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table of contents — stories

Jack and Marie

The cell phone was dinging somewhere in the dark. Jack, startled from sleep, couldn't figure out where it was. Finally he saw its little green and red lights blinking, reached out, grabbed it, and fumbled it open.

‘Hello?’ he said into it. For a moment there was silence. ‘Hello, hello?’

‘It's me,’ he heard. ‘It's me!’

‘Marie! I'm so glad you called.’

‘Even though it's the middle of the night?’ asked Marie.

‘Yes, yes!’ said Jack. ‘I told you you can call me any time.’

‘Well, I guess this is any time,’ said Marie. ‘I just wanted to talk to you. I wasn't sure I had gotten through. I wasn't sure what the funny little lights on this telephone were trying to tell me.’

‘I'm really happy you called,’ said Jack.

‘Even though it's 4 a.m. or whatever it is.’

‘Yes,’ said Jack. ‘You could call me ten times a day, and in the middle of the night, too, if you want to,’ said Jack.

‘Well, I wanted to,’ said Marie. ‘I've been missing you. Where have you been? When are you coming to see me?’

Jack tried to think of why he hadn't been to see Marie and couldn't come up with anything. That made him feel anxious, but nothing is nothing and anxiety didn't change it.

‘I — I guess I've been busy,’ said Jack. ‘Busy with dumb things. Work, stuff like that. I don't know....’

‘You should come to see me, Jack,’ said Marie.

‘I will,’ said Jack. ‘Really soon.’

‘Well, you should,’ said Marie. ‘Say, you know, I've been getting these funny little messages on my telephone, I don't know how they got my number, it's all these people in a certain age group trying to date one another.’

‘You didn't sign up for it?’

‘No! They just started coming. Anyway, they're all these messages for people supposedly in my neighborhood. Some of them are really funny. You know, people trying to advertise themselves.’

‘Rich, good-looking, late-model car....’

‘Yes, exactly. But they don't sound very enticing. However, there is this one guy I think lives around here, I've seen him around, he's Black, and just gorgeous. I could go for him in a minute! But I think he speaks only French. And my French is terrible!’

Jack felt a bit jealous, so he said, bravely, ‘Well, I could translate for you.’

‘Oh, don't you think that would be a bit complicated?’ answered Marie, giggling. ‘I'm just trying to imagine that conversation! Well, I think I'd better leave him alone. Anyway, you know you'll always be my main squeeze, Jack. Don't be jealous. Just come around and squeeze me some, okay? If you squeeze me right I won't want to think about anybody else.’

‘I will,’ said Jack, ‘as soon as I can.’ He tried to think when that would be, but again he couldn't come up with anything. ‘I'll come to see you in a week or two. As soon as I can. How about that? And stay away from that French guy.’

‘Just come see me, Jack, and you can do all the squeezing you want.’

There was silence for a moment, and Jack could hear the oceanic breathing of the telephone system, or the universe. Then Marie's voice seemed to be coming from further away, and its timbre was changing, becoming thinner.

‘Jack, Jack, I'm so sorry,’ she said.

‘What do you mean, you're sorry?’

‘Jack, I'm just dreaming. I know you've been dead for years. I'm just dreaming about you. I miss you so much sometimes.’ Jack thought he heard her sob, but it was hard to tell because the oceanic sound was sweeping in.

He wanted to say something, but the ocean was expanding, becoming wider and deeper and vaster than anything he could say. Than anyone could say, ever. He let the telephone drop into the darkness.