‘…What? He’s your father, too.’
‘Oh, was he? Since when?’
‘He, is, God Dammit! Is!’
They were siblings by blood but not by love. They had it once upon a time — learned it on their own mostly — but could feel it fading along with the reception of this collect call.
‘You mean you’re just gonna sit on your ass in California while the last of our family withers in this hellhole?’
‘No. Of course not. I’m going surfing.’
‘I hope you drown, you bastard!’
She slammed the receiver back on the pay-phone rack and spun around, slamming her back against the wall and screeching her sneakers to the ground. Clumsy tears fell through tethers of blonde hair and down through her delicate hands, then danced on the linoleum floor. This floor had an immaculate sheen that constantly reflected a thousand dire faces.
The custodian coming back from break tossed a rolled-up Chicago Times into the recycle bin. As he washed his hands in his utility closet with the zeal of a prizefighter wrapping before a bout, he thought to himself the snow somehow makes you feel younger, but not when you’re shoveling it. He dried his coarse hands — then, turning to tie back his gray pelt, saw a young woman crying on his floor through the window. ‘Maybe — ’ he exhaled to himself and pushed through his closet door. He walked over to the young woman and whispered in her ear…
He plucked her off the ground and in tandem they walked down the desolate hallway toward the convalescent wing.
They parted ways at the corridor.
She tip-toed into room 111.
He marched back alone holding the caution sign and unfolded it beneath the payphone with a surgeon’s graceful precision, like he’s done a million times before.