Christopher James

I prayed my brother Dan would pick up, and when he didn't I immediately called him again. On the third try he answered.

"Sam?" he said. "It's gone midnight."

"Were you sleeping?"

"No, I'm at a—thing. What's up?"

"Two fellows were here."

I left a pause, so Dan would know it was serious.

"Wait a second," he said. "Let me go somewhere quieter."

Through the phone I heard him whispering something to someone, then climbing down from something, then pulling on some pants, then plodding along, opening a door, stepping out, and closing the door behind him. I heard him lighting a cigarette, heard him taking the time to enjoy the first puff before he put the phone back to his ear.

"I'm here," he said.

"Were you in a bunk bed?" I asked him, figuring that was what I'd heard him climbing out of.

"You said two fellows came round."

"That's right."

"What did they want?"

"They said they wanted to kill you."

Dan took another puff on his cigarette. He didn't say "oh!"—or do anything that would suggest he was surprised. "Were they big or small?"

"One was big, one was small."

"The big fellow. Did he have a scar on his back?"

"We didn't get friendly enough for me to know." That was an understatement.

"Hmm. You tell them anything?"

"What would I tell them?"

"I don't know, Sam. What would you tell them?"

"No need to get all pissy, Dan. I didn't tell them anything. Listen? Why are two fellows wanting to kill you?"

I wondered if it had anything to do with the bunkbed he was climbing out of.

"Sam, if they come back, tell them I'm in Canada. Tell them I've been in Canada for over a week."

"What are you supposed to be doing in Canada?"

"You're smart. Make something up."

"Okay," I said. I waited for him to tell me more.

"I'd better go," he said.

"Okay. You want to tell me what this is all about?"

"I love you."

"Yeah," I said. "Back at you."

And he hung up.

For a long time, I stared at the phone, willing it to call back and tell me more. Then I knew I wouldn't get any more sleeping done for a while, so I washed some dishes and cleaned down the kitchen. I went and checked on Mom. She was asleep, the machine they had her hooked up to was quietly whirring. I checked her drip, kissed her on the forehead.

In the morning I'd make sure she took her medicine. I'd wash her, and help her shit and piss. I'd change her sheets. I'd make her breakfast, and spoon feed it to her. I'd listen to her breathing. She'd talk for a little while, about things that made no sense. When she was tired of doing that she'd close her eyes and pretend to sleep.

I'd tell her I'd spoken to Dan. He's in Canada, I'd say. What's he doing in Canada? she'd want to know. I'd make something up. Staying out of trouble, I'd tell her. And she'd smile, as well as she could these days. Dan was her favourite. That was okay by me, I guess. Dan was everybody's favourite.

Canada, I thought. There was so much you could do, I wouldn't know where to begin.

Christopher James has work in or coming from Tin House, McSweeney's, SmokeLong Quarterly and others. He lives in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Detail of art on main page by Antonio Sena: "Deep" (1975), acrylic on canvas.

See more of CJ's work in the archive.

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