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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

You’re going to look back on this night and think you were very cruel to me.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 52


A glide waits for him outside.  His billable hours make these things possible.  The office building’s lone doorman hands the keys to Efdrey and he settles comfortably behind the wheel, tired and ready for his few hours of sleep before the knock on Douglaz Doll’s door.

It’s 2:15 AM.

His town-house on West Eighth, where he has a closet full of suits, newly acquired Persian furniture for his unoccupied second bedroom, plus flavor-filled coffee, a media system, and his soft and waiting bed, all warm for his arrival.

When he arrives, he sees that his town-house’s security alarm has been switched off.

Amanda? he whispers to the invisible vapors of his internal temperature controls.  Are you here?

He gropes for the master bedroom.

She is there.

Efdrey scans Amanda’s legs draped on the bed.  He moves closer.  She’s asleep, he thinks.  She’s not moving because she’s asleep.  He stares at her legs – bare, trim, and pale (even in darkness) and wonders if she is dead.  For a few horrible flashes, he contemplates the idea of loss.  He imagines life without his young lover.  His town-house, with its sterile, empty spaces that she has made just a little more alive, would again recede to over-kept garden.  Pristine, full of life, but no longer loved.  Only a place of occasional solace, more a second office than a home.  Just then…she moves.


I’m sleeping.  She answers so softly he barely hears her.   The girl’s breasts are settled between her lithe arms, above her head, with right hand tucked under the soft, crème-colored pillow.  She wears only panties and a pale shirt that has MONGOOSE printed on the sleeve.  Her auburn hair drapes her face and Efdrey sees her lips – full and natural, lined with black lipstick dots.

He wishes he could see her eyes.  He loosens his necktie and undoes the buckle of his belt.  In that moment, he senses he is old and lecherous.  His belly releases from its suck and expands around his middle.  He achingly removes his jacket and tosses it towards a bedroom chair, missing the center valley and instead landing on the arm.  He listens to the quiet pour of the jacket onto the maroon carpet.

What time is it?

Middle of the night.

You must be tired.

I’m going to brush my teeth.

In the tight confines of the master bath, Efdrey furiously brushes his tongue and gums and what remains of his natural teeth.  He’s lost several to time and early poverty.  One by one, his teeth have been replaced and his past hidden by perfect dentistry – prolonged episodes in comfortable chairs, the fear of the procedure far outweighing the actual reconstruction with a DPG.  He can be scared sometimes, and he is scared now.

Amanda comes into the bathroom and sits on the toilet seat next to him as he flosses.  He hears her urinating.  He rubs the top of her head, as if she were a stray child wandered from slumber.  She is a child, he thinks, and remembers that her twenty-first birthday is fast approaching.  He has no idea what to buy her for a gift.  He can’t remember what he got on his own twenty-first, so many decades ago, and he has no perspective on what might be appropriate for his girlfriend.

He washes his face as she flushes.

When he returns to the bedroom, she is sitting on the bed, arms over pulled knees.  She’s wound herself into a knot.  Ef, she starts.  Are you really that tired?

Exhausted, he replies.       He removes the last of his clothes – shoes, socks, trousers, shirt, undershirt, wristwatch, and underwear.  He turns away from her so she can’t detect his patch of gray pubic hair (though to be fair, he thinks, she’s certain to have made a note of that months ago.)  Efdrey dresses again in his pajamas and falls onto the mattress, jostling the girl.

I think I’m pregnant.

He lets a quick puff of air come from his nostrils, followed by a noise that could be mistaken for a laugh.  I’m old, Amanda.  I already have a family.

She doesn’t counter him.

It’s mine, I suppose.  Silence.  I mean, you say you’ve just got me.  Silence.  Did you take a test?

Not yet.

Well do that first.  Then we’ll discuss it.

She lies down beside him.  He’s already shut his eyes but she stares at him anyway.  He can tell it with radar.  Eyes blinking, Efdrey rolls his eyes at his girlfriend.  Her head is cocked and her face very close.  She examines him for some quality that she suspects is beneath his craggy skin.

You don’t know how these days are, Amanda.  I’m in no condition to debate anything.

She kisses him.

She kisses him again.

And again.

She moves on top of him.

Amanda.  I have less than 5 hours to sleep…

She kisses him.  On the forehead, the cheeks, the chin.  The lips.

Finally, he returns her kisses, and pins back her cascading hair with his hands.  She places her body on top of his, her breasts warming him, her arms sliding underneath his shoulders, her hair strung across his mouth and tickling.  Efdrey closes his eyes.  He could fall asleep right here, right now.  If she would just let him.  He dives into unconsciousness.  Only for a few seconds.  Then he feels the wet on his nightshirt, and it wakes him again.  She’s crying.

Amanda, he starts.  I’m sorry.

What if someone takes our baby away?


What if our baby disappears into a black hole like those other 81 babies?  What if he comes back in pieces?  What if someone cuts our baby to ribbons and we have to go to the funeral?  I read something horrible in tonight’s paper.

Efdrey’s mind switches to the political implications of ‘something horrible.’  Someone would have rang, says Efdrey’s mind quickly, if there was news, like more children taken or found.  Even after midnight, even hiding out in the mayor’s secret office, someone would have contacted him to tell him of any new tragedy.  If he’s missed a story, there will be hell to pay.  He calculates how far he is from his Eye Dial, how quickly he could dress again, how Marsha Van Nuys might be reached, whether or not Franco and Chris are still shooting pool.

I read that a family has been murdered.  A whole family.

Amanda draws up.  She wipes her beautiful brown eyes and sobs.  Efdrey places both hands on her hips.  Did you know them, he asks, were they friends?

No, no, no, no.  She shakes her head.  They were just people.  A mom and her two little daughters.  Attacked and butchered in their own home.  The dad is missing.  So is their glide.  Apparently they died quite terribly and, and…

Amanda.  You shouldn’t be reading about awful things.  You know how it affects you.  Every single day, every hour in 32 something like that happens.  You know that.  You’ve lived in the city for years.  Stop reading that vile shit, will you?

Why do so many children have to die, Ef?  What can’t people ever do anything to stop it?  Why?  Why not now, why not before?  Why not in the last century or the 100 years before that, or the 100 before that?  Things could be so different.  When will we know better than to hurt little babies?  She trails off into squeezed eyes and melodrama.

Efdrey rises on his elbows.  He tries to take her attention by reaching out, touching her chin, but she’ll have none of it.  He falls back on the pillow.  It’s your hormones, he declares.


If you’re pregnant, these stories are bound to affect you.  You should stop reading the flash editions until you’re sure of your footing.  Blood always sells – that’s why the broadcasts and the flash editions love blood, and that’s why all the business with children seems like the end of the world.  But listen.  There are almost 400,000 children under the age of 13 in this city that are safe as houses and haven’t gone missing, or been murdered, or run away.  She’s opened her eyes again.  You and I were once children, too.  And you’ve lived to be 20 and beautiful.  And I’ve lived to be an old lousy goose.  No one sliced me to bits.  You’re whole.  You’re complete.

Suddenly, she presses both hands on his chest and speaks emphatically.  Do you want this baby, Ef?  Tell me now.  Do you want this baby?

He looks at the clock.  3 AM is in plain sight.

I’m tired, he repeats.  Let me sleep.  Please.

No, I want to know.  I want to know right now.  If you don’t want this baby, I’m running away to Paris or another country where they don’t number their cities like corpses.  And I’m going to marry someone who is a happy father and a poet and doesn’t read the news or know the mayor or care about making money.  All he’ll care about is loving and protecting his sons and daughters and me.  Me, Ef.  Me.

You don’t even know for sure if you’re pregnant!

She slaps him.

He rolls her off of him and forages the floor for his discarded trousers.  Christ, Amanda.  I spend all fucking day trying to help Franco find those missing goddamn children and just because I don’t want any new ones of my own or know immediately that I want another – particularly at my age – you treat me and the whole city as if we’re poison!

Well, isn’t this city poison?

He wrestles his trousers over top of his pajamas.  Hopping as he pulls on the last cuff, he argues: You’re a pain in the ass, you know that?  I’ve got to be at the Doll Building very early.  You’re going to look back on this night and think you were very cruel to me.

You can’t even answer!

What was the QUESTION!

She stares at him.

He’s struggling to put on his shirt.

She asks it in a tender voice, on the edge of various emotional knives.  Do you want me to leave you?  Because I will.  I will leave you and never look back if you don’t convince me that you will be a good and loving father.  A better one than you were the first time.  And that you will protect us, Ef.

Efdrey puts his back to her.  He switches on the light of the closet and wrestles out a fresh suit and necktie, throwing both over his shoulder before escaping to the bedroom doorway.

Amanda, he bites with restraint.  You’ve made things complicated enough trying to make me into your own goddamn father.  Now, you want to make me into someone else’s.  You need help.  Get some help, he says with a point of his finger.  I don’t think you’re even really pregnant.

He abandons her in the bedroom and fumbles to the front door.  Realizing he has forgotten his shoes, he swears between teeth and turns back around.  She is face down on the bed.

I’m changing the code to the alarm tomorrow, he tells her shadow.  Shoes in hand, he leaves his home in her fragile hands.

He has driven blocks away in his luxury glide when he wonders about vandalism.  His Persian furniture, scratched, his sound center, burned – all the damage Amanda might inflict on his town-house, if she were really mad enough.  Did he mean what he said?  That he would change the code?  He wasn’t really sure.  But partly.  Mostly.  Sort of.

Heading south, he will go to his law office.  It has a shower.  He can sleep an hour under his desk then make himself presentable for meeting with Douglaz Doll.

Shit, he swears and taps the dashboard clock.


His attentions flutter.


He considers how fast that minute went by and wonders if he fell asleep on the primary road, and how in the world, if he had fallen asleep, he had managed not to hit anything.

The intersection.


The intersection’s coming up.

Pay attention.