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the windows. Part of June’s job involves working outside, and somehow, she never gets sick. I was always the one to go down with a fever or cold. Jane ended up with the short end of the stick as far as inheriting immune systems. With June’s shift schedule the way it is, and with no indication of when Mel might come back, if ever, this babysitting arrangement could become long term. I’d have to convince her to invest in a fold-out couch, or maybe have Jane sleep at my place a couple days a week. My house is nice enough, but I’ve never had to entertain kids there before. The extra room down the hall was meant to be another bedroom, anyway. It would be easy to convert it from the storage shack it is now. I’m running an entire IKEA shopping list through my head when the beeping microwave brings me back to reality. The bowl burns my fingertips as I carry it back to the bedroom, where I can hear Jane still on the phone with her mother. Her answers are more than one word now, her tone brighter, and her voice even sounds less throaty. I put the bowl down and take a seat at the edge of the bed. After a few minutes of letting it cool down, Jane starts to eat and hands me back the phone. “Mom wants to talk to you,” she says. I take the phone, earpiece warm from her fevered face, while Jane goes to work on her food, undeterred by the scalding bowl or her weakened condition. “She’s looking better already,” I say to June, standing back up and watching the snow fall out the window. “Still, what do you want to do about school tomorrow?” “I told her she can stay home. Christmas break is coming soon, anyway. I’m sure she’s not the only kid skipping.” June is silent for a moment. It’s still quiet in the background on her end. “She thought I was Mel,” she said. I look back at Jane contently eating in bed. Her face isn’t flushed as badly as it was before and she seems to have some life back in her eyes. “Well, she looks glad that she talked to you, at least. She was looking a lot worse before I called.” “I know,” June says, her voice quivering. She takes three deep breaths, and I can even hear her swallowing hard through the phone. “I know. It’s just that it’s been a few days and she misses her mother. I’m going to have to tell her what’s going on eventually, but I have no fucking idea how.” “Let Mel tell Jane herself,” I say, my voice sounding more bitter than I intended. “She’s the one putting all of us through this.” June sighs. “She has it just as rough. Mel needs time and we need to give it to her. But you’re right. Hearing Jane’s voice might help. We’ll see.” I hear June sniffle and exhale deeply through the line. A moment passes and she asks,

Daniel Shoemaker

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Permafrost Magazine Summer Issue, 36.2  
Permafrost Magazine Summer Issue, 36.2