Andrew Roe
I Know It's You
New Prose From the USA
 
 

        He got the machine. He was always getting the machine, never her. Inside the phone booth it smelled like burnt melted cheese. Or maybe some kind of weird Vietnamese food from the restaurant across the street. Or something. This particular pay phone known for its use in neighborhood drug deals. He didn’t have any more change. If she had answered: Just happened to be in the area, running errands, you know, thought hey--why not call and see what’s up. He must be the only person in the city without a cell phone. One of the last great stoics left. Or something.
        Already he’d decided that if he got the machine he wouldn’t leave a message. But now, as the beep approaches (it’s coming, it’s coming), her recorded voice sounding like an invitation to intimacy, he’s not so sure. He’s slipping. He’s doubting himself. He’s considering leaving a message. He’s considering being very fucking intimate. Spilling it all. Right here. Right now. It could happen. He can picture himself doing it. Regretting it. Then crossing the street and climbing up her building’s fire escape and breaking into her apartment to erase the tape, destroy the machine. He’d do what was necessary. He’d kill the answering machine if need be.
        Then it happens: the beep.
        And he flinches. He does not speak. There’s silence. Which is probably for the best. The less evidence the better. He hangs up. He doesn’t leave a message. The moment has passed. Later she’ll get home and see the light blinking but there’ll be no message, just the hiss of the tape followed by an enigmatic click. Good. Give her something to ponder. Make her think. Make her stop and wonder. Who had called? Relative? Old boyfriend? Coworker? Telemarketer? But no, she’d guess it was him. After all, he’s coming to the slowly simmering conclusion that it’s one of those I’m-into-it-more-than-she-is deals. A familiar enough pattern. But he’s not ready to retreat yet, because you never know, there is persistence, there is hope, there is the future, there is the idea that two people are meant for each other and it just might be more apparent to one person than the other person even though it will become clear to said other person soon enough.
        When he opens the door of the booth and is about to step outside the phone rings. He looks around, like most people do when a pay phone rings and you’re the closest to it, that lightning-bolt feeling of guilt and accusation, of the world pointing its finger at you and signaling you out somehow. What have I done?
        Traffic accumulates. Across the street, in front of the Vietnamese restaurant, a rag-ish man continues his monologue about God and Ronald Reagan and Karl Marx. It’s been another famously gray city summer day, all fog and wind and bite, when the sun goes AWOL, says fuck it, you’re on your own, and people inevitably bring up that Mark Twain quote which actually wasn’t Mark Twain at all. And it’s early evening now, the darkness just starting to take root in the sky.
        Since there’s no one in the immediate vicinity except him, he closes the door, settles back inside. The phone is still ringing. He picks up the receiver.
        Is this being filmed?
        “Please stop calling me,” a woman’s voice bursts out. “I know it’s you.”
        He realizes that what he says next is very, very important.
        “Who is this?” he asks.
        “You know damn well,” the woman goes on. “I star sixty-nined you. Just stop calling me. You know goddamn well. It’s getting out of hand. It’s getting creepy. I so don’t need this in my life right now, OK? I’ve got enough shit to deal with. This isn’t helping any. Please.”
        The woman stops, seems to be out of breath, genuinely distraught. He wants to understand. He wants to console.
        “But who is this?” he insists again, fully prepared to take matters as far as they need to go.