LPW NEWS FLASH: Found out today that I won second place in the Browning Society Dramatic Monologue Competition for my piece, “Drive to Denny’s.” Award ceremony will be held in San Francisco on March 10. I’m advised to wear a hat and “dress smart.” Let me know if you can join me!
The damn phone was ringing again. She hated those telemarketers.
The landline was only good for calls from health enrollment plans, or calls for someone named Philip Martin. Lots of calls. “Is he there? Are you a relative? Do you know how we can reach him?” For two weeks, different agencies kept inquiring if he were available. She told them to strike her phone number from their list. They didn’t.
Callers wanted to talk to this Martin idiot who must’ve been delinquent on his bills or owed child support all over town. She wanted to put an end to it, unplug the phone jack and let it dangle. Problem solved, right? It was one of those ancient-looking phones with a dial. She liked old things, had picked it up at a garage sale. It worked fine.
The phone kept ringing. She couldn’t believe it. She’d call up the phone company to complain; maybe she’d get them to lower her bill, not force her to have this landline as part of the whole Internet package.
Her next thought was to throw the phone into the garbage. She’d pay for the landline all right, only stop that damn ringing because things were difficult enough; bad enough that her son was in jail for possession of meth and was sure to do time. Her only son, the boy she’d given birth to in her own home, the boy who had placed his ear against a stereo speaker and fallen asleep listening to music, who’d stayed awake at night memorizing the flags and coins of different countries, and who’d won a black belt in karate. But there was always a question in the corner of his eyes, a discomfort she could never reach. He carried distance around his waist like a life preserver.
After his father had died, Charles had shattered into pieces. His father had meant everything to him, an actor and a director who had never known his own dad. George had improvised what it meant to raise a son, but in the end, improvisation hadn’t been nearly enough, a student of the work of Gurdjieff’s, a man who’d spent time with the Sarmoung Brotherhood in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Northern Afghanistan and later met up with some dude named Ouspensky who was a kind of public relations man from a distance. Gurdjieff had explained how people were always in a state of walking sleep. “Which life is real,” he asked as they stretched out in bed. “this one, or the one when we’re sleeping?”
His favorite past time had been in discussing Gurdjieff’s theories, giving professorial lectures to whomever would listen. Their circle of friends dwindled as his collection of esoteric books increased. On the weekends, he trolled local bookstores for defunct international publishers.
The day after he died, he’d come to her bed and made love to her one last time. She felt him. He was obese.
An old friend of Charles had come knocking on her door over the weekend to tell her that her son was in jail. “He wanted me to call you,” he said, a man with a beard who apologized for disturbing her on a Saturday morning. “All my friends call me when they get into trouble.” She thanked him and took down his phone number. Each time the phone rang, she thought it was her son, but it was only a call for Philip Martin.
She viewed her son’s charges and mug shots online. There were deep shadows beneath his eyes. Janeen pictured him sitting behind bars. The County operator had told her that if he were sentenced for less than a year, he’d been in the County, if not, housed in Oregon prison for some nameless time that pulled her down like an iron weight. She waited for his call.
The phone rang once again. “A deep voice with a slight echo spoke to her. “Who is this?”
“Who the hell are you? You know I’d appreciate if you’d pay your damn bills.” She unplugged the phone jack, but the voice kept talking. She banged the receiver, and tried to shake lose something that was still working within the phone, something that was causing this aberration.
“I’m a friend. A good friend.”
“People have been calling me for weeks now looking for you. You sound like a dead beat. How’d you get my number?”
“Do me a favor. Just press star.”
“Look, mister. This is a bad joke. I don’t even know how you’re talking to me.”
“Press it twice.” His voice was quieter now. “You’ve got to hurry or we’ll lose the connection.”
She didn’t know what else to do, upset after weeks of worry, her sisters living too far away to offer more than well-meaning support. She was tired of pacing from the kitchen to the living room and looking at the clock as if time meant anything more than annoying ticks. “Okay.” She pressed star and threw down the receiver that sent its double-A batteries rolling along the compressed wood flooring as she fell to the couch letting loose a flood of sobs that she’d been holding back all week.
“That’s okay. We’ll do this together.”
Janeen looked up from the couch and wiped her face with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. Standing in front of her entertainment center with its TV screen guarding her CDs and shelves of Lakshmi and Asherah statuettes that she’d picked up over the years at flea markets, was her husband, George, a lot thinner, but it was George all right, a bald man with piercing green eyes and a prominent nose that bespoke of his Russian heritage.
“I don’t understand.”
“Janeen, I’m so glad to see you.” She wasn’t so sure if she was glad to see him. “Aren’t you going to give me a hug or something?”
“How can this be you?”
“You always were the skeptic,” he said, sitting down next to her on the green sofa. She moved over to make room for him. “I know this is a lot to take in, but remember how I used to talk about quantum consciousness?” How could she forget?
“When we die,” he said, “the energy of our consciousness gets recycled back into a different body.”
“How come you’re in the same one? Your last one didn’t hold up too well.”
“So you’d recognize me,” he said. “I did this for you. For both of you.”
George got down to business. He said that the phone was a device he was using on a temporary basis as a way to teleport himself from where his quantum information resided, a places of microtubules. “Like your backup device,” he said. “Sort of.” Anyway, he was there to help break their son out of prison. And as soon as he said that, both he and Janeen were standing in front of the Columbia County Jail, a squat building of yellow concrete with two pine trees growing at either end of a parking lot. There was a stream running along one side, almost overflowing from the spring rain. George had a big smile on his face and held the telephone receiver from Janeen’s house. He explained that all they had to do was to call the jail’s central number.
“And then what?”
“That will open the doors. Don’t worry. Not all the doors. Just his. We’re on the same frequency. Gee, it will be great to see him again, play another game of dominoes.”
“You can’t,” she said. He looked at her like a hurt animal.“This is your son. And he’ll never learn anything if you walk him out of that jail. I won’t let you do that.”
“You can’t make me do anything.”
“Listen to me. I’m your wife, god dammit. At least I used to be.”
She wrestled the receiver from his hands and threw it with her best windup pitch into the stream where it evaporated with a loud hiss.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said.
“You don’t belong here anymore. You never did.” She walked away into the Columbia Jail. As long as she was in Oregon, she’d go and visit her son.
The next month, she received a very large bill from the telephone company.