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What May Be This Time  
by Martha

::Frohike was cleaning up some paperwork in the office. With the
holidays in full swing and everyone else going about their
business (ie they had lives), he was able to get a few things done
without tripping over the others. But he was being constantly
interupted. Not by any outside forces but by an object that was
not doing anything except sitting on the desk in front of him.::

Alexander Graham Bell was either a fucking genius or some twisted
sadist for coming up with the concept of the telephone. Imagine
never having to face someone when you wanted to talk to them. You
can dial up anyone and say anything and then walk away and for the
most part, there is no record of what was said. The immediacy of
it, the convenience.

The curse.

::Every few minutes, he would glance back at the object.::

That damn thing is just sitting there - just daring me to pick it
up again and make another feeble attempt of contact with the
outside world. Knowing that within seconds I can hear that voice
again and strain to hear any background sounds and come this close
to actually saying something when that beep on the answering
machine comes through, and I conveniently lose all my nerve.

Would someone just shoot me and put me out of my misery?

Walking away from my desk does not sever the tie. Working in
someone else's office does not hush the silent calling. I am
drawn back to this object, this telephone, because it is my only
way to contact her.

So why is she never home?

Maybe she's just screening her calls. Maybe she thinks that the
hangups are solicitations. Oh, dear lord, what if she has that
*69 feature? Well, even if she did, the way that Langly has the
wiring rigged, I doubt that the call would be able to come back
through to us.

I can't stand it any longer. I pick up the receiver and punch in
those numbers, the numbers that I had committed to memory some
months earlier. It took me a while to find her, to track her
down. She had gone back to her real name, not the nickname that
she had been using when I first met her. If I'd known that, she'd
have been easy to locate. Yeah, right, IF I'd known.

It's ringing, and I'm waiting for that fourth ring and that click
that summons that message.


I am frozen in mid-breath. I want to hang up, and I want to
scream, and I really need to start breathing again. Where has my
voice gone?


It's her. That voice. Still the same but with an added edge.
I've got to do something before she hangs up.


The person on the other end pauses and then cautiously, hesitantly
responds. "Yes?"

I clear my throat before I can answer. "Dee,it's Mel. Ummm . . .
Melvin Frohike."

She doesn't swear or scream or yell at me. A good sign. I can
still hear her breathing on the other end, so I know that she
hasn't dropped the phone. Oh, this was really a stupid idea. I
could have just dropped a Christmas card in the mail, and then
there wouldn't be this intrusion. She could just throw the card
away, and then there wouldn't be any guilt.

"Yes, Mel." She hesitates for a moment. "How are you doing?"

She is calm without being condescending. Curious without the
falseness of pretension. And this encourages me. "Quite well
actually. I'm working in the DC area now. And you?"

"Well, you *know* where I am." There is a small giggle in that
voice as she says this. And yet she does not seem surprised or
feign indignation at just how I may have found her. "The company
I work for is small but growing." And then we launch into a
discussion of software and integrated products and fifteen minutes
have passed before it dawns on me that I am having a somewhat
rational, thoroughly pleasant, and much too civil conversation
with a woman who walked out on me over eight years ago. Why is
she still talking to me? Why hasn't she hung up on me yet? And
then I realize that she has stopped talking. "I'm sorry," she
continued, "I'm hogging the conversation."

"No, you're not." I want her to keep talking - I just want to
keep hearing that voice even after I hang up this phone. A
southern whisper has been reintroduced to her speech. She nearly
lost it living away from home, and hearing it again reminds me of
when we first met. "But I don't want to keep you away from your
family. It's the holidays." I'm fishing for information, but I
don't know exactly how to come right out and ask about a husband
and the perfect 2.5 children. I just hope that she lets me down

"Everyone gathered in Atlanta this year. I came back early to do
some work. And you know my family, sometimes they can be too much
to bear. It's good to get some quiet time in."

Has she just opened a door for me?

"Mel, can I ask . . . I mean, why have you called me . . . after
all this time?"

There are a hundred 'becauses' that can follow, but none that
would make any sense right now. I say the first thing that comes
to mind, maybe because it is the most honest one. "There have
been . . . well, a few things going on. I've been reminded," (hit
over the head with actually) "that there are some things that
should not be left hanging. So I started to look for you . . ."

"Is something wrong?" Her voice suddenly sounded urgent and
worried. "Are you OK?"

"No, no, nothing like that. I'm fine." I am trying to buy some
time here. Do I tell her the truth? Do I tell her that I've been
thinking about her almost every day for months? Do I apologize
for being an asshole about how we ended up? Do I say that I was a
fucking idiot for letting her walk out without asking for another
chance? And that somewhere inside of me I still wanted one? I
chicken out. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm sorry about
how things turned out. Between us. I could have handled it
differently. It's been bothering me, and I just thought that you
should know."

"I see."

She did not say anything further, just 'I see'. So does she?
Does she hear that catch in my throat when my voice almost cracked
in the fear that I might start to cry? Did she figure out that I
was not just sorry about how things turned out but also about
being stupid enough to let her go?

"Well, I didn't mean to keep you on the phone for this long. So,"
I ask, "would it be OK for me to call you again later?" The pause
that follows holds my future.

"Yes. Yes, it would."

Not 'sure'. Not 'yeah, OK'. But a 'Yes'. And in that 'Yes' I
hear that proverbial another door opening.

"OK, then. I'll be in touch." I hang up the phone and continue
to stare at it. All of a sudden, I feel this pain in my chest,
but it is not from any arising health problems. I realize
that I have started to breathe normally again - I must have been
hyperventilating on the phone. Well, I did it, and it wasn't so
bad. Maybe Becca was right. At least she didn't tell me to get
out of her life or to just forget about her. But she did say that
I could call again.

I love this Redial button.

* * * * * *

Dee continued to look at the receiver in her hand after Frohike
had hung up. That was certainly out of the blue, she thought.
Did it really take him eight years to figure out things could have
worked out differently if he just made the effort? She replaced
the reciever on the cradle of the wall phone. I'll make you a
deal, Mel, she said to herself; if you call me right back, I'll
tell you. I'll tell you that I waited for you to come after me.
That I came back to the apartment a short time after that and
found you gone with no forwarding address. That even though I
went on with my life, I waited to hear . . .

She grabbed the receiver even before the first ring stopped.