ringing phones, wringing hands

“Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice mes-”

I hung up. Peter always gives me his phone to check voice mail, and I didn’t want to listen to my own voice later. Besides, I expected to hear his ring tone at any moment. I imagined he was changing Philip’s diaper in the other room or didn’t hear the phone even if he was sitting nearby. I read a few more pages of my lunch break novel before I called again. He didn’t answer, but I hoped that the beep signaling my missed call would be loud enough to catch his attention.

He didn’t call back.

I tried one final time before going back to work. When he didn’t answer, I emailed him a reminder to use his inhaler.

An hour later my cell phone rang, but it wasn’t Peter. When I hung up, I knew that my phone was fully functional. I redialed Peter’s number.

“Your call has been forwarded -”

Formatting name tags was a mindless task, so my brain was free to speculate on why Peter hadn’t called. Maybe his phone was broken. Maybe he was stuck on the phone with his sister. Maybe he didn’t want to interrupt me at work.

Maybe something was wrong.

I called once more. No answer. I admitted to a coworker that I was concerned.

“I think I should go home,” I said.

“Go,” she said. “Everything is under control here.”

I redialed as I walked to my car. Voice mail again. I drove and worried. Is he outside? Is the phone battery dead? Is he punishing me? I allowed twenty minutes to pass before I called again. No answer. I waited ten minutes more.

“Your call-”

I drove faster.

Every true crime series binge-watched over the weekend replayed in my head: grieving widows and bereft best friends describing unanswered phone calls. I dismissed the idea that Peter and Philip had fallen victim to some fiend as overactive imagination. Yet, I thought of the very real possibility that Peter had become incapacitated by natural causes and that Philip could not let anyone know.

A few miles away I resisted the compulsion to dial once more. I would know the truth soon enough.

It’s still standing, I thought when I spotted our house. The newspaper that I had forgotten to pick up when I walked the dog in the morning still lay in the driveway though.

I pulled into the garage, parked beside Peter’s car, and raced into the house. Roscoe did not bark to announce my arrival. I only heard the television.

At the top of the stairs, I surveyed the scene: the dog sprawled asleep on the floor, Philip coloring at his desk, and Peter reclining on the couch. The only violence was on the television screen that Peter was watching.

“You’re home early,” Peter remarked without looking away from a forensics expert detailing how blood spatter evidence solved a case.

“I’ve been calling you all afternoon!” I explained.

“Oh. I left my phone in my car,” Peter said.

At that moment, our house almost became the scene of a future true crime show.

Trembling from either adrenalin, relief, or rage, I chastised Peter: “I thought something was wrong!”

I confess: I cried.

 The original draft of this story was submitted to the yeah write summer series bronze lounge for critique.  Thanks to everyone who provided feedback. 

30 thoughts on “ringing phones, wringing hands

  1. Ugh – I hate this! Is it a guy thing? Matt does the same thing. Hooray for happy endings though! Maybe a pitched fit will teach him a lesson or two 🙂 Thought it hasn’t worked for me yet…..

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  2. We try living by the rule “no news is good news” in situations like that. But, “try” is the optimal word there.
    Your concern was palpable. Your reaction was warranted. And next time he’ll go grab his phone when he realizes he’s left it in the car.

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      1. Sometimes we just get a bad feeling and our emotions feed off that, working us into a frenzy that we can’t calm ourselves out of until we are certain everything is okay. It happens. It’s okay.

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  3. I’m glad to hear he was home on the couch. Great how you built the tension in this, although I didn’t need any more today. My husband is out doing motorbike training, then taking a test. I have no idea when he’ll be home, I can’t phone him as his phone will be off or he won’t hear… Life was so much simpler when we couldn’t be contacted wherever and whenever. 🙂

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  4. You did a nice job taking this through the revision process. I could relate to this very well, and I’m sure my husband could from your husband’s position too.

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  5. This was like a little scene from my own life :o) I have done this . . . My mind goes on long, disturbing walks when things like this happen. I was starting to feel anxious as I read!

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    1. It’s funny: since I knew the ending and that everything turned out okay, I wasn’t sure if I was conveying how anxious I was. Also, I thought people would just think I was a bit daft for thinking something horrible happened.

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      1. You conveyed it well, perhaps those of us who happen to fall prey to those same anxieties might relate on a different level, but I think your experience was real to all who read it :o) I have planned my husbands funeral in my head several times when he was late coming home and I couldn’t reach him. Are we just crazy?!

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  6. UUUGH. i freaking HATE when my husband does crap like this. fortunately when he’s with Lovie, he’s generally really good about keep in contact. it’s when he’s alone. coming home from work or something that it’s impossible to get a hold of him and my mind wanders and i don’t even know how many times i imagined he and his car blown to itty bits on the side of the road. grr.

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    1. I was thinking “what if something is wrong, but his phone isn’t working and he can’t let me know?” I probably wouldn’t have cared if he hadn’t asked me to call at lunch and remind him to use his inhaler. Men!
      (Not the men reading this. You are all lovely people.)

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  7. Well, speaking as someone who can ALWAYS see all the disasters that could possibly have befallen the people in her life, this was so exactly my thought process and my mood. You’re right, crying doesn’t work, but really, what else can you do in this situation!? Actually, I’ve yelled 🙂 You set the scene and develop the emotions so well. I like the tension between trying to think rationally and genuinely panicking.

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  8. When my elderly Father was still alive and sharing our house I would feel the same thing when he would accidentally not hang up the phone properly. I’d hear the busy signal and go crazy with worry. Great writing btw:)

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  9. Sometimes, I go through similar self-induced anxiety – usually when my husband is travelling and I can’t get a hold of him. I can’t count the number of times he’s died in my head (car accident, plane crash, random stabbing…).

    I love the way you tell this story and let the tension build right up to that crucial moment. Great storytelling! 🙂

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  10. You amped up the tension perfectly with the repeating of that blasted mechanical voice. I’d be even angrier at Peter’s admission that he knew where his phone was but didn’t bother to keep it near him. That fear of a loved one being unreachable is a consuming one nowadays. Funny to think how the invention of the cell phone changed what we worry about.

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  11. I know how the panic can reach a crescendo! You did a great job evoking that feeling. When my husband has shows he has to drive an hour away and often is not home until 4am. If he hasn’t called to tell me he left, I enter panic mode. The worst scenarios cross my mind. Why do we do this to ourselves? Or rather, why do they do this to us??

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