It’s Time by Samm Saxby

Editor Sarah Orizaga, Fiction, February 28th, 2019

"His instincts were telling him to jump in his car and run, but he knew fleeing was not an option."

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Fiction by Samm Saxby

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            Nilo overheard the faint ringing of the phone inside the house. The dusty digital clock on his work bench read 6:21 PM. I hope it’s Youssef’s last call for the night. Nilo’s fingers traced the smooth surface of his wooden boat’s faired frame. He savored the tangibility of his labor.

            “Nilo!” Eric shouted from the side porch of the house, his irritation reducing Nilo’s name into one quick syllable. “Your sister’s translator is on the line…third time!”

            Nilo dropped his bony arms to his sides and looked up at his boyfriend through the dingy side window of the garage. Eric’s eyes were wider than usual, and his jaw hung down as he stood behind the screen door, waving the phone in the air, the orange receiver cupped in the palm of his hand.

            “Take a message,” Nilo replied. “I’m still busy.” He turned away from the window and removed his black sports coat from the nearby stool.

            Reaching into the front pocket, he removed his light blue pill box and dumped Wednesday’s drug cocktail into his left palm. I’m tired of this. He shot the pills and capsules into the back of his throat, then chased them down with a glass of stale water mixed with dust and wood shavings and sat hunched over with his arms across his stomach, praying the burning pain would soon subside.

            “Three times under an hour.” Eric said, walking up the driveway, shaking his head as he approached the workbench and took a seat on the stool next to Nilo. “It’s like he’s watching the clock—the persistent little bastard. Here are the messages, at least what I could make out.” He placed the scraps of paper next to the open toolbox then threw his arm over Nilo’s shoulders and squeezed. “Gonna make it babe?”

            Nilo glanced down at his forearms and hardly recognized them. His brown skin was now pasty, the blue of his veins palpable— I’m disgusting. Shifting his weight and wiping the sweat from his palms, he straightened himself out under the weight of Eric’s arm and turned toward him, struggling to suppress his abdominal pain. “Yeah,” his voice cracked. “Thanks, really.”

            “Well, aren’t you gonna read ’em?” Eric asked in his usual suggestive tone.

            “I have a pretty good idea of what they say.”

            “Then call ’em back. You didn’t spend all that money to move ’em here only to not see them, right?”

            Nilo stood up and languidly made his way around the boat to the cutting table for a sheet of plywood, refusing to let his metabolic condition continue to limit his momentum. “Will you go check on them for me?” Nilo asked subtly.

            “What?” Eric squinted as the corner of his nostril curled. “Why do you want me to check on ’em? They’re your sisters.”

            Nilo closed his eyes and envisioned Fatimah and Lahley as the delicate little girls he left in Morocco twenty years ago. He took a deep breath and held it. He replied behind pursed lips, “I know, Eric,” and exhaled. “It’s just not a good time, you know.” Again and again you weigh others down. Shameful. You burden your lover with heavy requests? You’re no good. The girls will see. Weakness. “They can’t…” Nilo began as his voice escaped him. He fell silent then shook the thought away.

            Eric leaned up against the cutting table next to Nilo and folded his arms across his chest. “Not following— you went to all the trouble of getting ’em to the US. Now you’re refusing to see ‘em?” Eric kissed the side of Nilo’s damp head, “What’s up with you, babe?”

            Nilo felt the tips of his ears warm. His eyebrows arched and his jaw clenched. He grabbed the hammer off the table and walked past Eric, careful not to make eye contact. Nilo placed the fitted plywood against the frame of the boat and maintained a dead gaze at the grooves of the wood. “They can’t see me like this,” he said aloud, almost as if to the plywood while he drove the nail through. Nilo could feel Eric watch his every move as he went about constructing his boat. Please help me.

            “It’s been long enough, Ni. You need to see them and I bet they need to see you too.”

            Nilo looked up at Eric. Beads of sweat clung to the spaces between the black hair outlining Nilo’s face and above his upper lip. His face was flushed and his nostrils flared.

            “I need them to be proud of me, can you understand that? My sunken face will remind them of the death they had to see every day. Every fu—” Nilo slammed his hands onto the table. Drafting pencils hit the ground and rolled away, filling the silence as he recollected himself. “I just…I need them to forget, okay?”

            Eric stared back at Nilo and said nothing.

            “I’m sorry,” Nilo brought himself to say. “I didn’t mean to yell. I just…I just need you to help me make sure they’re settled, that’s all.”

            Eric looked away from Nilo and shook his head. “No, babe, I’m sorry. I gave the translator our address. He’ll be here with your sisters around eight, dependin’ on traffic.”

            Nilo’s heart rattled his ribcage and he felt a persistent, heavy throbbing begin in both his temples. “No, no, no,” he repeated. “You didn’t.”

            “You wouldn’t even come to the phone, Ni, what else was I supposed to do? They’ve been here all week and all you’ve done is avoid their calls. You don’t hear it in the translator’s voice, but I do. He’s concerned for them and for you—it’s time.”

            “Call him back and, and, tell him you made a mistake,” Nilo stuttered as
he paced around the garage, holding his slender fingers to his temples.

            Eric folded his thick hands over the back of his neck and turned away from Nilo, shaking his head. “His number’s on every one of those messages I took for you.” Eric walked over to the workbench and snatched up a piece of paper then shoved it into Nilo’s chest. “Here. You call ’em.”

            Nilo looked down at the message then back up at Eric. “You know I can’t,” he said in a whisper, running his hand through his curly, black hair. “I’ll shame them.” Nilo threw his head back and took a deep breath. What do I do? His instincts were telling him to jump in his car and run, but he knew fleeing was not an option. He sat back down on the stool, elbows propped up on the workbench, the mild scent of glue that coated his hands near his face.

            “I get why it’s a big deal, Nilo. I mean, twenty years is a hell of a long time. But why do you think you’ll shame ’em if they see that you’re sick? You sure you just don’t want them to know you’re gay?”

            Nilo raised his head from his hands and turned around to face his lover. “The last time we saw our Papa he looked as decrepit as me. Men with guns kicked down our door after supper and grabbed my mother by the hair, throwing her into the wall. Papa tried to save her, but a man hit him across the face with the butt of his gun and they all began to kick him. He cried out in pain. There was so much blood. I grabbed my sisters and we ran.”

            Eric grabbed the stool next to Nilo and slowly lowered his body onto it. “You’ve never told me this before…who were they?”

            “Bad men my father owed money to. He brought shame upon our family.”

            “And that’s why you came to the States?”

            “Yeah,” Nilo nodded, “or they would have killed me too.”

            “Did you really think you wouldn’t see your sisters once you got ’em here?”

            “I hoped, but realistically? No, I didn’t. Not looking like this. Some things just belong in the past.”

            Nilo watched Eric try and make sense of this new information. He was wide eyed with his mouth slightly open again. He blinked a few times then reached over for Nilo’s glass of water and finished it off. Eric began to cough, “There’s—” He beat his fist against his chest. “There was shit in it.”  Wiping the excess water from his mustache, Eric looked back at Nilo. “They won’t be ashamed, babe, just happy to see you I bet. They prob’ly just want to thank you for getting them outta there and all, trust me.”

            Tears began to well up in Nilo’s eyes. He quickly looked away from Eric, refusing to let him see any tears roll down his cheeks. He rose to his feet and let out a deep groan in an effort to pull himself together. “When will they be here?” Nilo asked in a confident tone.

            Eric’s lips curled into a smirk, “Eight, dependin’ on traffic. So…’bout thirty, maybe thirty-five minutes from now. I think you should show ’em the boat when they get here. Let ’em see what you’ve been workin’ so hard on.”

            Nilo gazed at the boat’s wooden frame and over at the fitted sheets of plywood waiting to be attached. The throbbing in his temples became dull. He took a long, slow breath. “I guess. I wonder what they’ll think about their older brother sailing his own boat down the Mississippi River.” Nilo chuckled to himself reflecting on the usual doubtful expressions he received from his customers at the bank when he told them his big plan.

            The familiar, faint ringing of the house phone carried over to the garage. Nilo and Eric exchanged looks. The phone rang two more times before Nilo answered. “Hello?”

            “Yes, hello Eric?”

            “No sir, this is Nilo. Who may I ask is calling?”

            “Oh good! Nilo! This is Youssef, your sisters’ translator. Is this a good time? Your friend, Eric, gave me your address. We planned to bring your sisters to your home this evening, did he tell you?”

            Nilo’s stomach tightened. “Yes.”

            “Unfortunately, Nilo, we will not be able to make it to that part of town this evening. Any chance we can reschedule for tomorrow afternoon instead?”

            “Oh?” Nilo responded without any hint of relief. “Why not tonight?”

            “The poor things, they’re terrified to be in an enclosed vehicle at night. They won’t make the distance in the dark. The afternoon will be more kind to their nerves. Will this be okay with you?”

            “Yes sir, I’ll move some appointments around to be available.”

            “Great! Does one o’clock work for you?”

            Nilo looked over to the digital clock on the microwave and calculated about seventeen hours until then. “Yeah. I mean, yes sir, that’ll work for me.”

            “Thank you for being so patient with me, Nilo. They really do look forward to seeing you, I’m sure of it. Good night!”

            Nilo hung up the telephone and returned to the garage. Eric was holding the last sheet of plywood needing to be attached to the left side of the boat. “Who was it?” Eric asked.

            “Youssef, the translator.”

            “He need better directions? I told ’em to GPS it.”

            “No, no, my sisters are afraid to travel at night.”

            “Oh, so they’re not comin’ at all?”

            “They’ll be here tomorrow at one.” Nilo said as he walked back to the stool and took a seat.

            “You okay with that, babe?”

            Nilo stared at the floor for a few minutes and mulled over Eric’s question in his head. You okay with that? You? Okay with that? You okay—

            Eric interrupted, tapping Nilo’s shoulder. “Ya hear me? I said, are you okay with that?”

            Nilo snapped out of his trance and looked up at Eric, a smile filling out his sunken face.

            “Lahley and Fatimah are safe now.”

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Header image courtesy of Constantinos Chaidalis. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

Samm moved to Oregon from the east coast in 2010. She attended Portland Community College and graduated as an honors student with her AAOT and the Creative Writing Focus Award. Samm transferred to Portland State University where she earned her BFA Creative Writing Fiction, graduated with honors, and received the Duncan Carter Writing Award. Samm is the sole intern for Forest Avenue Press, Assistant Editor for The Gravity of the Thing, development and copy editor for the graphic novel series—WaterShed—with Miss Anthology Comics, a part-time bookseller at Green Bean Books, and a new intern for Catapult. She received the Attic Institute’s 2018 Charlotte Herrick Udziela Memorial Scholarship for Women and PubWest’s 2019 Jack W. Swanson scholarship. Samm participates in local writing workshops and reading series, speaks on literary panels, volunteers for literary events, and is writing her first novel.
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Sarah Orizaga

Sarah is a fiction writer living in Portland, OR with her wife and cat. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University and a BA in International Development from Portland State University. Sarah is new to the NAILED team and is excited to read fiction that serves the soul through a unique view of the everyday. She is constantly on the lookout for new and emerging voices that explore culture and identity in fresh, positive ways. When she's not reading, writing, or editing you can find her watching true crime series and anything narrated by David Attenborough.