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I have paid my therapist thousands to prepare me for this moment. I feel ripped off.

It goes down sweet with your make-love voice and ends with your aftertaste in my empty stomach, threatening vomit.

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Static           December 1, 2000

She knows he's going to call. She knows what he'll say...

by Karstin Painter


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I pick up the phone only because the answering machine never works properly. You know this, which is why you let it ring. 'Hello?'

'Hi.'

I'm not sure why even after a year, I am surprised to hear your voice. You have always had the uncanny knack for turning up at the most inconvenient times. Like tornados you move indiscriminately, whipping the past into an unpalatable froth. I press my lips together and my tongue grows roots to avoid swallowing the residual taste of you.

'Hello,' I say with my newly anchored tongue. I expect you to ask for money or suggest that we get together for a sexual rendezvous. Though you never call it that. Instead, you call it ImissyoucanIseeyou.

'Uh...Hi. I was just wondering how you were doing and I thought, well...'

'That you'd give me a call?'

'Well, yes.'

'I'm fine. Fabulous, actually. Satisfied now?'

'Aww, c'mon. Don't be like that. I've missed you.'

I have paid my therapist thousands of dollars to prepare me for this moment. Somehow, I feel seriously ripped off.

'Have you? That's nice.' My tongue solidifies into a concrete slab and the saliva in my mouth pools. If I swallow, I know it is going to taste like you - your neck, your back, your fingers in my mouth. I think I'm going to throw up.

'How have you been?' You sound nervous, and I'm not sure why you should be. It's not as if you are lacking guts to be calling me up after this, after us... after.

'Good,' I say. This is magnificent. I'm down to one syllable words, we're four minutes into the phone call, and you're still on the line. Why are you still on the line?

'Do you miss me?' Your voice is quiet. It's the soft, whispering voice you use when you make love. It used to say things like 'You're so beautiful,' or 'God, look at you.' And now it says only 'Do you miss me?' And I do. I really, really do.

'Not anymore,' my concrete tongue cracks.

'You never were a good liar,' you laugh softly, poking fun at an otherwise un-laughable circumstance. It's so funny, because you were. If you were here, you would brush my hair off of my face and put your hand beneath my chin. But you're not here, and you really were an excellent liar.

'I'm seeing someone,' I say, and finally the saliva in my mouth eddies and slides down the gutter of my throat. I was right. Not about the throwing up part. The part about it tasting just like you. It burns all the way down my esophagus and sears my stomach, my heart, my pride. I need a glass of water or something stronger.

'Oh, who isn't? I'm seeing someone too. We're all seeing someone.' You smile. I can't see it, but I can feel it stretching across your boyish cheeks.

I don't know what to say to that. In fact, I'm not sure what to say at all. I twist the ring on my middle finger - the one you gave to me and that I haven't thrown away. You put it on my finger and said some things in your make-love voice and I was happy then. It was supposed to be silver, but it looks more and more like tin these days.

After realizing I'm not going to answer your 'who isn't' question, you say, 'I'm seeing this girl from Michigan. We're in love, you know how it goes.' There you go - blending up the past into a stodgy, bitter milkshake. Of course you're in love. And I do know how it goes. It goes down sweet with your make-love voice and it ends with your aftertaste riding down to the pit of my empty stomach, threatening vomit. I wonder if Michigan knows how it goes yet. If she doesn't, she will. She'll come home and find California or Virginia or Texas just leaving with her lipstick smeared and your aftertaste on her shoulder blades. Then Michigan will know exactly how it goes and she'll change her number and you'll move in with California or Virginia or Texas and call her anyway. You always were such a beautiful liar.

'That's nice. It's nice,' I say, sliding the silver-turned-tin ring up and down my finger. With my back pressed up against the sandstone wall you painted over a year ago, I slide down to the floor and cradle my knees. I twist the ring off of my finger and drop it down the register. I think of it rolling down the ducts in the house like those marble mazes you see in science competitions - finally finding its place in the core of the heater where it can be stored and forgotten all at once.

'ImissyoucanIseeyou?' you say in that make-love voice.

I close my eyes and sigh, 'Yes.'

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