The phone rings in your ear for a long thirty seconds before there’s any kind of response.
“Hi, Peter Havisham here. I’m not available to come to the phone right now, but please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, okay? Thank you!”
There’s a beep, followed by silence. After a moment, you clear your throat and open your mouth to speak. But the words don’t come. They get stuck somewhere between your heart and your lips, swallowed up by the shadows of the room, and so you turn the phone off.
A minute later, you call him again. This time, when he answers, you close your eyes and listen. His voice is warm, and for a moment you are in his arms, and he is rubbing your face, holding you close, kissing the top of your head, keeping you warm-
The screen of your phone is cold against your cheek as you hear the beep again.
“Hi,” you whisper. “It’s me. I just wanted to see how you were doing. If…if everything was okay.” You pause. There is only silence, and the low hum of electricity in your ear. “I…I hope you have a good day.” Your heart quickens in your chest. “That’s all I wanted to say. Have a good day.” You go to press the phone off-
“I love you.” The words escape from your mouth into the air before you can claw them back. “Remember that. Please.” You’re shaking now. “I love you.” Your breath is coming in rapid gasps. “I love you so much.” The room is closing in on you, like the lid of a coffin-
You throw the phone across the room, and it lands on the floor, still on voicemail, still silent.
Sitting on the couch, chest heaving, you stare at the phone and wait until your breathing slows before you go and pick it up. In its light, you can just make out the clock gathering dust on the wall. Its glass screen is cracked with a jagged scar, and the hands have stopped at 18:32 precisely. Every day you look at this clock and stare at its hands, hands you don’t need light to read. But you don’t know how long the clock has been broken for. You don’t know how long the hands have been in that same position, pointing at those same numbers, frozen in time and gathering dust.
The phone’s screen goes dark as you press it off.
You cross the room and go into the kitchen, where you take another packet of instant noodles out of the cupboard and begin to boil them on the rusty stove. You’ll eat them for breakfast. Or for lunch. Maybe even dinner. Whatever meal of the day this may be. You don’t know anymore. You don’t even know what day it is. The calendar says it’s February, but the pages are yellowing, and the last day circled off is-
You stand in front of the cooker, boiling water hissing in your ears.
The 14th of February. Valentine’s Day. He was going to take you out that day for dinner. He said he’d gotten you a nice gift too, something that you would love but he wouldn’t tell you what. “It’s a secret,” he said that morning, tapping his nose as he smiled at you. He said he would give it to you after dinner. He was going to take you to the park, where you went on your first date. He would hold your hand and dance with you next to the frozen pond, under the light of a thousand bright stars.
But he didn’t do any of that.
The hissing grows louder. The noodles have congealed together, a misshapen lump in the pot. You look at them for a moment, then empty them into a bowl and mix them with flavourings. This is your third last packet. You’ll need to go out and get more. But not now. Not today. Later. You’ll do it later.
You end up eating only a few bites of the noodles anyway before you throw them into the bin and wander back into the other room, leaving the kitchen door open behind you. You walk over to the drawer, and grasp the handle. For a moment you remain like that, still as a statue, the only sound the dripping of water from a broken pipe under the sink, a pipe he promised he would fix.
You take a deep breath, and pull the drawer open.
Inside, there is a small box made of dark, varnished wood. You take it out, sit on the couch, and place it in your lap. It is somehow light and heavy at the same time. A heart is carved into the lid, with two initials inside – A & P – linked together as one inside. You stare at these initials, at the heart, and run your fingers along them, feeling the grooves in the wood beneath your fingertips. You caress the box as gently as he used to caress your face, how he would take you in his arms when you were upset, and kiss your tears away one by one-
You take a deep breath, close your eyes, and open the box.
There are photographs inside, dozens, maybe more than a hundred. They’re all of you and him, the pair of you smiling and posing for the camera, at the beach, at the fairground, in the park, under the stars, in your new home, the same one where you are now. These photographs are a hundred different snapshots of your life together, a hundred perfect moments preserved forever, and he stares back at you from all of them, with his smile bright like the sun, and his eyes as clear as the open sky.
You close the box and begin to cry.
You don’t know when you fall asleep, or when you wake up. You just lie there on the couch in the darkness, as still as a corpse in the grave. You stare at the ceiling. It is covered in dust, just like everything else in the room. The curtains are moth-eaten and frayed. From the kitchen comes the smell of food rotting in the bin. Dripping water from the faulty pipe echoes through the house, and the building creaks and breathes in the wind like broken lungs.
You are the only thing unchanging in this house. Everything else is moving on, doomed to its decay. But you’re already there.
You reach for the phone again. The screen is dark, and the battery has almost ran out. You tap in the number, take a breath, bring the phone to your ears-
“I’m sorry, but the number you are calling has been disconnected.”
There is only silence, save for dripping water in the distance, and the phone humming in your ear.
You hang up, and call again, then again. Each time she answers, that polite, synthetic voice, saying the same thing, like something you’ve heard a thousand times before, from a thousand different people-
“Shut up!” you scream, and press the button so hard you feel like you could snap the phone. No matter how many times you call, he won’t answer. He won’t pick up. There is only one person you can call now, and when you type in her number the phone rings in your ear, and your breathing is so fast, and the end draws closer, closer, closer-
“Hello?” Her voice is groggy and hoarse. “Who is this?” You don’t answer. “If this is someone’s idea of a joke then it’s not very funny. Do you know what time it is?” She huffs. “Goodbye-”
“Miriam.” You lick your lips, and swallow. “Wait.”
There is silence on the other end of the phone. “Alex?” Her voice is quieter now. “Is that you?”
She doesn’t speak for a moment. “It’s four in the morning. Have you even slept tonight?”
“I did, actually.”
“Okay.” Her breathing is heavy. “How have you been?”
You roll your tongue over your teeth. “Lonely.”
Miriam sighs. “Alex… Don’t you have someone to talk to? Anyone? What about Eliza?” You haven’t spoken to your sister in months. “There must be someone else you can call.”
“There isn’t. I don’t want to speak to anyone else.” You lick your lips. “Only him.”
Miriam sighs again. “Alex, it’s too early for this. Please. Don’t.”
You swallow. “I want to talk to him. I tried phoning his number earlier, but he’s disconnected it. I can’t get through.”
“His phone hasn’t been used in ages, Alex,” says Miriam. “You know that. I told you the last time you phoned me.”
He hasn’t used his phone in ages. “Can you tell me his new number then? I just need to ask him something. Something…important.”
“Why are you like this?” she asks, after a moment. “Why do you do this?”
“Don’t be like that, Alex. You know what I’m saying.” Miriam coughs. “You need to stop this. You need to let go and move on.”
“But I want to speak to him.” Your throat is dry. “I want to speak to Peter.”
“You can’t.” Something rises in her voice. “I’ve told you before, Alex. You can’t talk to him anymore.”
“I’ve told you Alex, he…”
“What?” You look at the clock, at the hands frozen in time. “Does he not love me anymore? Is he ashamed of me? Does he not want to be with me? Is he-”
“He’s dead, Alex!”
The sound of dripping water echoes through the house.
“He’s dead,” Miriam says again. “He’s dead. My only son has been rotting in the earth for the past two years, and all you can do is remind me of it nearly every single day.” You can hear the tears in her voice. “Please, stop phoning me. Please just leave me and Victor alone. We can’t take this anymore. We just can’t. It’s not fair on us. It’s not fair on you.” She clears her throat. “You need to move on, Alex. You need to let go. Let go and begin again. Please, I’m begging you, just move on. Please.” She stops speaking for a moment. “Alex? Alex? Are you there?”
You stare into space, and put the phone off. Then you let it fall to the floor. Without a word, you rise, like a ghost leaving its body, and wander through the darkness of the apartment, until you come to a door. Its handle is cold, covered in dust, and it creaks as you push it open.
Inside, the curtains are drawn, and the room is colder than anywhere else in the house. Your bed lies empty, like it has done since Valentine’s Day two years ago. A suit lies on it – his suit, unworn, still ready for him to come back to. He would have worn it that night, when you went out on your date. But he didn’t wear it. You didn’t go.
It was getting late that night. You were wondering when he would get home. You tried phoning his number, but he didn’t answer. You were standing in the kitchen, looking out the window, when there was a knock on the door. You ran to it, opened it with a smile – and there they were. Two police officers, hats in hand, asking you if they could come inside, that they were sorry, that they had news for you-
You lie down on the bed, next to the suit, grabbing the edge of its sleeves with your hands. It is an echo, a shadow, empty space in empty darkness. The clock in this room is broken too. You came in, when the police officers left, and smashed it like you did all the others, at 18.32 precisely.
You stare at the clock for a moment, then close your eyes and begin to cry, still holding onto his suit on the bed. You’ll phone him again tomorrow.
[Luke McWilliams -@luxxybee]