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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

"Both girls were damaged. They also took care of each other."

City of Human Remains – Chapter 4



Leave her alone! Jose shouts.

The incident plays during that afternoon’s 4 PM broadcast.  Katherine Ximon spots the story, buried, for sure, towards the back of 30 minutes, but the late showing doesn’t diminish its raw impact.  The pixilated movement, the face of her quietest worker changed into beehive frenzy, shakes her out of her bed and makes her switch off the imager.

She loves Jose in that moment.  She loves him.  In the way she loves her distant brother in City 44.

The caption reads: Jose Noe, City Orphanage supervisor.

When the image is gone, Katherine drops onto her soft bed, exhausted.

Ms. Ximon, calls a voice through the door.

Ms. Ximon? asks another.

She faintly responds: Is there news?

Pause.  Not yet.  Another pause.  Are you all right, Ms. Ximon?  You’ve been in there over an hour.

To Katherine, time passes strangely and quickly.  To her, it has been only 10 minutes since she excused herself from the main room of her house to lie on her bed and secretly watch broadcasts for anything hopeful.   But it’s actually been much longer.

Tugged out of her malaise by the muted voice, Katherine exits to find her 3 visitors, as if they haven’t moved.  2 men and 1 woman.  They’ve given their names, their cards, but she thinks she’s forgotten them (even though she hasn’t, couldn’t.)  She prefers to call them ‘you,’ ‘hey,’ or ‘excuse me.’  Katherine has been infinitely polite to everyone.  Unlike Jose, she’s not devolved to angry lashing.  Katherine doesn’t have the energy for it.  These 3 are trying to help.  Though unsuccessfully.

They are gathered around the kitchen countertop, drinking her coffee, the aroma filling the room and smelling bitter.  She now wishes she would have denied use of the percolator.

Does it feel strange not to be at work today? Hey asks in a soft and respectful tone.  I heard you never take a sick day.

Who said that?  Katherine hears her voice as if she’s at the losing end of a tunnel.  She doesn’t really want to know the answer and Hey must sense this, as he dodges her question.

Be glad you’re healthy, he smiles.  I spent the last 2 months with this stupid cold.  Hey coughs into the sleeve of his jacket, to establish his point.

Katherine leans on a swivel chair and turns to Excuse Me.  My people are capable, she explains.  They’ve all been working at the orphanage a long time.  I usually feel better about the world when I’m there.  I should have gone to work today, despite everything, instead of staying home.  Look at me… Katherine gestures to her chalk-colored robe, her mousy hair, her pale face.  Her oval-shaped eyeglasses are pushed far back and she’s tempted to cut her bangs with a pair of kitchen shears right there, right then.

The woman comes forward.  What year did you adopt?


That must have been a big decision.

Katherine nods.  Only because I manage 200 or more orphans a year.  Taking 2 into my home felt like betraying the others.

Then why them – why your little girls?

The woman is trying to be nice.  Katherine knows it.  But there’s something judgmental clouding Excuse Me’s face.  Her blonde curls, pulled back, are too loose, and her forehead and eyebrows nearly vanish into the hairline.  Her eyes are curved, like a cat’s.  She’s helped herself to Katherine’s toiletries while Katherine hid in her bedroom.  Stole some wine, some food.  Katherine knows it.  She just does.

Why Matty and Nary?  I don’t know.  Why did you pick your husband?

I’m not married.

Oh.  Katherine turns to the oldest policeman.  Married?

Yes, he nods.

You know a face, she continues, and you connect.  Matty was in worse shape than Nary when I met them.  Both girls were damaged, as all orphans are, I suppose, but I just liked them.  They also took care of each other.  As if the 2 were sisters.  Though they weren’t.  I mean, though they aren’t.  Nary is a hardcore survivor.  Matty can’t let go of anything.  I thought it was tragic to separate them and give 1 girl a home and not the other.  Katherine takes a breath.  Do you really want to know all this?

Hey and Excuse Me coax:  Sure.  Yeah, absolutely.

She continues the history lesson.  At a certain point, Katherine isolates herself from her words, the story becoming a rote speech instead of anything she’s personally involved with, this rearing of her 2 adopted children.  You, Hey, and Excuse Me all pretend to be very interested, to a point, as they must maintain a certain professional distance.  Katherine expects this.  They’ve heard sad accounts before, daily ones even.  Bad news defines their workdays.  She ends with a declaration.  I’m 44.

The kitchen’s Eye Dial buzzes.

No one moves until the third buzz.

Hey picks it up.  Ximon residence.  Pause.  Yes, Officers Mendoza, Diagur, and me are here.  Hey nods to his partners.


Hey snaps a small pad and pencil from his top shirt pocket and begins taking notes.  The scratch of his snubbed pencil is the only sound in the room.  Katherine can’t even hear a voice over the line.  For the last tenth of the conversation, she doesn’t believe he’s even speaking with anyone.

Okay, yes, will do.  Grazias.  Hey disconnects.  (To Mendoza and Diagur) That was Captain Gutierrez.  Can I speak with you both for a moment?

The 3 abandon Katherine to disappear around the partition of her living room.

Goddamn you, Katherine wails inside her head.