Amazingly he didn’t pay attention to where he was driving. He just was. Driving back from the coast, that dreary, wet coast. Once, before the awfulness, he thought that his street resembled the street from those Home Alone movies; tree lined, well manicured landscaping, the just-right house colors, the kids running through the yards screaming, ‘Ollie, Ollie in come free!” Once. Before.
The car behind honked impatiently. And then honked again as he gazed stupidly into the rear view mirror. Okay, I’m going, he thought. I just don’t know where. Pulling through the intersection, he recognized he was in the vicinity of his home and how he got there he couldn’t remember. I’ll just turn down this street and I should remember, somehow. At once, he saw his house, a beacon on this wet, windy day. He pulled into his driveway and stopped. Gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles turned white, he laid his head forward touching the top rim of the wheel.
Oh God. The Awfulness.
I have to move, I have to continue, he thought. But how? How do you continue when one feels so empty? The tears, when they came, fell freely down his face. He didn’t notice them. He didn’t know how long he stayed in that chilly car. The day turned to dusk without his notice. I have to move, he thought again, but I just can’t.
He was jolted so suddenly by the ringing of the phone that he bit his lip, tasting blood.
Shit! What the hell? The ringing was coming from the back seat where all of Matt’s stuff was. Yanking himself out of his seat belt, he vaulted into the back seat. It was crammed with all of his son’s possessions from school. Tossing laundry baskets full of books and notes and journals aside, he kept plowing through it all.
Where is the damn cell?
There it was, wedged between a backpack and the mini microwave he and his wife had bought for his son’s dorm room.
Digging for it and trying to figure out how to open it, the ringing stopped before he could see who was calling. “Who would be calling Matt now?”, he asked himself. ‘Some knucklehead too drunk to realize he drunk- dialed a dead friend” he answered himself, suddenly pissed off at the phone, at the (possible) drunk friend and at the world in general.
GOD! THIS SUCKS!!
He screamed inside the car and hunched over in anguish.
After a time, his hand starting throbbing before he realized that he had been squeezing the cell phone all along.
Crap…time to find out. He got the cell phone opened; new fangled hinge slider thingie he grumbled.
Ah, let’s see…was it a text? No…it was a voice mail message. How do I retrieve this and do I want to listen to someone too drunk in his cups to know which end is up?
Pushing buttons with what he thought was care he finally found what appeared to be the message box.
Oh good, only one message. At least I don’t have to listen to all of Matt’s phone messages from his friends and girlfriends. That, I could NOT do, he firmly stated out loud in the car. Today was goddamned bad enough without having to sift through that shit. With a capital S.
Yeah, bad enough. Bad enough to crumble a man where he stood, he thought to himself. Funerals and cemeteries. Bad enough. He thought back to this morning where he watched a handful of dirt being tossed onto his son’s casket. He wanted to shout that there had been a mistake. Matt wasn’t in that, that thing! Matt was fine, just fine. It was someone else in that coffin and Matt would be waiting for him at some local diner waiting…yeah, waiting for me to pick up the tab. He chuckled weakly. Oh, Matt, why? Why did this happen? You’re too young…too young to be gone. From smiles to tears once again, his emotions seesawed.
The blinking light on the cell reminded him of his duty to listen to his son’s phone message. Sighing, he pressed the button to listen.
“Hi! Hey, I know today was pretty crappy and all, but I just want to say, that, you know, I love you. And well, that’s important, you know? You always tell me that saying it was as important as doing it, right? And, um, I just wanted to say that to you.”
Eyes opened blindly; stunned he listened to the message again. It was Matt’s voice. It was MATT talking on the message. MATT!
Matt, hello? Matt! Can you hear me? Matt?!!!! Screaming, MATT!!
And then the battery died.
He stumbled into the house, knocking over the plant stand near the front door. Where is the damn charger! In the kitchen he found it and plugged it in, waiting patiently for the phone to be charged. Stabbing the cord’s end piece into the phone, he waited for the red light to turn green. It took only a few minutes but by now he was sweating freely down the sides of his face. Come on! FINALLY. He pushed the same button sequence and stared at the LCD screen.
No new messages.
Ok, no new ones, but at least there was one, I listened to it. I know it was Matt. Pushing buttons, he couldn’t find the message box. Frantic now, his hands were starting to sweat as well and became slippery holding the phone. Ok, take a breath. Think.
This button..yes, this button will bring me to his message box. Yes, yes, yes, I know. No new messages. Tell me where the old ones are! Ok, message inbox. What?
No, I couldn’t have deleted it. No way. But then he thought about it. When he had listened to his son’s voice, he became transfixed. Could he have accidently pushed a delete key? Could he? Oh god.
Hanging his head down, he walked away from the phone, the counter, the kitchen.
I must have imagined this all. I’m crazy with depression. I’m falling down a well with no rope. I could have wanted so badly to hear Matt one more time, that I dreamt the call. I dreamt the ringing of the phone.
He walked outside to begin the chore of bringing Matt’s stuff inside. Why did Matt go on that trip to the coast, he asked the night sky? Why did he walk on that damn beach alone? On his third trip out, he thought he heard something.
Yes…a phone. Was it? Was it Matt’s phone? He sprinted inside to the kitchen grabbing at the cell.
And then it stopped.
The message light was blinking again. He slowly and deliberately pushed the button sequence to listen to the message.
“Hi, me again. Hey, sorry for missing you last time. Just wanted to check in and let you know, that, um, things, are, um, different now. And I, ah, well that is, I will see you ‘round sometime, you know? Take care”
Transfixed, he listened to it again. And again. Was Matt calling him on his own cell phone? And how could that be? Matt was dead. Matt died three days ago. I saw his body in the morgue. There was no mistake. Matt was gone. But, he argued with himself…that was Matt on that message. Matt left a message for you.
I’ll just listen to it one more time. I’ll listen closely…just to make sure that it was Matt and not someone sounding like Matt. One more ti—
The message was gone.
What the hell? I did not push any other buttons, dammit. The battery is charged. The message just can’t disappear.
But it did.
Now wait a minute. Wait one damn minute. The message just doesn’t go away after you listen to it, he told himself. No phone does that.
He slowly put the phone down once again on the counter. Pushing it into the center of the counter away from any other electrical appliance…that’s good. Nothing can interfere with it now. I’ll sit here and wait for it to ring again.
He awoke with his arm dead numb underneath his head. He must have fallen asleep waiting for the phone to ring.
What time is it?
2 AM? Damn. I need to get to bed and just sleep. He drug himself upstairs and fell into his bed. Yes, he slept. He surprised himself on how hard he slept by the time he woke up.
Yesterday was the day from hell and today will be one day away from hell, he thought. He trudged down the stairs making his way into the kitchen.
Spying the cell phone he picked it up.
No new messages.
And golly gee whiz..no messages in the inbox as well. I must have been delusional yesterday, he grumbled to himself. A delusional mess, a wreck waiting to happen..one big pile of crap, he heaped on himself.
He poured himself a cup of coffee and headed to the front porch where the newspaper was thrown daily. As he bent over, he heard it.
He never ran so fast as he did then. Grabbing the phone, he hit the button to answer. “Hello!! Hello!! Matt, can you hear me? Matt! HELLO!”
There was no sound; no reply. No friendly voice saying Hi Dad, it’s me. No. Nothing.
And the message light was blinking. I’m blinking, he thought crazily. I’m blinking bonkers. What is happening here?
Once more, pushing the buttons from memory now, he listened to his dead son’s voice.
“C’mon. Seriously. Who is gonna believe you? Just give it up, man. Leave it alone. Don’t touch it anymore. You’re bugging me so just stop, ok?”
Stunned. I am stunned. I am in a living nightmare, he thought. No, better yet. I’m going crazy. I’m flipping my lid. I’m going off to the funny farm, hehe hoho.
He looked down at the phone. Of course, there are no messages. There wouldn’t be, would there? The messages effing delete themselves, he screamed.
Ok, this is not normal. I will not imagine my son’s voice leaving me messages from the great beyond. I will not check the phone, in fact, I will give the phone to someone else. I don’t need the phone. I’ll just remove the SIM card and someone else can have the godforsaken cell phone.
With those intentions foremost in his brain, he picked the phone up, unplugging it from the charger and removed the back piece. Here it is..here is that little bugger, he said as he removed the SIM card. You are no longer required here, he told it. With that, he grabbed at the junk drawer that held the spare pliers. He pinched the card and twisted it until it snapped in two. As an afterthought, he pulled the cell phone’s battery as well. Don’t need this either. And with that he slam-dunked the battery into the junk drawer.
Tossing those two pieces of the SIM card into the trash, he walked away. Done, he said. Done and fini. I will not let my imaginings get the better of me. I am stronger than that. I love my son and I will miss him until my dying day, but I will not go crazy with my grief.
And then he heard it.