“Sent” by Joshua Pabon
They should have been back by now. By now it would have started —
In truth, Josie Salas was never sure how their fights began; knowing when, or how, they might end was even more mysterious to her.
But by now, it would have begun, she thought, clinging to the shimmering railing of their private balcony, one of many amenities all the apartments in the building shared. No other building in the neighborhood came close. The waiting list for residency in the Jamie Towers Apartments was a guaranteed minimum of three years. Her father had made some calls and that wait was reduced to one year. Unappeased, he sent someone over to the Housing Manager’s office. The Salas family moved in two days later.
And when the instructors at Josie’s junior high school had judged her unfairly her first year there, because she was pretty, because she was popular and often late to class, someone had come along and changed their minds. Her father had seen to it and had admitted it afterward, saying very little.
Josie once asked her mother if her father worked for the mafia.
“You think I’d fight with him like I do if he did? You think I wanna get whacked?”
Josie had smiled and assumed the answer. She used to wonder why her parents fought so frequently in the first place, but ever since her ninth birthday two years ago she was able to see clearly enough why they were so unhappy, so unsettled with each other.
It had to do, almost always, with the museum. Or rather, the International Council of Museums, an organization of museums and museum professionals committed to the ethical aspects of museum acquisitions and the international circulation of cultural property—and of which her father was an important member.
“But for how much longer, you keep pulling this shit?” her mother had shrieked the night before, reminding him of his re-assignments—first from the Museo del Prado in Madrid, where he’d grown up, then from the British Museum in London, followed by the Museo Histórico Nacional in Chile. Yet he had been given favorable recommendations from each, resulting in his current position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where they had lived for the past six months.
Josie had heard a loud, hard slap, and a feminine cry, then nothing. Until her father had uttered a halfhearted apology and continued to speak normally. In her room Josie had been so frightened she stopped breathing for almost two minutes, fraught with new knowledge—a vital, tricky bit of knowledge—about her father. Moving very slowly, she grabbed her earplugs from her dresser and slipped into bed, not bothering to remove her clothes. Hours later, at 3 a.m. she crept out of her room and headed toward the kitchen. When she flicked on the light, she found her mother sitting at the dining table, sipping coffee.
Josie pulled out her earplugs and said, “Mommy, why are — ?”
“Bustelo taste better in the dark.”
Vaguely irritated, Josie murmured a response and removed the pitcher of iced tea from the refrigerator. She poured herself a glass, replaced the pitcher, and sat down opposite her mother, whose right eye was already starting to swell.
As if reading her daughter’s mind, she said, “It doesn’t hurt. Besides, I’ve had worse.”
Josie stared up at her. “But not from Daddy,” she snapped. Her mother regarded Josie for a moment in silence.
“No…not from him.”
“Is Daddy in trouble again?”
Her mother laughed, though it was not a laughing matter, Josie knew.
“No, he isn’t — this time. I thought he was, but actually the ICOM Secretariat in Paris wants to review some changes your father proposed a while ago for their acquisition policies. There’s a meeting tomorrow.” She shook her head and took another sip. “He’s been breaking their rules for years, risking everything, risking us — now they want to listen to him.”
“But why?” Josie asked, suddenly angry.
“I don’t know,” her mother whimpered. “He still has friends on the advisory committee, those egomaniacs that paid for his trip to Syria years ago, thinking he was going to come back with another Ebla archive. Another old, inconceivable relic with a story to tell. They pretend they want to shine a light on the dead things of the past when all they really want is to put a leash around them.
“He said he sent someone to the UNESCO building in Paris, so who knows why…”
Josie’s hand lost its grip on the glass of iced tea. “Sent who?” she asked, regretting it instantly.
“Things are going to get better. After today,” her mother said absently. “I pushed him, got nasty, without knowing the situation. You know I’m supposed to start at the school in Queens next week — I just didn’t want to move again!”
She smiled, flush-faced, and looked at Josie. “And we won’t. Hell, he’s even taking me out to dinner tomorrow. To celebrate, he says. Celebrate what? I said. This?” Her mother pointed a finger at her eye.
Josie grimaced as her mother grinned.
“Yeah, that’s how your father looked,” her mother said. “Can you believe he cried?”
No, Josie thought, but her expression softened.
“Anyway…” her mother whispered, straightening. A minute passed. Then she glanced around, breathed deeply, and stood up. “There’ll be pizza money on the counter, okay?”
Josie nodded and tilted her head as her mother kissed her cheek.
“Buenas noche. After today, you’ll see.” She hugged Josie’s neck and turned away.
But they should have been back long before now, Josie was now convinced. She wanted to push her way out from the 3rd-floor balcony to the empty space in the parking lot. She put a hand over her mouth, beginning to feel sick.
When they were together he — who she did love and was certain loved her — was in the world, aware of the world, one moment…and the next moment he was in his own place and time, unreachable, save by her nagging touch.
But not after yesterday. Not after what her instincts had implied, at once too obvious and too blurred, about his conscience. How compromised it had become.
She looked at her watch. Twelve o’clock. They had never been this late before, though they had seldom gone out since moving to New York. Her father had been immersed in the development, fabrication, and installation of several new permanent exhibitions, and her mother spent her time researching citywide ESL teaching jobs.
If they were not back within an hour, Josie would call the police. If they had not returned by morning, she would notify the museum as well. She would tell everyone her fears about her father and make them believe.
He would deem it a betrayal. Josie would agree.
Staring out at the empty parking space, she nodded understanding and began to mourn.
Fifty-five minutes later, she picked up the kitchen phone. Seconds later, she raised her head uneasily.
Someone was scratching at the front door.
Josie hung up the phone quickly and started toward the door, then stopped. The scratching had turned into a snarl. A dog, she thought, then remembered the barking she would occasionally hear on her way to the elevator. She waited, expecting the voice, the footsteps, of its owner.
But there was only the snarling noise. Getting louder.
She walked the rest of the way to the door, tiptoeing the last few steps, and looked through the peephole.
Nothing. An empty hallway. The sound, whatever it was, had stopped.
She sighed and turned. This call, she realized, was going to be even more difficult than she had imagined; her own mind, troubled and distracted, was against her. She began to walk again.
A shattering roar suddenly filled the apartment and Josie Salas screamed, covering her ears, dropping to her knees. Something materialized in the air before her, taking shape. It was bestial and ancient and determined. Two yellow eyes shone. Then a scabrous head in which hundreds of tiny hieroglyphic symbols were fixed in bas-relief.
Josie sprang to her feet and tried to run to the balcony, but the creature fell upon her just as she reached the metal threshold. She raised her head as a hand—she could feel it was a hand—tore open her back and ripped out the extensor muscles along the spine. She gagged once and swallowed her tongue. Her quivering lips formed a horrified sob.
The parking lot was the last thing Josie saw.
The meeting — dinner — it all went remarkably well. Josie’s mother scanned her husband’s face as he drove, then caught her own overly made-up reflection in the passenger side mirror. “Your presentation was amazing,” she said, not for the first time tonight.
He smiled warmly at her. “What else can I do at this point? I have no power, I can only hope to extend the museum’s.”
“Well, after today they’ll listen to you.”
He sighed and stroked his jaw. “We’ll see.”
“Josie!” Her voice was flat with reproach. “Damn it, it’s past one. I should call and let her know we’re on our way.”
She frowned. “Why not?”
“I sent somebody,” he said.
|Joshua Pabon is a native of New York City where he studied Art at Fiorello H. LaGuardia HS of Music & Art and Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He has published short stories in the online journal Fear and Trembling and the print journal parABnormal Digest, and has completed his first novel entitled The Master of Secrets.|