The Voices Said
Carl sat alert at the edge of his bed after the voice on the phone said, "Hello, Dear."
It was Tom from Diller's bar.
When Carl heard his mother say, "Hi, Love," he went numb.
Had Carl spoken an infinitesimal moment sooner, had he said hello before his mother had, the beginnings of that conversation, with its ugly possibilities, would not have happened.
"How are you? What'ya been doing?" Tom said.
"Busy," Carl's mother said, "been doing laundry all afternoon."
The mood of those voices disturbed Carl. These were the voices of two people who knew each other well and knew each other's secrets. Voices like his mother and father had once had for each other. They had stopped that maybe five years ago, when Carl was nine.
Carl's father now often shouted, in the midst of battle with Carl's mother, "It's that goddamned Tom Jerrings! You're screwing around with that goddamned Tom Jerrings!"
"Oh, don't be so damned paranoid," Carl's mother would say.
And, he was being paranoid -- Carl had been sure of that.
Carl covered his phone receiver with his hand. He felt deep, quick, loud breaths about to overtake him. Instead, he could soon hardly breathe.
"I've missed you," Tom said.
Carl's fingers began tingling, as if he'd hung his arms over the back of his school chair, then rested them on his desk to experience the sensation of circulation returning to his fingers, hands, and all.
"I've missed you, too," Carl's mother said.
Carl closed his eyes to deny what he heard -- a replacement for pushing his hands on his ears. Something prevented him from that.
"Maybe we can do something about it, soon," she said.
Her voice was the voice that comforted Carl when he hurt himself, was sick, or was sad.
His heart beat as fast as it had the night before, when his girl friend, Julie, had finally let him hold her breasts. She had wore one of those bras that clasp in front. He knew she'd planned to let him. Strange, how his heart pushed blood with equal velocity over the separate events. One, he'd anticipated for months, was the beginning of something so great he wasn't sure how great. He could never have expected the other, the terrible, painful discovery. It wasn't right, he thought, for his heart to act the same way for both.
"What about Larry?" Tom said.
Carl clinched a fist.
A cockroach climbed the wall within Carl's reach. He didn't care.
"He's going bowling Thursday," Carl's mother said, "he's covering for some one that's out of town."
Carl thrust his phone hand down and pulled back just short of hitting his leg.
He wanted to hang up but was afraid they'd hear.
He could hear Tom's voice down by his leg, but not what the man said. He was glad; he was frustrated about it, too.
Back and forth -- his mother's voice, Tom's voice. Back and forth -- he was glad to not hear their words, frustrated that he didn't.
At times, he did hear the words, when one speaker or the other spoke a bit louder.
". . . could be worse. . . ."
". . . aggravated me. . . ."
". . . no damn sense in that. . . ."
His heart kept betraying the bliss of the day before.
Carl felt he was crying.
The voices stopped. Carl heard a click, then another, then a dial tone.
He heaved sharp breaths, but only for a few seconds.
Gently, he hung up, then lay back on his bed. He stared at his paint chip on the ceiling. He didn't blink. Footsteps came up the stairs, down the hall, past his room. A door shut. Thousands of clear, purple blotches exploded before Carl's eyes as he concentrated his stare on the paint chip.
Again, he felt he was crying.
Again, he wasn't.
Carl wondered how long it would be before he felt the hatred.
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