My life never becoming what it was supposed to be, it would be easy to pick of the phone and dial her number. There’s a way I know she is, which is ready to receive anything. I know her number has never changed, and likely won’t. My last texts to her remain undeleted from her phone, because Rosie likes to remember where we were when we left off. She’s not like the others, who block my number, or submit to the fact I’ve blocked theirs. Rosie keeps our movie on pause. She keeps her finger shoved into the middle of a lot of books.
Like anything lost or abandoned, getting it back is a process that begins with hearing the song. It begins in stores and public places, teasing gently from the corners of my awareness until I’m see the pattern, but am unable to tell when it started, exactly. Owner of a Lonely Heart. It never bothered me before, or reminded me of anything in particular. There were definitely more emotional songs that I had to avoid for months and sometimes years after I left, but now it’s Owner of a Lonely Heart that spikes the adrenaline in my chest when I hear it, and tosses me careless down into a cage of memories from before I left home.
I decide to call her when it’s late. Sleep escapes from me in a sluggish pace, my thoughts fast enough you’d think I’d be able to catch it, but I’m not. The screen of my phone is bright in the dark of my room, and turns black when I put it to my ear, a final seal of a decision made. This is what relapse feels like.
“Hey,” she says after five rings, as if she expected me to call. Her voice is soft but I know she wasn’t sleeping. It took five rings for her to pick up because I know she was getting herself alone, wherever she was before my call.
“Hi,” I say to my ceiling. “It’s Jack.”
“I know,” she says. “How are you?”
“Really good,” I tell her, half lying, and half truthful. The fact is that by anyone else’s standards, I am really good, but I’m not really good. If I was happy, I wouldn’t be calling. Still, I feign my superiority to make sure she remembers I left her.
“That’s good,” she agrees with me. We settle into a short silence, during which she is wondering why I’ve called, and I know she won’t ever ask me, not directly, not anymore. She already knows this is about me missing her and everyone else, and she’s too polite to say so. Instead, she tries to lead me to admitting it.
“Is it late where you are?” she says, her voice a soft purr.
“Yeah,” I tell her. “You?”
“Almost midnight,” she says.
“Were you asleep?” I ask, even though I mean, was she with someone else. I hear her swallow something from a glass with ice.
“No,” she says, her voice lifting into a register higher and louder than what she reserves for secrets and late-night calls. “I was just getting something to drink.”
“It’s probably hot down there,” I guess, and I hear the shrug in her voice.
“It’s always hot here.”
If I’d chosen to call Evelyn, this is the part she’d say something like, “Did you call to ask me about the weather?” But that’s why I didn’t call Evelyn.
“Yeah, I was thinking about that the other day. How it was always hot.”
Rosie is quiet for a long pause, during which I can hear her breathing.
“I guess I was thinking about you a lot lately,” I admit. Her breathing doesn’t change at all, coming through the sterile connections made through space. Rosie’s breath, when it gets this late, always smells like Scotch tape and tastes like the plastic that coats the old curling telephone cords.
“Oh, yeah?” she asks, her voice quieting a little again. “What were you thinking?”
“I just missed you. Everyone,” I add when I hear her throat clear. I can tell she’s wondering how far I want to take this, tonight. If this is about phone sex or getting absolution or asking for her back.
“Clyde said you’d call,” she mentions, her tone almost shy. “Yesterday. He said you’d…”
She doesn’t finish her sentence, but her words sink into something that might be a laugh of derision, at herself. It comes up from her throat like the hiss of the brakes of a subway train.
“I guess you don’t really care what Clyde said,” she apologizes.
I’ve probably said that to her, and worse, before I left. I don’t laugh because I know she doesn’t really think it’s funny, and she doesn’t really think I don’t care, and Clyde might not have really told her I was going to call. I know none of it matters, because she’s giving me a chance to say
“I do care.”
But I asked her to never contact me again, and didn’t think about
“You don’t act like it,” she counters. It’s not confrontational, but still dismissive.
“Does anyone want me to come back?” I ask her, and her silence is long enough my stomach turns to knots.
“Of course,” she says. “You left a lot behind you.”
“Maybe I could come down for Christmas,” I offer, and I hear her hesitation.
“I’ll need to talk to Evelyn,” she says.