A Woman’s Name In A Boy’s Mouth With A Man’s Cheek
For too long now I’ve had my joy in hock, held ransom by the memories of yesterday’s mistakes. If I went to the pawnshop, would it still be there? Would I still need a ticket after all this time? Perhaps someone bought it; perhaps someone’s wearing it right now. Perhaps you’re wearing it. Or you. Or you.
I live alone in a house with a telephone, though I have no one to call, though no one knows I’m here. I’m a hermit in the woods in the middle of your city, and when it rings, I trip over myself to get it. “Is Helen there?” asks a boy: a woman’s name in a boy’s mouth with a man’s cheek.
“Wrong number, kid,” I say and hang up the phone. The phone was here when I moved in; it’s part of the house. It’s one of those older phones, the kind that hangs on the wall, with a rotary dial, pea green. The receiver is light, lighter than I remember. For whatever reason my memory had it that only Atlas himself could hold the receiver in the crook of his shoulder for any longer than a couple of minutes, heavy as it was with the weight of everything it’s held back over the years.
But my memory has it wrong. It’s as light as a feather—lighter, even. It seems to want to float up to the ceiling like a balloon, and if the ceiling wasn’t there it’d just keep floating with me hanging on, up into the air, into the atmosphere, until it pops or melts and I come crashing back down to earth. Four minutes later the telephone rings again and I answer reluctantly; I know it can only be the boy. No one else has called in over a month. The last call a sweet thing named Josephine tried to sell me an ad for the yellow pages. I told her I was in exile.
“Look, kid,” I say. “You’ve got the wrong number, all right? Whomever you’re looking for, she’s not here.”
“You can’t hide her forever,” says the kid, and the air between us is combustible. “We’re in love,” he proclaims, with no fear. No brains. “We love each other. We’re going to get married and there’s nothing you can do to stop us. Our love is bigger than anything you can put in our way.”
Click. The line goes dead. The boy has said all he has to say and now he’s hung up the phone. I stare at my end and shake my head, and then I return the receiver and it falls like deadweight, like the weight of the world, like even Atlas himself wouldn’t be able to remove it from its cradle.
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Portland Fiction Project
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