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by Phebe Jewell

Once the street lights go on, Jim’s at the living room window, cracking the blinds to check for illegal dumping. Like all vigilantes, he has routines and rituals. Before dinner, he steps out on the porch, For a breath of fresh air, but I know he’s craning his neck for a view of the street up the hill. After the dishes he whistles for Rosco, and together man and dog patrol our block. If it’s an all-clear he lets Rosco take his sweet time coming through the front door, sniffing the spot where the cat last rubbed his flank. But if there’s been any new junk dumped, he tugs Rosco’s leash, pulls the aging lab into the kitchen, by the fridge. Attached to the dog, Jim removes the pencil dangling on a string and adds the new infraction to the tally for his weekly call to the City.

We live in a nice enough neighborhood. Not the post-industrial brownfields to the south. Still, sometimes people leave in a hurry, abandoning mattresses, TVs, cardboard boxes. The area’s a bit too commercial for my taste, but at least there are sidewalks. A few strip malls, places to get your nails done nudged by taco bars and vaping stations, halal grocers, and a 7-Eleven. If the baby had made it, we would have moved farther north, to a small house with a yard for Rosco and the kid.

After the last miscarriage, we drove home in silence. Jim helped me out of the car and into bed even though I could walk. Burrowed under blankets and pillows, I heard Jim whistle for Rosco. Ready to go? Eyes closed, I saw them walk past the neighbor’s duplex, past the lot that’s been vacant for years, littered with broken mirrors and legless tables. Busted dressers lying on the ground, drawers open like gaping mouths.

In college Jim answered one of those ads for sperm donors between 18 and 24. When we started dating, he described jerking off in a tiny room at the clinic, imagining a world populated with dozens of mini Jims — dark brown hair, blue eyes, freckled arms, cowlicks. If the world ended in fire or disease or dictators, his seed would go down fighting for truth and justice, second chances. I don’t know how many kids I have out there, he would say, his chest swelling with uncharacteristic male pride.

Mornings Jim gets up first, makes us coffee, brings in the paper. Another garbled election. Another once-in-a-century storm. Another celebrity suicide. He grumbles to himself, thrumming his fingers on the kitchen table. Keeping track of disasters he can’t stop. Before handing me the front section, he creases the fold with the palm of a hand, shaking his head.

Phebe Jewell’s recent work appears or is forthcoming in Monkeybicycle, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Maudlin House, Crack the Spine, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she also volunteers for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for women in prison.