New House

The telephone was installed at 11 o clock on Monday morning and now sat on her desk like a perfectly self-contained cat. She derived an odd sense of pleasure from seeing it there. “A telephone makes a new house less lonely,” she said to the wall of the study. It stared back at her wordlessly with a pale, blank face, and she made a mental note to hang up some pictures that afternoon. Maybe the watercolor prints she’d purchased for a small fortune from that shivering sidewalk artist in the park. Thin boats silhouetted on an indistinct river at sunset. She knew very little about great art but enough to know that this was not it. And yet something about the narrow frame of the boats and the flawed river had moved her indescribably. They spoke to her of life’s uncertainty, its ultimate imperfection and now, months later, a lump rose and bloomed richly in her throat just thinking about that moment of insight and extravagance on the chilly pavement.

She hadn’t yet admitted it to herself yet, but she was waiting for the telephone to ring. Outwardly she busied herself with other tasks. Cleared up the breakfast dishes, and carefully collapsed an empty cereal box before folding it as flat as she could to store away in the recycling bin outside. Tuesdays they collected the recycling. Was it Tuesday? She wasn’t sure. She would have to crosscheck with the printed calendar sheet they had given her with the collections days marked off. She pulled the sheet out of a kitchen drawer, stared absent-mindedly at the array of empty numbered boxes that represented the shape of her days. She didn’t notice the way her head had tilted slightly off to one side, the way it does when one is trying to listen for something in the distance.

She loved the sound of the telephone ringing. The high, clear insistent purr of it that rippled in the air like an invisible flag – a declaration of someone’s particular need in that instant to reach out to her. That was part of the reason why she never answered it in the first ring, not even if it was a call she was expecting and she was right by its side. She always waited for at least three rings before picking up. Letting the sound fill her the way air fills a balloon, gives it definition and bounce. When she said “Hello” the balloon lifted softly and drifted towards a blue, cloudless sky of conversation.

She frowned down at the sheet she was holding. What had she meant to look up? Oh yes, the collection dates. It was Tuesday just as she’d thought. Why did that seem such a long ways away? Tuesday was tomorrow. It was the silence of the new house that did it she decided, it stretched from this present into the future like an empty clothesline on a windless day. For the first time she wished she was more of a plant person. It would have been soothing to have a couple of potted geraniums on the window sill or a small, sturdy palm in the living room. Something she could name and then talk softly to. She had never understood until now why some people did that.

***


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