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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

“You can’t choose your son, Mother,” I said, with that tone I get at the end of holidays.

A letter found on the train, unsent


I’m sorry I haven’t written.  Buster left a message on my machine and told me you were in the hospital again, and that it was bad.  He’s been calling me every day, giving me reports, but today he must have forgot.  When I got home, no message.

I thought maybe I’d call Buster back this time, and find out more of the scoop, but I must have an old number.

I know you’ll think it’s strange that I’m writing…  I didn’t know the name of the hospital you’re staying at, so I’m just sending this “get well” card and letter to the house, and hope that Buster checks your mail.

My job is good –- I’m an assistant.  I work for a stockbroker –- get his coffee and type his letters.  Pretty lame.  I don’t think he likes me very much.  He always finds some way to insult me –- makes fun of my suit (too outdated) or my tie (too narrow.)  Ah, what does he know?  Does he think I can afford the same, nice-cut stuff he wears?  Sometimes I go to lunch and think that I just might not come back.  That’s always a good, tempting urge.

I almost did that today, actually… just take off…

I was walking down Madison, and Christ it was crowded –- all these people trying to find cheap food in the space of one hour.  I couldn’t breathe, plus summers in this city are so hot.

I stared at two cops, like an old married couple, puffed out like pigeons with their bulletproof jackets under their shirts.  Who they fooling, anyway?  Crook’s just gonna aim better.  I thought about how hot they both must be, and guess I lost my grip…

I dropped my case.  Right by this corner bookseller.  And damn if everything didn’t go everywhere -– papers, pens, stuff for work – and the sidewalk was so packed with people, no way I could get it all.

So, I’m bent over, trying to pick everything up, and this guy in a Hawaiian shirt crashes into me!  Stupid tourist.  I think his suitcase musta clipped me, because something hit me in the eye so bad I started bleeding all over my shirt.  He didn’t even see what he did -– just kept on goin’ down the street.

I wanted to go home and sleep.

I looked in the bookseller’s window –- one of those windows with the darkened glass –- and I saw me: bleeding, my fingers to my eye.  And I thought about you -– just for a second.  I thought about how I must look.  Tie all screwy, shirt all wrinkled, shirt bloody, underarms soaked…

Then I realized — In the bookseller’s window, there was just me… nobody else.  The sidewalk was packed.  But the reflection was just me.

There was one other someone in the glass, a few blocks behind me, distant, under the train tracks.  But just as that thought registered -– the person was gone -– with what looked like flippers, or airplane wings tucked in back.  Just starting to get really upset, and I saw you.  Next to me.  Standing on the curb.   You looked… well, smoother -– not younger, really, because I recognized you right away.  Just smoother.  And you were smiling and said, “I choose you,” like you were deciding for sure, damn all that tried to change your mind.

I went to ask you what you meant, and could you help me with my eye? –- and you said again, “I choose you.  Yes, you’ll do.”

“Choose me for what?” I asked.

“To be my son,” you said.

“You can’t choose your son, Mother,” I said, with that tone I get at the end of holidays.

But you were firm.  You said, “Yes, I can.  And I just did.  I choose you from all these strangers on the street.  They told me to pick a boy and I said, ‘I like that one -– the one just going about his business of living, not hurting anyone, just trying to get by…”

“But look at me, mom.  I’m broke, can’t keep a job, I don’t have a girl – Lord knows I never gave you any grandchildren like Buster.”

And you just smiled, came up and dabbed my eye with your thumb.  “I didn’t choose you ‘cos you’re perfect, honey… I choose you because you’re special.  And I like the look of you.”

I let you tend to my wound, and then I realized! – I’m forty-one years old!  How could you be choosing me just now?

“Things don’t happen in the order we think they do,” you said, reading my thoughts, “at least that’s how they explained it to me… But whatever the circle, I choose you…”

You backed away, helping me put my own hand over the cut, and turned me to the window.  You straightened my jacket.  And then, smiling, looking me over, said one last time, “You.”

You were gone in the crowd -– the crowd of suits and stragglers appearing in the window.   I said thanks.

“No, it was my fault,” said the man in the Hawaiian shirt –- who was suddenly by my side, helping me pick up my spilled papers, his wife reaching for my cut with her handkerchief.  The tourist went on apologizing, saying that he didn’t know he had run me down until his wife pointed it out half-a-block away.  Did I need anything? and the like.

Soon I was back at work.

The boss said I looked like I had been hit by a train, and for once I didn’t disagree… He took mercy, sent me home.  With pay.

Crazy thing, huh?  Quite a knock on the head, I guess.

So, needless to say, you’ve been on my mind today.  When you get this, give me call, or something… My telephone number is on the bottom of this letter, if you feel up to talking.  Jeez, I hope things aren’t that bad!  I got nervous when he didn’t leave his usual message.  If Buster calls back, I’ll get your hospital name, too.  Hell, after this letter, you might want to check me in, too.




Darren Callahan lives in Chicago.  His novel “City of Human Remains” is published on Fiction365, and can be read in its entirety here


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