The cellphone Stephanie bought me rang, breaking the silence into tiny shards. It must be her, checking up on me.
Had I eaten? Was I warm enough? Had I heard from social services? Anything she should bring me on Friday?
At the other end, a woman who didn’t sound like Stephanie said hello. Her voice cascaded through the earpiece the way the white satin sheets slid over my naked body in the Hotel Rouge a lifetime ago. I hadn’t spoken a word all day.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I must’ve dialed the wrong number.”
I cleared my throat. “But, but… you sound familiar. Your voice, I’ve heard it somewhere. Sometime before.”
“Perhaps in a previous life!?” She laughed. An irresistible small chuckle that didn’t stop but dissolved unhurriedly.
Emily? My first love, my sweetheart. Could it be Emily? But we haven’t spoken since I left to Vietnam.
“Are you there?” The woman asked.
“Yes! Can you talk some more, please? I’m still somehow groggy…”
“And, you’re trying to figure out if you know me.”
“Yes, I am.” I replied.
Ellen! It must be Ellen. My lovely bride. But wait a minute, Ellen died twenty years ago. She had cancer. Oh, my darling Ellen. “I’m so confused. I don’t know what to say. You’re not Betsy, are you?”
“Who’s Betsy?” She asked, seemingly amused.
“My ex-wife. But she wouldn’t call and she doesn’t sound anything like you.”
“Then I’m not Betsy. Listen! Who’s been on your mind lately? Someone you often think about.”
“No one. They’ll never come back and it only makes their absence harder.”
“Do you live alone?”
“A daughter. Stephanie. She visits once a week. So!”, I swallowed hard. “You really dialed the wrong number.”
“I’m sorry I kept you waiting. It’s just that…”
“That you’re lonely.”
“I guess so. And, you have such a beautiful voice.”
“Hmmm, you still got it in you, old man. How old are you?”
“That’s good enough for me. But, where are you?”
“That’s not too bad. I live in San Francisco. My name is Michele Wright, by the way.”
I felt light-headed. The possibility of daring to hope was intoxicating.
“I’m John Forest.”
“Like the Franciscan Friar.”
“I have no idea who that is.”
“Never mind. Say, would you like to get together for a cup of coffee? Do you drive?”
“I’d love to, but I don’t have a car.”
“I have to come to you then. You can take me to your favorite café in Modesto.”
“But… What if?”
“What if we don’t hit it off? Let’s leave that until it turns out to be the case. How about Saturday? Are you free on Saturday?”
I nodded as if she could see me. “Yes!”
“I have your number. Until then, John.” She hung up leaving the sound of her laughter behind.
As a huge grin wrinkled my face I popped a Warfarin with a swig of water.
*Photo “By the Window”, Edvard Munch, 1940