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Alice had been told that time heals all wounds, but it had been more than half a year since her twin brother’s death, and her heartache hadn’t diminished a bit.  The anguish she felt remained as deep and persistent as it had been when she got her mother’s call telling her of his accident as she was walking across her college quad.  She still muddled about in a kind of numb daze, and on those rare occasions when she could concentrate for a while on something else, the reality of him being gone eventually crept back inside her like a cloud covering the sun.

Alice often found herself scrolling through photos of him on her phone or listening to his voice on old messages.  Alone in bed in her dorm room each night, she re-read any number of their numerous text strings before turning out the light.  She was doing that now, pausing over portions of their final exchange.  His last words had been sent to her from a ski lift jauntily describing the fateful black diamond run he was about to take in icy conditions.  When she’d received it that afternoon, she’d been sitting at the front of her classroom, so hadn’t been able to respond.  A familiar heat rose behind her eyes, her thumbs moved instinctively to the screen, and she replied: I miss you so much!  I love you, love you, love you!  She added a two-heart emoji, pushed send, flicked off her bedside lamp, and buried her face into her pillow.


The next day, Alice sat on a park bench sipping a smoothie for lunch when her phone buzzed on her lap and the display appeared for an incoming FaceTime call.  She tapped the green icon just as her heart seized at the sight of her brother’s corresponding number next to it.  The angry face of a young man about her age flashed onto the screen, with her own tiny startled one in an upper corner.  Slowly, she lifted her phone.

The man said, “Who the fuck are you?”

Alice’s forehead furrowed.  She heard herself say, “What?”

“A text came to my phone from this number last night.  I didn’t read it, but my girlfriend did while I was in the shower this morning.”  He leaned forward before barking, “And she’s pissed as hell.  Screamed all kinds of things at me when I got out of the shower, then threw the phone at me and stormed out of my apartment.  Won’t even speak to me now.”

“I don’t understand.  That’s my brother’s number.”

He gave a huff.  “It may have been once, but it’s mine now.  Got it two weeks ago when I bought my new phone.”

A different sort of shadow passed inside Alice.  She’d heard of cell phone numbers being recycled, but the possibility of that happening to her brother’s had never crossed her mind.  Her hand clapped over her mouth for a moment before she said, “He’s dead, he died…my brother.”

Her shoulders fell, her throat tightened, and she began to weep.  The man’s eyes blinked rapidly as he watched her and put the equation together in his own mind.   A long moment passed before he blew out a breath and said, “Jesus…I’m sorry.”

She nodded, sniffed, and wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

Very quietly, the man asked, “How long ago?”

“Seven months.”

“That’s awful.”  He glanced away and shook his head.  When he looked back, his face held tenderness instead of anger.  “I’ve never lost someone that close to me, but I had to put my dog down not long ago, and it was the most painful thing I’ve ever done.  So, I can only imagine…I mean, your brother.”

“My twin brother.”

His eyes widened, and his head shook once more.  He whispered, “Wow.”

Alice sniffed and wiped again.  She said, “Yeah.”

She was vaguely aware of the wary glance from a mother passing by with a baby stroller.  The man on the screen ran his hand through his disheveled brown hair.  Through a window behind him, a tree branch’s colored, fall foliage ruffled on a small breeze.  They looked at each other without speaking while a siren wound away beyond the park.  When it had disappeared completely, the man said, “Well, that explains things.”

“I hope your girlfriend understands.”

He nodded.  “Me, too.”

“I can tell her what happened, if you want.”

The man shrugged.  “Thanks.  I’ll let you know if that’s needed.  I hope it won’t be.”

Alice sniffed and wiped a last time.  “Okay.”

“Well, then.”  The man blew out another breath.  “Listen, if you ever need someone to talk to…”

“Thank you.”  Her throat clenched again, but she was able to swallow over it.  She realized she hadn’t spoken to anyone about her brother’s death since flying back to school after his funeral.  She said, “I just might.” 

“Sure…call, text, or we could do this again.  Whatever, whenever.”

She nodded, then asked, “How old was your dog?”

“Twelve.”  He paused.  “I got him when he was just a puppy.”

“That must have been so hard.  I’ll bet he was your best friend, too.”

The man took a turn nodding.  A stronger breeze nodded the branch behind him.  His head tilted a bit, and he seemed to will a small smile of reassurance to his lips. “So, listen,” he said.  “You take care, all right?”

Alice nodded again.  She raised her hand in a sort of wave, and he returned the gesture.  Another moment passed before his face finally blinked off.  She lowered the phone back onto her lap.  An elderly couple laughed on a bench nearby, and children’s excited voices rose from the playground up the path; those happy sounds seemed to her somehow impossible.  She gazed down at her screensaver photo.  In it, she and her brother were sitting on their family’s back porch husking corn.  She rubbed the screen with her fingertip as a soft whimper escaped her.  Birdsong, faint but lilting, came from surrounding trees about which, until that moment, Alice had been completely unaware.

William Cass has had over 285 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as december, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3.  He won writing contests at and The Examined Life Journal.  A nominee for both Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net anthologies, he has also received five Pushcart Prize nominations.  His first short story collection, Something Like Hope & Other Stories, was published by Wising Up Press in 2020, and a second collection, Uncommon & Other Stories, was recently released by the same press.  He lives in San Diego, California.

© 2023, William Cass

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