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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Annye, in the haze of three seconds, sees misery, like worms, feed into her father’s face.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 46


Annye and Melina Appleton sing their hearts out and, for the first time in a long time, their father doesn’t shush them.  He drives, buckled very tightly in the front seat so his suit jacket wrinkles in the corners.  Annye’s song is about being older than her sister – impromptu lyrics over the melody of ‘Hush, Little Baby, Don’t You Cry…’

…Melina is a baby cause she is five!

Melina, behind the empty passenger seat, reaches out and swats her older sister.  She simultaneously drowns her out with a louder variation of, ‘Old MacDonald Had A Farm…’

… and that farm she had a BRAT – A-N-N-Y-E!

The girls’ melodies collide and strengthen.  Their father says nothing.  Soon, they tire of singing and these new lyrical insults.  The glide grows quiet.

Pee-poo, says Annye with a sniff.  It smells like cat mess in here.

Her sister smells it, too.  Did you pee? she asks her sister with a slap and a laugh.

And the whole rambunctious routine starts up again, just like that.

The glide is far from the schoolyard when Annye thinks to ask, Where’s Mom?

At the dentist, replies her father.  That’s why I picked you up.  She’s running late.

Oh.  Will she be home for dinner?


Great!  What are we having?

Their father squints ahead at the road like he’s lost.  The glide decreases speed.

I want spaghetti, declares Annye, with meat-a’-balls.  Her play Italian accent draws a laugh from her sister, as does the mocking shake of her right thumb to the fingers of her hand.  Uh spicy meat-a’-balls!

We’re having turkey, finally answers their father, distracted.

The girls heave great sighs and laugh again.  They have the giggles.

Finally, whispers their father when they come upon a particular street.  He steers the glide into a narrow 1-way and finds a fork at the end.  Right again, then left, between the monochrome warehouse buildings.  The girls have stopped talking.  Their father glances to the mirror for just a second, but says nothing.

Annye’s smile fades.  Where are we?

I have an errand.

For what?

He doesn’t answer.

Another turn.

The glide jostles over the rough road then enters a broken concrete yard that stretches 50 meters square and is dotted with patches of dirty snow.  At the end of the lot is a tall, gray-painted, warehouse with its workhorse façade.

A bearded man in white vest leans against the corrugated aluminum sidewall.  He lazily stabs at his teeth with a toothpick, which he throws down when the glide hits the yard.  Satisfied, he nods to Annye’s father.

The distance quickly shrinks between the glide and the warehouse.  When close enough, the man in the white vest taps his knuckles on the driver’s side window.

Their father presses a button on the panel and the window hums down.  Late-afternoon chill sweeps into the vehicle.

The man looks at Annye and Melina seated in the rear seat, and his good humor suddenly vanished.  Who are they? he barks sternly with a finger to the girls.  They’re not—

My daughters.  I…I had to pick them up from school.  Their mother’s running late at the dentist.


Yes.  All done.  Annye’s father tilts his neck.

The white-vest man stands upright.  He looks around the concrete approach before pointing at the front bay of the warehouse straight ahead.  We’ll open the doors, he says.  Your daughters can’t come in.  Understood?  With that, he walks away, back to the corrugated aluminum wall, expressionless.

Their father spins in his seat.  Girls, you’ll need to get out of the glide.  I’ll only be a few minutes.  Stand…over there.  He angles to a patch of weedy grass at the mouth of the lot.

But it’s cold, protests Melina.

You waited outside your school, Melina, so you can wait here.  Father reaches back to the girls and unbuckles their safety straps with quick pushes and clicks.  Go.

The girls stay put.

Don’t worry, darlings.

I won’t be long, he assures gently.

The girls stay put.

I won’t be more than 5 minutes.  Go.

The girls stay put.


The girls jump.

He never yells.  Never ever.

Melina is the first to open her door.  Her sister follows, a little slower, a little hurt and confused.

As soon as they are a few steps from the glide, it rolls forward.  The warehouse door draws open and the man with the white vest flags DL Prix inside the dark hole.  As he whirls his arms and mimes directions, the vest man keeps his eyes on the girls.  Annye doesn’t like this man at all.  She doesn’t like his drooping face and his teardrop eyes, or his beard.  Soon, the glide disappears along with their father into the dark space.  The white-vested man pulls the doors shut by the straps and enters behind at the last possible minute.

What’s Daddy doing? asks Melina.

Annye takes a cue from her father and keeps her mouth shut.  She kicks stones into a snow bank then sits on a wrecked parking block.  Rebar pokes through and it resembles a stone insect.  Annye lets out a falsely heavy sigh.

Melina wraps her arms around her shoulders and shivers in her pink coat.  I don’t want to be outside.  It’s freezing.  And what if we get stolen?

Annye rolls her eyes.  We won’t get stolen.  Daddy’ll only be five minutes.

Melina takes the spot beside her sister on the parking block and lays her head on Annye’s shoulder.  The two girls pass the time without speaking.

There is a loud creak of tin in the distance.  The family glide reverses out of the warehouse doors.  No man in white vest, only her father behind the wheel.  The tires crackle against the broken gravel and he slows then stops where his daughters wait on the concrete block.  Okay, I’m done!  He smiles at them with his head out of the driver’s side window.  Hop in.

The Appleton girls climb back inside the glide and buckle their safety straps.  But they do not sing.  They stay quiet and cautious, with frowns on their faces. Their father, however, is now the opposite.  He wears a grin and taps fingers on the wheel.  Driving out of the warehouse district, he takes to the main north thoroughfare.

Did you get what you wanted on your errand, Daddy? asks Annye.

Yes, nods her father with confidence.

The broadcaster plays soft, plink-plink music that the children normally enjoy.  Their mother plays this kind of music often but their father never does.  Until today.  They remain silent all the way home, where the three bedroom unit awaits them, unchanged.  It is close to 5 o’clock when they pull into the parking space.

Annye tosses her school bag onto the cushions of the love seat and switches on the pipe to watch cartoons.  Melina asks for water and her father brings her a plastic cup filled to the brim.  For the first time in a long time, their father joins his girls on the love seat.  The 3 watch cartoons together, his long arms draped over each daughter’s shoulder.  He even laughs at a mouse and cat in a tumble.  The girls smile at him.  The bizarre ride home begins to fade from their thoughts.

At half past six, their mother comes home, shaking snow from her shoulders.  Sorry, sorry, she apologies, the trains were murder.  Um, why is it snowing?

How are your teeth? he asks.

Oh, she sells softly as she tosses her house keys in a bowl on the nearest table and sloughs off her indigo coat, I don’t even want to talk about it.  2 hours in the chair.  Can you believe it?  My DPG needed complete rewiring.  She hangs her coat on a hook and starts to pass the love seat.  Have you eaten?

We were watching cartoons, he explains.

Both girls smile up at their mother.

So I guess that means I have to make dinner for you?  She waits for volunteers.  Okay, lazy-butts.  Give me 10 minutes.

Over the blaring soundtrack of the cartoon, Annye hears her mother in the adjoining room as she clanks dishware, opens and shuts cupboards, and sets silver on the dining nook’s table.

Her father twists on the love seat and asks, Do you need any help, Maria?

No, she calls back, resigned.

The smell of warm turkey and potatoes fills the Appleton’s home, striking the children’s noses before drifting down the long hallway to the three bedrooms – Melina’s, Annye’s, and their parents’.

Annye once more turns from the cartoons.  Their mother stands above them.  She wears an expression of absolute contentment.  I love to see the three of you like this.  You don’t get enough time together.  You look so cozy… But come on, dinner’s ready.

The girls rise and take places on opposite sides of the dinner table.  Father switches off the cartoons and joins them in a chair beside Mother.  The house is suddenly very quiet.  They say prayers – together – Melina leading.  They fill their plates as Mother slices turkey from the breast with her over-large carving knife.  She forks mashed potatoes onto everyone’s plate.

Daddy yelled at us today.   Melina says this with a full mouth of food.

Oh, really?  Their mother has a knowing glint in her eyes.   You probably deserved it.

Can we talk about something else?  Father reaches out and puts his hand on Melina’s shoulder.  She’s the closest daughter to him.  And he squeezes.


Not so loudly, Melina, please, calms her mother.

Father takes his hand away.  They eat for 20 seconds.

What were they doing? asks Mother with a full mouth.

What?  He pretends not to hear.

Why did you yell at them today?

I don’t remember.

Annye remembers, and says, It was because we wouldn’t get out of the glide.

When you got home? Mother asks distractedly.  They’ve done that to me, too.

No, when we were at—

Please!  He drops his fork with a loud clank and lays his hands flat on the dining table.  He takes hold of Melina’s wrist and squeezes too tightly.

She doesn’t yelp.  Instead, she shakes, and says, Daddy—you’re hurting me.

He doesn’t let go.


Maria speaks.  Let her go, Ted.  She half-laughs.

He lets go quickly and Melina suckles her wrist to her small chest.

Everyone is staring at him now.

Particularly his wife.

Annye notices the frightened faces of her mother and her sister.

Her mother’s hands are trembling.   Ted, she says, preparing for what looks like bad news.

Annye’s father raises his eyes to meets the frozen expressions of his family.

Oh, fuck… he mutters.

The words shock his family more than any possible alternate.  He gets to his feet and picks up the carving knife.

Annye, in the haze of three seconds, sees misery, like worms, feed into her father’s face.

He arcs his arm and the carving knife connects with Mother’s head, spiking straight down into the hair, the brain.  The knife sticks.  Her body doesn’t slump, doesn’t fall, but stays propped at the elbows, the woman held upright by the table and chair.

Annye’s mother’s eyes remain open as she begins to bleed.  Her mother might protest, her mouth is open a crack, but Annye somehow knows there won’t be any of that.

Her father rushes forward to Melina and grips the girl’s head with his strong hands.  He twists and she kicks.  Her throat issues a terrible, high-pitched cry.  Dishes, turkey, potatoes, knives and forks, and even the tablecloth splatter everywhere.  Melina stops moving her neck goes rubbery.

Annye, in horror, falls backwards in her chair and lands hard.  He’s coming around for her now.  She ducks under the table, between the stagnant legs of her mother – the statue – and her sister – the rag doll.  Annye runs as fast as she can to her bedroom and slams the door, locks it.  She scrambles under the bed and feels the drift of the dust into her nose.  She lets out a violent sneeze.

The door rattles, but doesn’t come open.

She hears his footsteps over her panicked tears and she covers her ears.

The window, she thinks.  She should try for the window.  But she’s too frightened to move.  The window.  The window.  The window.

He’s found the key.

He’s opening the door.

The window the window the window the window.

She never makes it.