The Good Life _     _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _  Mark and Rebecca Spencer

 

 

NINETEEN

   

     The dresser drawers hang open, too stuffed with undergarments and socks to close.  On the night stand is a black telephone.  A thousand times over the years, I have thought of calling her, just to see how she was, to hear her voice and see how it made me feel.  Once, when she was married to the county judge, I did.

     Meg had gone to nurse her mother, who was wasting away with her own bad heart and, as Meg would, wanted to die at home.  Meg sat by her mother's bed much of each day, bathed her, and read the Bible to her.  Meg had taken Nick with her, so I was alone. 

     One night after the TV news, I just sat in the dark with the TV on instead of going to bed and sleeping.  It was 1959.  The next day I had to get up at four-thirty to feed the hogs and the chickens and to collect the eggs before driving into town to the high school to teach my students about Thomas Jefferson.  I thought highly of Jefferson , admired his many talents, his compassion, his visions and philosophies, his perseverance.  On the previous day I had started telling my students about Jefferson .  I had tried to get them excited, tried to get them to see that Jefferson was somebody to look up to, to emulate.  A plain-looking girl whose parents were Holy Rollers said, "But I heard he had affairs with his colored slave girls."  I stood with my mouth open for a minute.  Then the bell rang.

     "The Jack Parr Show" came on.  Parr was interviewing Jayne Mansfield.  She acted silly with her high-pitched, dumb-blonde, little-girl voice.  Parr acted like she was hilarious.  I wondered what Parr really thought.  I thought she was a fool.  Maybe Parr thought she was a fool, too.  But the live audience on the show was howling.  Then I figured she was probably as miserable as all the other Hollywood people, and I felt sorry for her.

     I was keyed up, and I didn't know why.  I turned off the TV.  It crackled as the picture became a dot of light.  I watched the dot disappear.  Then I went into the kitchen, picked up the phone, and dialed Meg's parents' house but hung up before it could ring.  I would probably be waking up everybody in the house, the shrill ring of the phone scaring them all.  Meg's mother would holler in the background, "What's wrong?  Who died?"  Nick would howl.

     I pulled the phone book out of a kitchen drawer.  I pretended to myself that I was curious as to whether the judge's number was listed.  The previous Wednesday, I had seen Rose on a street in town.  She was alone and coming out of Martha's Lady's Apparel Boutique with boxes that had strings to carry them by.  She was dressed in a tailored suit, her face made up, her hair piled high and neat--a rich man's beautiful young wife.  She made no sign that she noticed my blue and white pickup truck.

     To my surprise, the judge's name was listed in the phone book.  I told myself it wouldn't hurt to call and hear what her voice sounded like.  I would hang up right away.  Probably the judge would answer.

     Yes, I would hang up right away--as soon as I heard the voice of a woman I almost let myself love or the voice of the man who . . . . 

     I was dialing.  If operator assistance had still been necessary, I would never have thought of calling.

     My house was quiet.  Outside, there was no wind.  The world was absolutely still and hushed, except for the ringing.  Once, twice, then too suddenly her voice was in my ear.  Or, I should say, it was like her breath in my ear.  "Yes?" she said.

     I couldn't move.  I couldn't take the phone from my ear, couldn't unbend my arm. 

     "Yes?  Hello."  She sounded wide awake and casual and pleasant, as if phone calls at midnight were common.  "Hello." This time the pitch of her voice was different.

     I didn't mean to, but I made a sound, a kind of gasp.  A moan?

     She said, "Why are you calling?  I have nothing to say to you."

     I made another sound, an animal noise, the sigh of a dying horse maybe, as I tried to decide whether to speak.

     "You ruined my life."

     And I realized that she knew it was me.  Then the line went dead.

     I remember this as I crumple and stuff newspapers into garbage bags.  My back and knees ache each time I stoop.  Every which way I turn, a mirror catches me in motion.  I stretch, look out the window, see snow coming down and piling up.

     She called me back a couple of days later, shortly before midnight.  "I still love you, Fo.  Just don't ever call me again."  Then she hung up.

 

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