odd years ago, when I was a young woman, I frequently visited my mother on weekends. After I returned home one Monday, I found I didn't have what will seem like a trivial item: a favorite lipstick. I cared about the lipstick partly because my preferred color was hard to find. But also, that was a rough period in my life. I was under a lot of stress (more than my mother knew), and I had a hard time coping with even small problems.

I talked to Mom on the phone and told her about my missing lipstick. I thought I must have left it on my dresser at her place, but she looked and said it wasn't there. She realized I was upset about it, so over the next day or two, she searched high and low to no avail.

And then, when I had all but given up on it, Mom phoned with a report that left me as awestruck as she was. Knowing how badly I wanted that lipstick, she had found the song "Scarlet Ribbons" going through her mind. A song about a parent not being able to buy ribbons a child wants desperately, and the ribbons then simply appearing, as if by a miracle. Mom thought, "Please, can't the lipstick appear miraculously, like those scarlet ribbons?"

A short time later she went back in the bedroom I used when I visited. And there was the lipstick on the dresser! It was right where it "should have been"--but it was virtually impossible that Mom would have failed to see it if it had been there all along.

There's more to the story: a reason why I was even more stunned and grateful than Mom anticipated. I had been worried sick--unnecessarily, as I later learned--about my eyesight.

This may sound odd. But I had been a passionate devotee of the Wagner operas since my early teens. I knew composer Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima were flawed individuals, and I didn't admire them uncritically; but I felt a spiritual bond with Cosima. She had died in her nineties, and it was commonly believed that she'd gone blind in her old age. A short time before the lipstick incident, I had read that she never did go completely blind. So I had been, in a sense, praying to Cosima for comfort amid my worries about my own vision.

Now I remembered a story I'd heard about her. Supposedly, she was so distraught after Wagner's death that she began starving herself, and became so thin that her wedding ring slipped off her finger and was lost. She was frantic. But the ring soon turned up--in a place it "shouldn't have been," a part of town she never visited.

With that in mind, I saw the return of my lipstick as a sign--a sign that gave me new hope. A message from Cosima? I don't know. Both lost objects were small, and there was a similarity in shape (hers circular, mine a cylinder). Hers was crucially important in itself, mine trivial. Hers turned up where it shouldn't have been; mine, where it shouldn't have been overlooked.

The story about Cosima's ring may even have been apocryphal. Perhaps it doesn't matter. What I think was significant was that I held a belief that gave the reappearance of the lipstick a meaning far transcending what actually happened.

My mother had another strange experience. In her seventies or eighties, living in the neat, clean flat that had been her home for many years, she had a dream about her childhood: a dream in which she and her mother were killing bedbugs and roaches. That was something they really had been forced to do.

Mom woke in the morning, and on a neatly folded blanket at the foot of her bed, she saw a live bedbug! She crushed it; later, she told me that even the smell was as she remembered it from her childhood. She never saw even one more.

Had my mother encountered a time-traveling bedbug?

More seriously, was it a sign of contact with her own mother? An indication that their having been together in the dream, on another plane of existence, had somehow been real--as real as the bug?

I'll never know. A puzzle to scratch one's head over, forever.

"Just one of those things."