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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

"Is it true? God, is it true?"

City of Human Remains – Chapter 8



When she picks him up outside the Fyboad building, she has the girls with her.  Ted climbs in the DL Prix and gives his wife a quick kiss.  His lips are very cold.  He does not acknowledge their children.

Hi, Daddy, says Annye from the rear.

Maria pulls out of the circular drive into traffic.  It’s dark now, nearly 7 o’clock.  She notices her husband is distracted.  Ted stares at a place near the fire door of the building until it’s out of sight, even turning his head backwards to maintain eye contact a few seconds more.

Tough day? she asks while glancing in the rear-view mirror to change lanes.

No, he replies with a shake of his head.

Annye and Melina sing loudly and Maria has to shush them 3 times before the glide reaches their neighborhood.  The family has stayed urban for Ted’s job.  To build a city you must live in one, he told his wife when Melina was born five years ago, and they had last talked of relocation to countryside, which Maria would like to see before it’s all gone the way of the dodo bird.

The narrow street makes navigation difficult, and Maria honks the glide’s horn several times to scatter cats playing under their tires.

The Appleton’s are home.

The condominium is on the ground floor of a 36-unit building, sandwiched between whole other wards of the same.  3 bedrooms, 2 baths, kitchenette, sitting room, dining room.  Well-decorated and cluttered with the toys of their daughters.

The girls – both brunettes a year apart, Annye the oldest at 6 – argue as the garage door rotates to closed.  Maria raises her voice, frustrated with her children, if only during the time it takes to get the glide parked and her family inside.

Ted drops his keys into the bowl on the inside table, then disappears into the master bedroom.

Maria begins to fix dinner.  Chicken.  From a box.  The breasts are fatty and she has to cut the pieces into the trash.  It’s half-done when she hears the shower running.  Ted!  She calls his name into the open bedroom door and hopes that it will carry into the bath.  It must not, as he doesn’t answer.

When he’s out, she notices he is dressed in his pajamas.

You’re already ready for bed? she confirms with shock.  Her husband’s habit is to remain in business clothes most of his waking hours.  You beat the girls.

I’m tired.

I need you to take out the garbage.

I’ll do it in the morning.

But the chicken fat will start to smell.

Ted stands before her a moment, but his face never changes.  Okay.  He doesn’t complain.  He laces his shoes back on, this time without socks.  When he crosses the kitchenette to lift the bag, she notices that his shoes are unusually dirty.  Bits of something make the sides sticky.

You should really get those shined, darling.

He stares at the shoes, as if experiencing a back spasm that he must wait out.  Just when Maria’s about to speak, he moves again, snares the plastic tie-string of the kitchen garbage bag, and leaves wearing only shoes and pajamas.

Maria sets the table.

It’s a nice dinner.  The girls detail their day.  School, friends, play, and, of course, they talk about the 81.  Their private school was practically in lock down all day long.  In the background, the 8:30 news program delves on the progress of the search.  A crawler lists gathering zones for volunteers.

Oh, that station’s right near your office, darling, says Maria, when she spots the Ward Precinct’s address dragging past.  I’m tempted to volunteer.  Imagine, Ted.  Imagine if our kids…  She doesn’t speak of it further, but shutters, the implication of losing her two daughters into the same black hole too affecting to mention.  She notices that the girls have gone quiet.  That won’t be you, Maria Appleton tells her children warmly and directly.  She rubs Annye’s cheek, touches Melina’s hair.

Where did they all go? asks her youngest.

Well, Melina…I’m sure they haven’t gone far.

Teacher says they might close school tomorrow.

I’m thinking of keeping you home anyway, Maria declares, cutting into her chicken.

The girls like this idea.  You are!  Yes, please!

Maria sets down her fork and winks at her husband.  We should have a day together.  It’s Friday, after all.  Can you call in, Dad?  She’s expecting resistance.  Ted has 34 days of vacation accrued because he hasn’t taken a single day for years.  And he’s not much for impulse; she’s learned that about him over their 11 anniversaries.  So she flashes her ‘this is-important-to-me’ face and drills into him, in the hopes that he’ll recognize the signs, and not make her brow-beat him just before falling asleep tonight in their king-sized sleigh bed.

Okay.  He agrees to it quick and returns to eating.

The children smile.  So does Maria.

Ted doesn’t read the girls their bedtime books.  Instead, he takes a long bath then shines his shoes.  He’s in bed before she is, the light switched off.  She changes from her smart business suit, stale from the day’s wear, into her nightdress, and admires the remains of her 37-year-old figure in the master bedroom’s full-length mirror.  She’s pretty; she’s aging well; her skin is dark and her hair brown with red highlights.  When she slips between the covers, he’s already soundly asleep, which is unusual as his nature has always been to toss and fret for at least 45 minutes after switching off the lamp.

She wakes him with 2 sharp pokes.

Is everything all right?  Did you have a bad day?

Everything’s fine.  His eyes are still closed.

Are you sure?

Yes.  Go to sleep.

Was work okay?

It was fine.  Pause.  It was fine.  Go to sleep.

She falls into the pillow.

He’s again asleep in seconds, snoring.

Near to 11 o’clock, she wiggles out of bed tiptoes across the condo to the kitchen Eye Dial.

Helen will remember the conversation.

Helen, she’ll say to her sister, do you remember what I told you last week?  Is it true?  God, is it true?