The man who handles my call to the Department of Motor Vehicles is required to tell me that he’s a convict in one of our state’s prisons. Next he asks, “What can I do to help?”
“My wallet’s been stolen. I need a new driver’s license.” The man recites my options, uncomfortable now because he’s a criminal and I’m a victim and he has to help me. As he details the list of possible forms of ID I can bring to the DMV to get a duplicate copy of my license—all forms of ID I no longer have because they were in my wallet and my wallet has been stolen—I notice three or four white maggots in the carpeting of my bedroom. They are the larvae of cluster flies, a seasonal phenomenon I was once unfamiliar with because I did not grow up here. My landlady’s suggested that the finest way to be rid of the cluster flies is to vacuum them up but I don’t own a vacuum. I usually sever the larvae with the edge of a credit card. I no longer have any credit cards. My wallet has been stolen.
“What is it that you did?”
“Ma’am?” the convict asks. “You mean before I went inside?”
“No. What is it that you did to get put inside?”
He says the three words as though they’re a scar on his chin he touches when he’s lonely. “Murder. Murder. Murder.” Once for the other man; once for the woman he was in love with; and once for her six-year old child. “When I work for the state my TV privileges are extended,” he says. “I like to see my shows.”
“You don’t have to explain it to me,” I tell him. “I’m in love with someone who can’t love me back also. Once, when he was sleeping, I held a lit cigarette over the crook of his elbow.”
The convict doesn’t say anything. Perhaps he’s afraid someone’s listening. Often I make the mistake of trying to establish similarities between myself and strangers. Usually the strangers don’t care to be anything like me. They would never hold a lit cigarette over anyone’s elbow. But I’m lonely. You should see where I live. There are no people here. I talk to strangers. I trip on purpose just to touch someone else. Let them catch me. I make it look like an accident.
The phone line sounds different. The convict has escaped and an automated voice announces, “Your call may be handled,” and then skips and repeats, “Your call may be handled.”
Samantha Hunt (“In Between the Storm and the Window”) is the author of four books of fiction: Mr. Splitfoot, The Dark Dark: Stories, The Invention of Everything Else, and The Seas. She is the recipient of a 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship, the Bard Fiction Prize, the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Prize and a finalist for the Orange Prize. Hunt has been published by the New Yorker, the New York Times, Tin House, the Guardian, and elsewhere. For more about her and her work, visit her website.