SHORT

The Phone Call




It was an ordinary sturdy cardboard box that had once been filled with pickle jars. My sister complains the moment we hoist it onto the kitchen table. “Why do we have to do this? Dad’s been gone two years. Shouldn’t Mom– ”

“Quit whining, Connie.” We squabble about everything as if we were still teenagers sharing a bedroom with a too-small closet. No, sharing is the wrong word. We never shared anything in our lives except maybe contagious diseases and a hatred for algebra. “Let’s just get this done.”

She makes a familiar little mewling sound as if she’s been drudging all day and will faint in another minute. I grit my teeth, tug the box open. Dad’s postcard collection forms a blue, green and gold patchwork atop stacks of magazines. An armchair traveler, he had loved his vicarious visits to faraway places, the more exotic the better. Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, all were there--a photograph on a card, a pictorial essay on glossy paper.

I hear a ringing noise and paw through the box, find a cell phone. I pick it up, say, “Hello?”

Static fills my ear, then a male voice that sounds disturbingly familiar. I repeat, “Hello? We seem to have a bad connection.”

“Wait,” says the voice. “I’ll try another channel. There. That better?”

Impossible! I stare stupidly at the cell phone. “Dad? Dad, is it really you?”

Beside me Connie reels, grabs the table for support. “It’s Dad? No way. No way!”

He says, “I hear Connie.”

She hops up and down. “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod...”

“Yes,” Dad chuckles. “He’s around here some place.”

Thousands of questions jam my brain. All I can manage to spit out is, “Are you in heaven?”

Another hearty chuckle. “Did you think I might end up in the other place?”

“No, of course not. But how–why–“

“Someone wants to say hello.”

“Hello, Missy....” This voice is gruff.

The floor tilts. “Grandpa?”

Connie tries to grab the phone. I bat her hand away. She rips it from my grasp and eagerly cries, “Grandpa! It’s me Connie!” Her mouth falls open. “Grandma too? Whoa–“ Her brow crimps. “Is that music I hear? You in a bar?”

I try to snatch the phone back, but she holds it out of my reach. Then she shrieks, “Oh no–the phone died! Quick, plug it into a charger!”

I frantically look around then fish my own cell phone charger out of my purse. Fingers like jelly, I struggle to plug the cord into an outlet. “Bring it here, Connie! Bring it!” I feel I’m about to throw up.

She only stands there, looking dazed. Then she turns over the cell phone, shows the back. It’s one of those older phones with a rechargeable battery. The battery compartment is empty.

I stare at it, at her. “What the hell was that all about?”

Connie says in an hushed voice, “I think it’s more like what the heaven–“

We hug and let the tears flow, then agree to tell no one what had just happened. And we draw up an arrangement for the shared custody of the cell phone.

--Cat Dubie


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