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When I called you...

Before she even dialed the numbers, Kimberly imagined what would happen when he looked down at his phone, buzzing softly across the table, and saw her name. She even briefly wondered if he had removed her name from his contacts at some point, and would have seen only the number. Deleting , to her, seemed too harsh in its finality, and it wasn't really like him, but even if it had only been the number — she imagined he at least would have thought it to be familiar. We see the same numbers so often, hear them repeated, that even if we couldn’t produce them on command, we know what they look like. The landscape of digits forms a sort of painting in our mind — a few sevens followed by a four — that conjures up as much an image as a name might. She thought about him seeing her pop up on the tiny, crystal-clear screen, and felt a fleeting wave of nausea.

It was hard not to consider where he was at that moment, what he would have been doing. When we call someone, we’re inevitably poking our noses unexpectedly into a life that is very much in the process of being lived. They’re out at a bar, they’re having a serious conversation, they’re watching a movie. There is something going on that you are now interrupting, and though it’s not a crime to tap them on the shoulder, the moment you walk into changes everything about the conversation. She thought of how embarrassed she would be if he would have picked up and sharp, shouted bar talk filled the room behind him. If he was surrounded by friends, by opportunity, by everything that she didn’t want to think about — how would she talk to you? Him telling her, “I can’t hear you, can you speak up?” with his friends laughing in the background, and Kimberly doing what? Telling him she’d call back later? That couldn’t be the context of her call.

And what if he didn’t answer? If her missed call just lingered, blinking silently into whatever empty room he’d left his phone in, waiting for him to come back and pick it up, what then? He’d look down and see her number, her name, and would likely flip through some mental rolodex of all the reasons she could possibly be calling. He would go through emotions the way one might try on shirts before an important evening out — pity, distress, nervousness, hopefully setting on a morbid curiosity strong enough to at least merit a text message back: “What’s up?” No, he hadto pick up. The conversation could only work if she backed him into an invisible corner and forced him to look at her upturned thoughts, spread out like a deck of tarot cards on a table he doesn't want to sit down at.

Why was she even calling? She's calling because, though the inevitable silence following his “Hello?” that necessitates a breathless explanation on her part makes her palms sweat and stomach turn, not calling is no longer an option. The percentage of her days spent thinking about what would happen if she spoke to him, if she reached out, or said something, now greatly eclipses the time spent where he doesn’t cross her mind. What was once an itch at the back of her brain, an amusing what-if that was never supposed to be acknowledged, is now an all-consuming need to confirm that, regardless of what direction life has taken him in. You know, the one that included them, together, as something that they cannot smother with the passage of time. Calling him to say hello, to even confirm that he still exists with that same voice and the “hmm” she can hear when he smiles through his words, is more necessary than it is uncomfortable.

Her fingers feel like numb, dead weights at the ends of her hands, sweating and shaking as she moves from number to number. His number is built into her very muscle memory, something she could do on any phone, blindfolded. She can feel the saliva gather in her mouth and then be forced down her throat as she reminds herself to swallow. She can hear her heartbeat, feel her lungs rise and fall with each breath that gets progressively harder to take in. Each ring lasts a decade, and yet evaporates behind her in a matter of seconds while she scrambles for a chance to do this over, when more prepared. And then he answers, “Hello?” That perfect mix of gentle understanding and genuine curiosity that she at once hoped and feared he would respond with. Always nice, always considerate, always better than her. “Hello?” he asks again, as Kimberly is paralyzed on the other end. You say her name, hoping perhaps that the sound of it would jar her into action, would make something escape from her to justify and explain this call so long after it could be considered appropriate. He waits, and the line crackles.

And she hangs up, because she is a coward.

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  1. Glad to see another piece of fiction.

    As I read the story I was strongly reminded of the butterflies in the stomach that One gets when one is calling the object of their infatuation for the first time!

  2. Well I think this fiction was more related to a call after weeks or months of a break up.