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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

When this is over, I’m divorcing you. I can’t take another display like this.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 38



Oh, God.  Stop.  Stop.  Stop, he deplores.  Be quiet.  Stop.  You’re blowing it.  They’ll never help us now.  You’re surprised they remember Bus’s name and statistics?  Well, we’re screwed because they will forget them now.  Bury them deep with his body.  All they’ll remember is you, you stupid idiot.  We’re doomed.  When this is over, I’m divorcing you.  I can’t take another display like this.  I can’t take another day like this.  I loved you once.  But look at you.

Ian Becker squeezes his wife – the elephant in the china shop.  She scratches at her eyes and clothes and cries the suspect’s name over and over.

Alek Serkan!  Alek!  Serkan!

She tries to spell it, but a police officer covers her mouth with a gloved hand and angrily reminds her of the confidentiality agreement.

Great! My job.  The research.  I’m fired now, aren’t I?  There will be lawyers.  Breach of Agreement.  We’re doomed, doomed!  He fears he’ll return to the lab just to find the door locked.  Shut up, shut up, shut up, he silently curses his wife.  Inside, he is exploding, but outside, for the sake of the children (and his own dignity,) he remains ice.

Ang and Avery hide under their father’s arms.  Their mother tries to use the children as barricades from the police, but the children jerk away.  It’s their father they want now, not her.  Not her at all.

They’re scared of you, Ian spits.  They’re scared that you’ll hurt them, or lose them, just like you lost Bus.

He blames her entirely.

He was at the lab and she was home.

The children were her responsibility.

His wife’s panicked call to the lab on that fateful day told him nothing except to come home.  That’s all he could decipher through her distress.

He blames her.

He’ll never forgive her.

Even if Bus comes back.

Even if he is alive.

And he will never forgive his wife for this breakdown in front of God, the police, and everyone.

The police wrestle his wife into the family’s glide.

Ian Becker thanks the police for their troubles and draws his keys out of his pocket.  He quickly puts Ang and Avery in the rear seats.  He buckles the girl; the boy straps himself.  His wife continues her rant, bangs her flat palms against the passenger window, and curses like a victim of rape.  He ignores her.  Thank you, he says again to the surrounding police, though they can’t hear him anymore.

He flicks the igniter and speeds away from the convention center as fast as the law allows.

It is several kilometers before she settles.  When she finally surrenders to exhaustion, she resembles one of their children after a tantrum.  Babies cry because they know nothing but to cry.  She should be different.  But she is not.  Eventually, she falls asleep against the glide’s window.

The traffic makes the drive interminable.  Ian glances at his wife when parked at stoplights.  She looks bloated to him.  Not just body fat, this is more an expansion of her inner skeletal structure.  He hates the way her black hair lays over her mouth.  He hates the way she sniffles and moans.

In the rearview, he connects with his daughter’s eyes.  Ang smiles at him, and he smiles back before she returns to the game dials in the rear seat, her headphones too loud for her developing ears.  Ian can hear the bleed of instruments from the game.

Avery’s fallen asleep, like his mother.  The boy looks very much like her, only in the masculine, but in that stolen look, Ian does not transfer any hate for his wife to his son.  Avery has changed as he’s matured – his face is longer, his humor vanished, his introspection increased – but he is still loveable.  He has none of his wife’s temper.

Ian hears a broadcast from the dash.

The mayor announces the release of the six dead children.  The first funeral is to be tomorrow.  Ian thinks about waking his wife to tell her the news, but doesn’t.

The Beckers arrive home.  His wife is unconscious.  He has to shake her – softly at first, and then violently, to rouse her from the glide.  She lets herself be carried in his arms, her full weight on Ian, who bears it and doesn’t complain.  Inside, he lays her on the sofa and she falls back asleep.  For a few moments, he sits with her and rubs her hair.  He doesn’t like doing this, but can think of no other action.

The children are curled at his feet.

Avery asks his father in a whisper, Can we go outside and play?

Ian looks to his wife.  She would tell them no.  She would keep them prisoners.

Yes, he says.  Wear your jackets.  It’s cold again when it shouldn’t be.

The children smile and run outside, grabbing jackets from the hook by the door.

They are not frightened to be outside.  They have each other.  For a week, Avery and Ang have been trapped in their two-story condominium.  They have been stuck between bedrooms, toys, games, broadcasts, and the unpredictable moods of their mother.  She hasn’t allowed them to leave for anything, including school or church, but most damagingly, to play in the fresh air.  Ian had argued with her about it (though to his wife, he suspects, it may have seemed like a normal, parental discussion.)  He didn’t push his points.  Nothing would have changed if he had, except the volume of his voice.  The outcome would have been unaltered.

Ian abandons his sleeping wife and spies on his children from the window.  Avery bounces a basketball on the sidewalk and Ang sits cross-legged, inspecting ants on the Kerohdee.

Play with me, Bus had asked on the day before disappearing.

His father had answered, Later.  I have things to do.

Work things?

Yes.  You go outside and I’ll play in an hour.

But Ian never did join his son.  He forgot all about it, as he often did.  Avery has been trained over the years to not ask his father to play.  Ang is starting to get the picture.  But Bus, that boy has no intention of stopping any time soon, as far as his father can tell.

Ian recalls his missing son’s face, his small cheeks, green eyes, and chapped lips.  You’ll have a beard someday, he’s told him.  No, never, Bus answered, certain of it.  And now the boy may have been correct.

He may be dead.  He may be in Alek Serkan’s basement cut into pieces.

Ian tries to focus on his son’s body parts – how they look in clothes, how they look unclothed, how his joints move, how twig-like his legs are.  The boy’s skin, his pale encasement of lungs and muscles and bone, and the dark freckles of his belly, also come to mind.  He breaks him apart.  He separates the limbs and the head.  He is drawn and quartered.

Then he concentrates on the whole of the boy.


Please be alive, Bus.  Please be alive.

When he turns away from the window, Ian is crying.

His wife is sitting upright on the sofa.

You fucking lost him! he stabs.

She attacks in the same voice.  THEY lost him!



No, no, no.  Not the school.  YOU.  You wanted him to go to public school and you took him there every day like you were taking him to the fucking GRAVE!  He didn’t want to go.  You knew that.  He cried the first day you dropped him off same as the day he was taken.  He wanted to go with his brother to private school but you wanted him exposed!  To what!  To who!  YOU FUCKING BITCH!  And then you go and have the fucking nerve to break down in front of the goddamn city.  They’ll NEVER find him now.

She stands, panicked and staggering, ignoring her husband and going straight for a search of the house.  Where are the kids?

They’re fine!


Come back here when I’m talking to you!


She runs to the children’s rooms.  What have you done with them?  I fall asleep for five minutes—!

They’re outside.

She stops in her tracks, glares at him with daggers then brushes him aside as if he were a dress hanging in her closet.

Leave them alone.

Something could HAPPEN to them outside, Ian.

No.  Nothing will.  I’m watching them.  Not you.  I’m watching them.  I LISTEN to what they want so they’ll stay safe.  But you, you fucking ignore everything, so—

Fuck you.

And he’s been CAUGHT anyway!

She pitches open the door.

His stomach drops.  Avery and Ang are gone.  They’re not standing where he last saw them – playing basketball, ant watching.  For a second, Ian considers trampling his wife in a rush to get outside.  But then.  His eyes find them.  There they are.  Down the street just a little bit, blocked by the angle of the door.

Dribbling.  Ant following.

Come inside NOW, his wife yells.

The children turn to their mother.

Please, Mom, begs Avery.

We have jackets on, demonstrates Ang.

No.  Inside.  Now.

Ian steps forward.  He waves them back into places.  It’s okay.  You can play.  Your mother and I were just having a chat.

COME INSIDE NOW! she yells with all her breath and her voice takes to the street like a runaway dog.

Both children freeze.  Their eyes go to their father.  They don’t know what to do.  They have never seen this – a split decision.  Not on anything.  Not on dinner, not homework, not discipline.  Avery takes a step forward, then a step back.  He lets the basketball slide from his palm and bounce into the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the stoop.

Do you see ANY other kids around? asks their mother with a frustrated throw of the hands and sweep up and down their street.

No one plays outside but the Becker kids.  There should be noise, there should be laughter.  Instead, nothing but the chilly breeze.

Ian cups to his wife’s ear.  Well, dear…maybe you should see children playing.  Maybe we should all be playing instead of pretending it’s a goddamn plague.

Do you want them disappear, too, Ian? she asks in a seething voice.  Is that what you want?  You’re stubbornness is likely to get them both killed.  You know you’re just doing this to get back at me.  But don’t hurt them when you’re trying to hurt me.  And, Ian, did you think of this?  Bus isn’t here.  He can’t play with his brother and sister.  He can’t do anything until he comes home, can he?  To even see them having fun is a crime.

Ian fixes on the steps below him.  Maybe.  But I think you’ve got it reversed, he tells her.  Suddenly, he remembers the broadcast from the mayor.  He breathes in and out, and says:  The first funeral is tomorrow, he says.

She is stunned.  Where did you hear that?

In the car.  You were asleep.

Oh.  She thinks.  Oh…

Somehow, this information sedates her.  She appears as if she might just fall asleep right there on the stoop, curl into a ball and be dead to the world.  She can barely keep her eyes open.  I don’t know what I’m doing, she confesses.  I’m scared.  I don’t know what I’m doing.

Neither do I.

She falls into her husband’s arms.  He holds her tightly and fears, for a few seconds, that she might tumble down the steps.  But she doesn’t.  Instead she says sweetly: Have them inside in five minutes.  And watch them the whole time.  I’ll make us something to eat.

She returns to the foyer.

When she’s gone, Ian smiles at his children and pats his hand the air.  It’s all right, relates the gesture.  Five minutes later, he corrals them inside.  There are no objections.

The Beckers pass the evening in silence.

Ang is the first to bed at 7 o’clock.  Ian reads her a book and tucks her under her pink pokadots blanket.

Tomorrow, he tells his daughter, I am going to play with you all day.

Why? she asks.

This makes his eyes swell with tears, and he fights to hold them inside.  Because I should have played with you more.  With all of you.

Why are you crying?

Because I’m sad.


Because I want to play with you tomorrow.

You don’t have to play with me if it’s going to make you cry.

No.  You don’t understand.

She stares at him strangely.  He frightens her when he doesn’t mean to.

I love you, he tells her as he goes to shut the door.

Leave it open, Daddy.


His son is already asleep when Ian enters his room.  It’s been a long day for the boy, and it shows in his half-finished puzzle and half-drunk glass of milk.  Ian drags Avery’s blankets up to his chin and switches off the boy’s baseball-shaped light.  Good night, he whispers.  The boy doesn’t even twitch.

That night, Ian sleeps on the sofa in front of the late broadcasts.  He promises he’ll do things different.  If Bus will just come back.  He’ll do things different.

When he dreams, he dreams of nothingness.  Unending, all-consuming blackness.

The next afternoon, after a few struggling attempts to play, he leaves the children with their mother and drives to the first scheduled funeral at Holy Angels Church, adjacent to Cristo and Sons Funeral Home.  God and death, side-by-side.

Ian Becker waits in his idling DL Prix and watches the promenade of mourners.  A Media encampment has been erected 50 meters beyond, with a line of patrolmen enforcing the rules of privacy.

Ian wonders what Bus’s funeral might be like – who would attend, who would preside, what music would his wife select.

Christ.  He covers his eyes.

There is a rap on his windshield.

You can’t park here, says the deep voice of the policeman.

Sorry, sorry.

Can’t park here, he repeats and hurries Ian forward with a wave.