James David Cohn


He pulled the briefcase out from under the bed. Its brown body was more beat-up than he had remembered, especially at the corners where the fake leather had become worn and the cardboard frayed through. He set it on the bed, drew a hand over the dust and a largish clump of Abby’s fur and felt a wave of sadness. After he had put Abby down he had vacuumed furiously precisely to erase the possibility of this very feeling and here she was, full of life and death, remember me?

Yes, I remember you.

He smiled at the twin combination locks, those nods toward security on a briefcase that any household hammer or utility knife could defeat in fifteen seconds. He took out his phone and accessed the keypad because he still couldn’t remember the numerals of his childhood telephone exchange without looking at it. He translated his memory, BEeman 6, into 236, rolled the dials on both locks to that setting, and popped the top open, then used his thumbs to press the hinges into their stay-open position.

“Why you lock an empty box?” the pirate asks in High Wind in Jamaica.

Not quite empty: in the pen-holder in the inside lid there was a Cross pen doing lone sentinel duty, its ink by now most certainly dried up. He took it out, looked at it with affection, rolled the barrel open and then closed with warm familiarity, and tossed it into the waste can where it made a loud thunk. He reached his hand into the compartments inside the lid: empty.

He turned to his dresser and regarded the items he had staged on top of it. He took the stack of buff folders. Ignoring the words on the tabs, he placed them in the bottom of the briefcase. Then he took the red folders from his dresser and examined the tabs in turn as he placed them in the briefcase, if only by way of confirmation: LEGAL. BANK. INSURANCE. DEATH. The folders were quite thin and this brought him a feeling of satisfaction: he had simplified. He dropped the red folders on top of the buff ones.

He took his passport from the dresser and dropped it into a compartment inside the briefcase lid where it disappeared from view, and this unintentional hiding bothered him, so he drew it out and dropped it on top of the red folders, then picked it up again and thumbed through it, its pristine pages resisting this unaccustomed violation. All potentiality, he thought, and no actuality. He took a black Sharpie pen, opened the passport to the first available page for visas and endorsements, and wrote in large capital letters, FIJI. He turned the page and wrote at an angle, MARRAKESH. On the next pages: MALAYSIA. KAZAKHSTAN. UNITED KINGDOM. MAGIC KINGDOM.

He dropped the passport into the briefcase. From his dresser top he took the two pay envelopes from the bank: seven thousand dollars in hundreds, and three thousand in fifties, two fattish envelopes that were still much smaller than he had thought they would be when the teller counted out the bills.

“Ten grand,” he said aloud, just to hear it.

So what?

He dropped the envelopes into the briefcase.

One more item on the dresser: a small box about one cubic inch, white plastic with a hinged snap-top and a foam interior that had, when new, housed a tie tack long-since lost or discarded. He opened the box and looked at the tiny baby’s tooth nestled in the foam, then closed the box and placed it carefully in the briefcase.

He closed the briefcase and pressed the two snaps into place, rolling the combination dials so the snaps wouldn’t pop open. He looked at the case and as an afterthought took the Sharpie and wrote on the fake leather top in large numerals, 236.

He stared at the briefcase for a long time and then put it under the bed. The sun had risen. He was hungry.

© 2018 James David Cohn