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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

"Jose," the boy starts slowly, "if I disappeared...would you come and find me?"

City of Human Remains – Chapter 24


Hektor cleans the dishes.  4 coffee cups float in front of him, 3 with cracked handles.  He cut himself once, and had to have stitches administered by the orphanage nurse.  Tonight, he is more careful.  Jose stands beside Hektor as he washes.  For a second time, he offers to help, his own night duties checked, but Hektor waves him away.  I like doing it, he explains.  Jose settles against the metal sink and whistles.  It’s his favorite tune, though Hektor doesn’t know its name.  He’s afraid to ask, as he likes to think of it as Jose’s, and not some common songwriter’s.  Perhaps it is Jose’s.

Do you play an instrument?


Hektor smiles.

No, I don’t.  Ms. Ximon does, though.  Piano.

I don’t like piano.

You would if Batman played.

Hektor finishes drying the last coffee cup.  He sets it on the rack and looks to the plates, spoons, forks, and knives remaining.

I can finish up for you, Jose offers a third time, and goes forward to lift Hektor from the short stool at the height of the sink.

No, it’s okay.  Really!

Did you finish your studies?

Yeah, I’m finished.

Jose surrenders.  He puts a hand on the boy’s dark hair and brushes it from his eyes.  You’re a good kid.  But you know that, right?

Hektor picks up a plate and runs it under the faucet, the corroded food breaking from the ceramic and dispersing into the wide, steel basin beneath.

Hektor…one day you’ve got to leave here.

Hektor looks up to Jose’s face.

Yeah, that’s right.  I know what you’ve done in the interviews.  Jose tilts to the side, as if he’s privy to a secret.  I know that you’ve been a pain in the ass to every family that’s come to adopt you.  Driven them away.  Ms. Ximon and I have talked.  We’ve tried for years to find you a match.  A good family comes along and you blow it.  Why is that?  The boy doesn’t answer.  All I’m sayin’ is it can’t go forever.  Next week, another family is coming in.  I think that you’ll really like them.  And I swear, Hektor, if you blow it…

The boy refocuses on the dirty dishes, admitting nothing.

Jose groans.  You know…I guess I like you here.  But it won’t last forever.  City won’t let it.

Jose, the boy starts slowly, if I disappeared…would you come and find me?

Jose puts his arm around the boy’s shoulders.  Oh, man.  Are you worried about that?  Of course I would come and find you.

What if I left on purpose?  Hektor throws this comment away, under the sound of running water and friction from the wire brush over a crusted pan.

I don’t understand.  Jose’s face becomes stone.  You can’t run away, Hektor.   You hear?  You can’t.  I’ll be pissed if you break the rules like that.

The boy’s demeanor changes.  His voice becomes lighter, his body restless.  I mean if I went with a grown up.  If I got adopted.  Would you come and find me then?

Well.  Then I suppose you wouldn’t have disappeared.  You’d have a new apartment and I could just come and visit.

Okay.  That would be good.

Hektor finishes the dishes just as Lorenzo enters the kitchen.  He about done? the big man asks.  Past lights out.

Sure, sure, nods Jose.  We’re almost done.

Lorenzo shuffles down the corridor.

Leave those last ones, says Jose.  I’ll get them later.

I go too slow.  Don’t I?

No.  Perfecto.

As the rest of the floor sleeps, Hektor’s eyes remain open.  He’s always had trouble sleeping.  Not true for the snoring others.  His closest neighbor, a 9-year-old black boy named Minique, has fallen asleep with his left arm in salute.  Hektor wants to lower it, but doesn’t.

Through the barred windows, the moon streaks Hektor’s blanket.  The shapes of the iron break the glow and the light wraps around the aluminum bedpost.  He smells the cold autumn air through the cracked window nearest to his cot.  The street bustles during the day, and in the evenings there are usually still smatterings of traffic – distant horns and the rumbles of delivery trucks.  But not tonight.  Dead outside for 10 minutes.

Hektor sighs and rolls onto his shoulder, away from Minique.

A boy on the opposite cot stares at him.

You want out? the boy asks Hektor in a whisper.  I saw you looking at the window.  Pause.  The boy says something else, but Hektor can’t hear.

Hektor whispers back, annoyed, What did you say?

Prial is 7 with a poorly reconstructed mouth, a laser surgery just after his birth to repair a hair-lip.  It is sometimes difficult to understand what he is saying.  And tonight, in the folds of his bed, Prial’s foam pillow buries his mouth, making it even harder to decipher his vowels.

A tunnel in the basement.  The boy raises himself on an elbow.  I heard Lorenzo talking about it.  He said there was a sunrise platform on the roof and a tunnel in the basement.  Where he goes to smoke.

Hektor stares at Prial.  There’s no sunrise platform, he dismisses and shuts his eyes, pretending to sleep.

But this does not deter Prial.

I saw you try and climb the fence during afternoon exercise, he continues.  When no one was looking.  When we were going back inside.  You came down from the fence when Jose blew his whistle.

That wasn’t me.  That must have been someone else.  Hektor opens his eyes again to see if Prial still stares sat him.  Go to sleep, Prial.

I saw you.

It wasn’t me.  Prial hides his face again, his damaged lip. For a full minute, Hektor can only glimpse the boy’s auburn hair in the moonlight.  It wasn’t me, he whispers once more, this time with more conviction.

Prial’s words go poof into the fabric of his pillow.  I heard there was a tunnel, that’s all.  He never comes back up.

Outside, there is the rev of a glide coming to life.

Hektor, restless, tosses his blankets and raises himself onto his knees.  He can gaze out the window if he cranes his neck.  He wants to know what’s going on, but he also wants to distract himself.  Thoughts of a tunnel could keep him awake for hours.

He spots between the bars:

A man, old.  Tan jacket and tan trousers.  Walking on the Kerohdee pavement, hands in the pockets of his brown, fur-collared coat.  The man soon turns the corner of the fence.  Disappears.

And behind this man, slowly drawing along the street, a glide.  Following.