Clyde. I always call you first. Your home number was the second I memorized after my own. You sat atop all favorites on the speed dial of every phone I’ve owned. You’ll call back, even if I leave another empty voicemail. “Heeey, it’s Clyde. Leave a message at the...” Beep. I breathe. I can’t. Someone needs to listen.
Mom. Which time zone holds you now? Which one has me? I barely remember life before we started moving apart. But I always throw a rope, try and tie a makeshift bridge across the jungle of our hearts. It falls into the ravine of endless ringing.
Bryan. “You’ve reached a number that has been disconnected...” I know. You took your life three years ago. But I find myself back by the lake where we were boys erupting with dreams. And I sit on the bench that sits there now in your memory. Talking to ghosts reflects a clarity that’s lost when living in this fog.
Claire. I love you, still. I know you’ll never say it back. But you still listen to all the grains of pain pouring out of this sieve in my chest. And I’ll close my eyes in a hush of suppressed tears and picture your breaths fluttering like hummingbird wings across all those lives we let pass by. They’re not butterfly effects or roaring hurricanes or anything but the sting of an imagined age. But it’s easier to love the lost than find a present empty. My eyes reopen when I realize your voicemail message has erased your name. The lullaby of your pronunciation replaced with a number I never meant to remember. I almost redial out of habit. As if repeating a spell will birth magic itself.
Dad. I need you to tell me I’m stupid. Crush me with your logic. Crown these walls with barb wire you pretend doesn’t cut you all the same. Ensnared in your self-fulfilling black hole. But I need the toughness of your gravity. A hurt that I can handle.
Holly. We made love twice, but you called it f.... After being friends for years, I thought we had more than words in common, but when we reached in, we didn’t even share a syllable. I took the off ramp soon after. But some highway signs hark back to midnights spine-to-spine staring up into the vastness of invented constellations. We could’ve kept driving. You’re the call I want to fail. Once again, you do.
Are you all gathered in a back room of my mind, around a wooden table littered with empty glasses full of conversation, too busy connecting with each other? I flick my finger through my contacts—an alphabetical chain where I’m the missing link. And they’re just names typed by fingers curating ideas of you’ll be there for me. But when was I last there for you?
I blindly tap on names. Press my ear into the wails of rings, beeps, and cliff-like clicks—the gentle soundtrack of my desires. My lips no longer know how to greet anyone, what words will vault like swords from lungs heavy with sour “oh’s,” if sound is possible.
I type new contacts. First, for people I don’t know, but aspire to: painters of my screens, poets sculpting sorrow, philosophers of wallets. Then, names I can’t know: recurring myths, heroes from comics no longer published, protagonists of novels I vowed to read out of guilt and never will. Then, I tap out years: first ones I lived, still hope to breathe, and soon, desperate digits out into the horizon past the heat death of our sun. Finally, I enter ideas: ecstasy, jubilee, how ampersands connect, what blooming honeysuckle scents inspire, shared orgasms, found purpose, the perfect word for all I was.
Untethered from you. Stars too distant to make a constellation. In this corner of the midnight universe still shining. Crying. Calling.
found words between Black Seas, Virginian Beaches, and San Franciscan waves. He adores trains, swing sets, and music that tears him outta time. Follow Art’s writing journey on Twitter, ArsenalOfWords, or read his words in places like Glimmer Train, The Common, Necessary Fiction, and The Best American Mystery Stories 2019.
Author’s blog: Arsenal of Words
⚡ “afterglow” and “Dialing Islands” Published in MacQueen’s Quinterly, in the author’s blog, Arsenal of Words (1 January 2021)
bleedin’ peach, flash fiction by Klepchukov
in KYSO Flash (Issue 9, Spring 2018)