THE HOTLINE FOR LONELY MEN
by Sean Pravica
He paused at the edge of the bed, a stowaway tear on his cheek. It was two in the morning and he did not know for how long he slept. He stood to put on slippers and shuffled to the living room.
No one was home. His wife was in Eugene, working. His daughter was in New York, studying. His son was in California, becoming someone else. His son had not spoken more than a few words to anyone in the family in weeks. But he was alive, according to Facebook, and in a relationship with Beatriz DiPiero.
Beatriz DiPiero’s profile was private.
He looked over his hands because he was not hungry and had already finished tomorrow’s crossword puzzle and the dog, dead for three weeks now, was not there to pet.
His hands were arthritic, his fingers swollen. He soaked them in a bowl of ice water. Outside the quiet stillness of the night sang in familiar chords. There were crickets and birds, and a dog somewhere when he listened closely.
He turned on the television and a phone sex commercial flashed on-screen. The camera work was strange-looking, shoddy. It must have been an old commercial or one filmed on an extraordinarily low-budget. Soft focus, simple sets with black backgrounds and white lights hovering over women with blonde, outrageous hair, big and billowing, pink boas around their necks and mascara great and dark around their eyes.
He flexed the hand that did not hold the remote. After a while, he switched hands and flexed the other.
The phone rang. He looked at the number on the caller ID screen. He did not recognize it.
“H-hello?” a man asked.
“Gosh. It’s really good to hear your voice.”
He muted the TV, another phone sex commercial with leather and necklaces and red nails. He flexed the hand that did not hold the phone.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m away,” the man said. His voice drifted as he said it.
“Away from home or away from yourself?”
The man laughed. “You’re good. You’re really good.”
He moved the conversation forward. “Are you in a hotel room?”
“No. I’m at home.”
“Alright. People like you call from hotel rooms most of the time.”
“Well, I don’t travel much.”
“Neither do most of the people who call.”
There was quiet and the man said shortly, “I used to travel.”
Here it came.
“I used to travel all over the country. I used to have a wife. I had a little house. Bigger than the one I live in now, well, I don’t live in a house now. It’s a rented apartment…with a roommate.”
He waited to see if the caller had anything to add but a prolonged pause signaled to him that it was his turn to speak. He said, “I’ll bet you woke up one day, in love and in bed, thinking that if every day could be like this one, well, you’d just be the happiest man in all of creation. Isn’t that right?”
There was a crack on the line. Soft sobbing.
“I’ll bet you even thought that life would go on this way, didn’t you? That your luck wouldn’t run out, that your wife’s love was unconditional and would last forever, that your little house would be filled with the patter of little feet and instead of talking to me you’d be sleeping soundly now, maybe waking up in love and in bed, your wife on one side and your child on the other, and that it didn’t matter when you woke up, that as long as you did just like this, you’d be the happiest man in all of creation. Isn’t that right?”
He heard the crying intensifying now. It was bubbling forth, a fountain. Sniffles and an auditory drool, a voice trying to get a hold of itself, to be human, to connect with dignity.
“I’ll bet you want to tell me what it is you did, when you travelled all over the country.”
“I was in sales–”
“I don’t give a goddamn what you did! Listen to you, infantile, incessant in your self-pity. You’re disgusting.”
“I know,” he said faintly, a voice hollowed of all power and the words strained in a choked whisper.
“My how the times change…or do they just catch up?”
A quiet whimper nodded through the receiver. After some time, it was clear that was all.
“Goodnight,” he said.
More? Could it be? He switched the receiver quickly over to the other ear and flexed his freed hand.
“How will these minutes show up on my phone bill? I read that it was very discreet.”
Underwhelmed, he bristled, “It’s discreet.” Then he barked, “Who the hell would care who you call, anyway?”
“Oh God,” the man whimpered.
It was too late. Once the end comes up, then the end has arrived. There’s no other way.
He told him, “Get some rest. You need it. More than you know.”
He hung up on the crying man and looked at the muted screen. The old phone sex commercial was on again, with the blonde in the pink boa.
He stood and turned off the TV and then the living room light. In the darkness, the details were placed through memory. He poured out the ice water and listened to the patter of cubes hitting the sink, and the gurgle of water passing through them. No need to wash the bowl, it had been this way for a long time now. He dried it and placed it back in the cabinet, hung the drying cloth on its rack.
He looked over the outlines of the living room and there was nothing else to do.
Upstairs he went into the closet and pulled out a box of his wife’s costume accessories. Dust sheeted the lid, eternal musk escaped as he lifted it up and looked inside. Plastic bangles with tiny nicks. He ran his thumb against them, feeling the life in each one. Nicks don’t come from sitting in boxes. What put them there? What were they doing that night? What was she doing that night? How long had it been?
He reached between hanging dresses, one suede and one silk, and pulled out a paper bag with worn paper handles. ‘Bullocks.’ Another piece of the past. Inside it, vinyl belts cheap feeling, but alluring. Leopard print leggings. He grunted.
He found what he was looking for though, buried beneath all this junk. He lifted the pink boa and gazed at it.
She would not be getting home until late in the afternoon. For how long was not yet resolved.
He left her things on the floor and put the boa on around him when he went to bed and wept.
Sean Pravica is a Californian writer. His first novel, Stumbling Out the Stable, is a story about mischief, authority, and occasional intoxication and was published by Pelekinesis in 2015. He also enjoys climbing rocks and spending time in the desert.
Andrew (A.J.) Weber is a young photographer based out of Pittsburgh, PA who is most known for his street works. A.J. has been featured in several publications, including Forbes and Fifth Undergraduate Research Journal where he currently serves on staff as the Section Editor for Art.
March 15, 2017