The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
A Call before you Sleep
She looked at the calendar, following all the crosses leading to the one perfect empty square. The answering machine on a loop, his voice rolling over and over, the words simple, devastating. She put the calendar back on the wall, reached for a wine glass.
At a third full it felt light, so she emptied the rest of it. She sipped as the machine itself grew tired and flickered into silence. The silence grew, a film in the air around her, until she pushed against the wall, unable to breathe, the tears forming heavy enough to push her gently to the ground.
She crouched down, beaten by the loneliness for a long time. When she pulled herself up the glass was almost empty, her legs pulsing with light, electric blood. She walked over to the telephone, pulled a menu from behind the receiver. She ordered without thought, walked away, back to the middle of the room, listening to the fizz of the receiver as it hung from the wires. No more calls, no more words infiltrating her. She walked over to the window, her view of the city and sipped from the glass, the tears drying, the last of them rolling from cheek to chin, filling up the near empty glass.
The city was full tonight, each building flickering in and out of life, the planes drifting lazily in the sky. The low hum of families, lovers, people. She looked out into the sprawl and thought she could see the faces of these people, each one of them dis-connected and filled with everything she no longer possessed. A car horn roared over the bustle, followed by a rumble of laughter. She turned away, walking into the mist of silence toward her bedroom.
She looked through the closets, the drawers. Gifts he had bought her. She ran fingers through the dresses, the underwear, somewhere in each of them a trace of his fingerprint, his breathing, when his fingers were hungry, his eyes eager. When all a night was to them was movement, over her, into her, being everything to her until the morning. She took a summer dress, held it against her. Her own body, still trim, still toned, still desirable. She remembered times when she wore the dress, walking the park in Sundays, late afternoons as she read and the boys played their games. Running past and smiling as she looked up from unread pages to smile back.
She slipped off her clothes and let the dress slip coolly over her body. She smiled at the feeling, being caught in warm summer rain. She ran her palms down her sides, enjoying the sounds of the silk brushing against her. She moved outside of herself then, away from her loneliness. A woman she knew she could be. The doorbell rang far away and she made her way to the door, past the mirror, catching a glimpse of a woman, the past and maybe the future.
She invites the young man in, walks away from him slowly enough for him to watch without being caught. There is distance and enough silence for him to take her in. She reaches into her purse, puts the money to one side. She stops to pour more wine, looks down. Tomorrow she will be divorced. Tonight she will act. She who was faithful, she who loved. She hears a voice offer the boy wine, coffee. He is dressed smartly; he is handsome in a fresh way. He is awkward, which she likes. He is not one of those boys who acts like a stockbroker or a pimp or a jock; the real children. He is unaffected.
She hears her voice talk to the boy, listen to his polite, earnest responses. She feels her lips move, accentuating words, and rising in the curves of the corner of her mouth to be playful, to smile and to tease. She makes him smile, snatch glances of her. She feels herself move within reach, then closer. She hears the motion of her hand reach into his midriff, then down. She summons silence with her actions, so there is only the sound of her against his trousers, his belt. A gasp of his breath, another man’s breath, in her apartment.
She raises her other hand against his shoulder, steadies herself against her own action. But then she feels the woman slip for a moment, feels her own head tilt against his shoulder. Her other hand slips away. She returns to herself, finds her head buried in a strangers shoulder. She begins to cry.
“It’s okay.” She hears the man say. He shushes her and puts his arms around her back, repeats the words over, over. She cries and then forces herself to stop, to return to herself. She coughs edges away, her fingers to her eyes. He backs away slightly, reaching down to himself and she can’t help but laugh and he smiles awkwardly, blushing. They stand a foot apart, crying, blushing and smiling in the same second.
“Why are you crying?” He asks her and his voice is different now, aged with concern and free of being uncomfortable.
“I don’t know. I’m just…”
“I’m lonely too.” He interrupts, to save her the unease of her situation. She smiles.
“You’re too young to be lonely.” She says, trying to make light of his words. But he looks earnest, unfazed.
“No. not really. I don’t know. I think maybe it’s harder to be lonely when you’re young. Everyone expects you to have friends.” He adjusts his shirt buttons and she wonders how long he’s been waiting to say that.
“Are you a long way from home?” She asks.
“I guess. Just finding my feet, or something.” He sips from his wine.” You? If you don’t mind me asking.” He adds hurriedly.
“No I don’t. Thank you. Tomorrow I’m getting divorced. I got confirmation of the date tonight.” She sips from his glass. “I’ve felt lonely with him for a long time, it’s just…”she would go to work tomorrow, go for drinks afterwards. She is strong enough to continue, not rebuild. She is her own life.
“I’m just going to miss simple things. He’d text me goodnight, each night if we weren’t together. So simple, so stupid. But he never missed it. I guess I just liked the idea of someone thinking of me before they slept. And now that message, tonight…that’s the last one I’ll ever get from him.”
She looks up. The young man reaches over, pours wine into her glass, pulls a chair out for her to sit on.
“I thought manners died out years ago.” She says, sat, her eyes drying.
“I’m bringing it back.” He sits opposite her, smiling. She imagines this is how he is in company he can trust. She lifts the bottle to his glass but he puts his hand over the top.
“Driving.” He says.
“My god, I’ve tried to seduce a boy scout.” She says. She looks down. “Do you want some of this food? I think I should probably eat.”
“I hear the king prawns are good.” He says tapping the far box.
“But let me guess, you’ve never tried it.” She rolls her eyes. “Are you for real?”
“You should know.” He says, trying to hide a smile. She laughs, going red. A real laugh. She wonders; when was the last time?
“So, a chink in the armour. At least I almost cheated on him with…ooh, two hours to spare.” She pushes the carton over to him, hands at chopsticks. They pop the lids, shared out servings.
“I think of a place sometimes.” He says, breaking a cracker, dipping it, looking over. “My place is pretty crappy, small. So I think of a place I’ve been, or where I’d like to go, that takes me away.” He stops, checking himself, realising he’s going to reveal a secret.
“Please.” She says, waving him on with her chopstick.
“I imagine going to Italy. All the cobbled streets and the alleyways. Seas blue like the play paper I had at school. I tore out a photo from a travel guide, stuck it to my wall. But it’s weird…I never dream of it. No matter how much I think of it, I never dream…But it helps.”
They sit for a while, both thinking of that place. They move from plate to plate, he sips his drink, coffee, she the wine. There is a moment when they look to calm themselves and they smile at the wonder, the absurdity of the situation they’ve found themselves in.
“I guess mine’s not a place but a time. I don’t know…when I was happy I guess. My back garden when I was a girl. Helping my dad with the seed packets. He used to steal them, slip them up his sleeve. I used to think it was the most dangerous thing. Leave his finger in the Venus flytrap, pull it out just in time. I use to get so scared for him.
There was a small aquarium. Cheap really, plastic deep sea divers and coral rock. The fish were so beautiful, the way they’d shimmer, fluorescent, close to the light bars. And the algae were so ugly and creepy I’d have nightmares about it. And we’d walk in the dark reading the plaques and I used to daydream that the glass would crack on each cabinet and all the waters would burst forward and we’d just be submerged with all these beautiful creatures, the plaques drifting by in gold. That place. That time.”
“It sounds perfect.” He says, sipping his drink. “So you’ve got something now.” He raises his cup.
“Something from the past.” She says, raising hers.
“Something you can keep. Now you got to work on the future, like me.” They chink glasses.
“Would you like another cup? Or do you have to go?”
She rises and puts the kettle on. She takes a cup for herself too. She looks back, sees him collecting the cartons.
“Don’t even think about it, scout.” She points at him with a spoon. “It’s my place. If I want junk about for a while, then that’s what I want.”
“Yes ma’am.” He says with a salute.
“What is your name, anyway?”
“Sarah.” She walks back. She passes one cup to him, curls both her hands around her own. She sits back down and they begin to talk, gently, the sound of their voices filling the room, gently overwhelming the city and all its sounds. And midnight passes as they talk, of things past and what is yet to come.
© Chris Castle August 2010
Blue Sky Day by Chris Castle
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