Music Well – Dosia McKay, Composer, Painter, Writer

Reflections on Art and Life

The Phone Call – a Short Story

She always knew it would end like this. It has been more than three days since she had heard from him and that was unusual, even for his introverted nature. Everyone’s “midnight phone call” comes sooner or later, the mindless pattern of the ring, a string of dashes and spaces, invariable in its pitch, so commonplace and familiar by its daily and mindless recurrence, yet unexpectedly shattering and mutilating the world which took decades to slowly and patiently build. And now it was her turn to answer the phone and hear the dreaded words. She already knew what the person on the other end would say and she was ready to face the awful reality. She would pick up the phone slowly and deliberately and try to remember the facts and details. But really, what is the difference how it happened? What matters is that he is gone and that her world is now a formless and senseless vacuum without him.

It is often said that in the moment of a crisis, time can stand still and stretch endlessly. She suddenly felt as weightless as a necklace of rose quartz beads threaded on a nylon string, seeing her past, present, and future aligned clearly in a continuous row of consecutive events.

If there is anything she has learned in her short three decades, it was that life was facetious and unfair. She knew couples who were bored with each other yet stayed together for the sake of children or a business, then retired and continued to bore and disgust one another until the ripe arthritic age when they finally died peacefully in their sleep. She knew it would not be so for her. No, because when good things come to you, they are only leased to you for a short time. And she had it good with him. Too good. Maybe that’s why she was always subconsciously on her guard against being fully immersed and truly vulnerable, as if holding back were an insurance against something dreadful happening to him.

There was no question she lucked out on meeting him in the first place. After a series of short- and long-time boyfriends, she gave up on the idea of being with anyone. She couldn’t quite figure out what she had been doing wrong all this time. Her scientific, logical mind always dictated that she date men who met her long list of compatibility prerequisites. She wrote them on a piece of paper after taking psychology in college, and although updated them with each failure, the general idea remained the same. So when at the end of the string of unsuccessful relationships he fell off a Christmas tree, so to speak, unaware of her requirements, she was not going to pay any attention at all.

And she didn’t. They met many times to experiment together on various resins and waxes for her jewelry casting, trying to find the ideal combination of hardness and agility for the polymer and silver jewelry she designed. They mostly talked business and chemistry and sometimes he shared anecdotes of his travels to France and Italy where he had studied sculpture for two semesters a decade ago. But it was always sterile and chit-chatty, and besides, he was dating some actress or a screenwriter – she couldn’t quite keep up with the endless array of his present and past girlfriends.

She watched his hands carefully one day when he was helping her peel away the cast from the silver leaves they poured together the day before. They were so much larger than hers and so ruthless and demanding of the fragile metal, unlike her small and sensitive fingers that always unveiled the newly formed jewelry with as much gentleness as reassurance of its worth and desirability. On occasions when they worked together and their hands touched accidentally, it felt very mechanical and utilitarian. That’s how she knew they would never make a good match and that she was perfectly safe with him. Safe from all that nonsense, heartache, and drama of all romantic relationships. She was grateful.

But one afternoon, while they were working together and she accidentally spilled boiling wax on her wrist, uttering a screeching squall of pain, she was perplexed when he lifted her off the ground and carried her hurriedly into the kitchen. He stood her in front of the sink and plunged her hand into the stinging and bubbly stream of cold water while encircling her waist with his other arm, holding her firmly against his chest, pressing her ribs too tightly. Her agitation gradually gave way to a quiet bewilderment as she realized his hands were trembling. She rested the back of her head against him and continued to sob quietly, unable to control her own shaking, but by that time she was unsure whether she was responding to the pain of the burn, or to the earthy smell of his skin. She felt her body becoming limber and pliable in his secure grip, sensing that in this moment he was freeing her from her cast, gently peeling away the mold to reveal a newly formed gold leaf or a setting for a ring. It was a new feeling for her. No, not even a feeling, for that word seemed too fleeting and ephemeral, but more like a conviction or a realization of inevitability of belonging and finding of a home. He gently held her fingers, avoiding the fresh wound, and pulled her hand toward him, kissing the crease inside her arm, while the water dripped on the tile floor.

Their courtship baffled her. They couldn’t stand being apart, yet when they were together, they didn’t talk very much, or at least not as incessantly as most couples do at first. They were happiest when they worked in silence side by side, her casting the polymer jewels, and him returning gradually to his original interest, bronze sculpture. She knew he loved her, especially when he touched her, for even now, several years after they were married, she felt the same thrill when his strong arms sheltered her or when his fingers casually wandered to her elbow when they crossed the street or to her earlobe when he passed by her sitting at her desk. She knew he cared. He always remembered everything she said and was attentive to her needs.

For her last birthday he bought her a refrigerator. It was the exact model she secretly wanted, the French door design with optimal capacity and the single tray on the bottom. How he knew about it, eluded and mystified her. When she complained about her jewelry making chisels and files as being too heavy and masculine, he contacted one of his old friends in Genoa who made a custom set for her that was much lighter and ergonomic for her grip. She appreciated those thoughtful gestures, yet a part of her wanted something less practical. It didn’t bother her at first, but over time it developed into a mild annoyance bordering on disappointment.

Sometimes she reminisced on one of her former boyfriends who once had sent a letter from an overseas trip. The envelope was covered with excessive postage. It would make sense that a first class air mail correspondence would be more expensive, but that many stamps? Only later did it dawn on her that the envelope was covered with a collection of stamps depicting red roses and that he was, figuratively, sending her flowers and his love. Unfortunately the love was rather short lived, as on that very trip he met a long-legged computer programmer who more closely shared his interest in all things gothic and psychic. Yet, after all these years, the envelope remained securely tucked between old insurance statements, reminding her what men are capable of when they set their minds to it.

And then, of course, the collection of haikus from another man. What a prolific and gifted writer he was! He wrote one haiku a day for three months, each one beginning with a consecutive letter of her name, circling through the pattern endlessly for those long intoxicating weeks. And the things he wrote in, and especially in between those few syllables, were indescribable. Decadent and wayward at times, but mostly amusing and flattering. To be loved by a writer, to be caressed by well thought out adjectives and strategically placed ellipses caused her blood to simmer as her clever mind found pleasure in deciphering the allusions and metaphors. But he too vanished after he moved to another city to begin a collaboration with an up and coming folk singer, writing lyrics for her that made them both a lot of money and put a lot of frequent flyer miles into their accounts.

They were now only beautiful ghosts, as were all the others gone before them. She began to wonder how many other women received envelopes with generous postage and how many times the haikus have been recycled for another’s enticement. She looked at the refrigerator and her chisel set scattered on her work table and suddenly realized that she, for the first time, was loved with a tangible and solid love. Never before had she thought of love as having a shape or substance but it suddenly occurred to her that it could not and should not be any other way. How could it? After all, they were both sculptors.

She thought of her irrational desire for him to be a mosaic made up of her former lovers and burst out in an uncontrollable spasmodic laughter as she rested her cheek and the palms of her hands against the refrigerator. Finding comfort in its cold surface, she pressed the side of her hip against it and then rolling onto her breasts, lifted her blouse allowing her warm and smooth stomach to touch the panel, enjoying the electrifying sensation. Her laughter suddenly turned into a deep inconsolable wail as she slid down the side, falling to her knees, leaving a smudged trail of tears and makeup on the stainless steel surface.

The incessant ringing of the phone caused her to realize that her mind functioned at the speed of light. It could not have been more than five seconds since the phone started ringing. She stood up and began walking toward it as if to a scaffold. In another two seconds she would mark the point in time that would forever divide her life into the before and after the phone call. She was ready. She reached for the phone and slowly raised it to her ear.

“Hello?”, she said carefully, suppressing tears and wiping her mouth.
“Hi Gorgeous! I finally got a hold of you! I was so worried! I am getting you a new phone as soon as I get back…”
©2012 Dosia McKay

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