All because of a phone call

She liked when her phone rang, it meant he was calling. It was the clock striking twelve, the rooster’s crow, the morning alarm. She would mentally prepare for it, brushing a stray strand of hair out of her eyes, taking a deep breath, checking her teeth. They were meaningless rituals, he couldn’t see her face, he couldn’t taste her breath, he couldn’t feel the heat from her skin, but she felt like he could. She always did.
He called her a lot. When he was bored, or excited, or lonely, he’d call her. He was like a puppy, almost. He would jump at the sound of her voice, he would come up with the most incredulous excuses to dial her number, press that final button as he might open a door before seeing a long lost relative, a long dead pet, an ancient mystery.
She didn’t mind that he called her so often. More often than not she would be entertaining some company or other when her phone would ring, but when she dismissed him, nonchalantly, coolly, simply, she would add as an afterthought;
“I’d imagine you’ll be leaving in an hour or so?” or
“Mom, they’re only staying until three, right?”
As if she were talking to her guests, but he would always still be on the line. He would wait till the hour was up, till three had come, to return the call as if it was the first time that day, and she would say “fancy meeting you here” as she did every time, and he would laugh and she would chuckle and they would talk.
They would talk of trivial things. Of TV shows and recent movies and gossip and clothes and boys (and girls) and sex and life and love and happiness and an anecdote or two. And all at once, as he told her some trivial story of seeing an old friend at the grocery store or how his shoe came untied so many times that day, she would gasp, like a balloon deflating, but reversed, turned on it’s head, flipped this way and that. He would smile secretly as she began to speak without warning, say something or other about her interruption, but allow it grudgingly, silently loving it, secretly loving it. Loving every second. He wouldn’t admit it if she asked him, he’d complain and complain, but she knew he loved it, and he knew she knew, and on it went like a playground discourse.
With an “ok, so” she would begin a convoluted tale, interrupting herself to mention how much she loved that skirt, how cute that guy is, how good her mom looked that day, how amazing her dog was, and he would impatiently tell her to continue, smiling still. She would tell him stories from a year ago that had just surfaced in the murky waters of her mind only to sink once again half way through, only to be pulled back up with umpteen details changed. He hated it. He loved it.
She would tell him happy stories that made him smile, and sad stories that made him cry, and funny stories that made him laugh till he cried, and all three so he laughed through his tears and she laughed at his laugh and they became entangled in their laughter, miles apart, a laugh king, a hysterical phone chord, a ball of smiles, big smiles. She loved his laugh.
Some days he didn’t call her, and she would wring her hands and stare at the phone and mutter under her breath and wonder what was taking him. She imagined some horrible monster stopping him from reaching his phone. A horrific train wreck, his outstretched hand about to press send. And at 11:59 the phone would ring and she would spring for it, violently, like a cornered kangaroo, a livid jack-in-the-box, a coiled snake. He’d say one word; “Gotcha”, And hang up.
Fuming, she would stay up all night. She would think of all the things she would yell at him tomorrow. She would tell her mom exactly what she thought of him, in exquisite detail. She stormed through her house like a woman possessed. She wrote angry e-mails, crushing the keyboard beneath her fingers. She would count all the things she would do to him to sleep, and woke up the next morning feeling exceedingly embarrassed. She would write an apology, and chastise herself for her rash behavior.
And he would call her up and say “it’s alright, don’t worry” and she would melt and reply “Worry? Psh, I was just apologizing to be nice” and he would keep smiling and say “oh, silly me” and they would talk as if nothing had happened and that was how it went. It was not often that they truly argued, but it happened every once in awhile, though those passed quickly enough and weren’t very interesting or important to begin with.
And when they were done talking, they would say their goodbyes. She would go first, complaining of the heat of her phone. He would agree, telling her he had better things to do anyway, and she would laugh and agree, and he would smile. He would remember at the last second to ask her a question; she’d say she’d tell him tomorrow. They were rehearsed rituals, a secret religion of inside jokes and furtive glances, hidden on either end of the thin cord between them.
Eventually, she would hang up, and he would sit there for a moment, listening to the hiss of her absence, and he would whisper, and press the button. He would put down the phone, and lie on the ground, and wish forever that he had told her before the hiss.
He always said he would tell her, beforehand.
He always wished he had told her, afterwards.
He never did.

And so it went, day in and day out. He watched, or heard, her tales of the boys she was with, how much she loved them, how much she hated them. Labyrinthine like relationships of second guesses and unspoken emotions, but he heard it all. Of the way this one walked, this one talked, this one burped, this one scratched his chin. He could have compiled a bestiary on these fools, drunk on unawareness, he knew more about them than they knew of themselves.
And eventually, they would be forgotten. One way or another they would be lost in the blanket folds of time, never realizing what they’d lost. Never realizing what they no longer had. Or maybe they didn’t lose anything; maybe they never had anything in the first place.
They could never have her as much as he did, no matter what. They could have her in every single possible way, but never as he did. They could never know her nuances, never understand her words, never feel her voice as she cried to him of how she’d lost them. Smiled when he mocked their mistake, laugh when he joked of their foolishness, their shortcomings, jokes they could never make.
As time passed, they saw each other more and more. They were no longer guests in their homes, but honorary family members. The parents were used to them showing up uninvited to say hi, stay for the night, eat dinner, it was expected.
Any day spent apart was torture. Whether a phone was broken, a car wouldn’t start, an internet connection was down, they were connected somehow, it hurt to be distant, though neither would admit it. It was a private knowledge that each shared. They knew it was true, but never believed it. They knew everything about each other, but pretended to turn a deaf ear, a wordless agreement.
One day it was too much. They sat alone in her house on the faded leather couch, faded of shade but filled in turn with memories, and today to add one more, a sight to behold and it sighed under their weight with such anticipation. They pretended to watch TV to hide watching the other. A glance here and there, never at the same time, same place, hidden in the laughs shared with that days studio audience, people who would never expect what would happen during their laughs, after their laughs. They were just laughs to them, at a clichéd joke or an awful pun, dubious humor, slack jaw, lowbrow, but they ate it up. They never imagine the two friends watching, waiting.
At once, they looked. Eyes locked. Turn away. Look back. Smile. Hands touching unnoticed, pull away, put back. A secret heat. He whispers, she whispers back, neither heard, neither cares. Distance closed, subtly, suddenly. An unnoticed touch, searching, secrets felt, known, discoveries made with gasps, well meant, well taken.
Nosy fingers explore, treasure chests opened, better than gold inside. Ecstatic glow, heavy air, hot with sweat, perfect sweat. Pants in the open, more than one way, couch moans an echo of the chorus above it, matching pitch, pitching, rocking, the TV plays along, the fourth of July, the season finale. Blankets set up, raincoats put on just in case, sparklers fizzle and pop, just an entrée. A silence grows, the crowd hushes.
The first rocket flies. An explosion, two at once. The crowd’s applause. The rocket rains an afterglow, then starts up again after one moments pause, with more vigor, lights the skies, “oohs” and “aahs” escapes their open mouths. The grand finale. All at once, a multitude of bangs, illuminate the far off clouds, angel song. The end, crowds rest.

They were different after that. They never spoke of it after that day, it was a stain on the white linen (or faded leather) of their friendship, it was forgotten. But not really. Neither one of them could bear to bring it up though, could bear to remind the other of such an awful event. Which it was, an awful event. It must be if the other wouldn’t mention it. Nothing good could come of it, at least.
And so it went, and the more they tried to avoid it, the less they talked as a precaution. They avoided any topics that could lead to it, avoided any topics that could lead to such topics, any topics that could leave to those, etc.
And soon, they had nothing to talk of at all. The visits stopped ,the phone calls stopped, the e-mails stopped, their lives took different turns. College, dropouts, jobs, pink slips, marriage, divorce lawyers, they held onto nothing and went as ghosts along their way. They ebbed off into nothingness, and all that was left were faint memories on a tired couch, and a phone bill ten miles long.

All because of a phone call

Mr. McGurk

Joined December 2008

  • Artist

Artist's Description

It’s about life, it’s about love, it’s about growing up, it’s about mistakes.

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