Emma struggled with the lock, her fingers shaking in tune with the ringing of the phone inside. The answering machine clicked on and a male voice vibrated through the empty apartment, “Emma and Josh are having fun out somewhere. Leave us a message after the beep.” Opening the front door, she heard a slight pause after the recording started, and then, “Ma? You still haven’t changed the message. It’s been six months.” There was exasperation in her daughter’s voice, a hint of weariness, perhaps. Last time she’d told her she had trouble finding the manual for the machine to learn how to record a new message. What would her excuse be this time? When Claire had suggested that Kris, her boyfriend, do it for her, Emma declined. She said he’d think her an idiot for being unable to change a simple message, but what she meant was No one would delete the last traces of my deceased husband. No one but me. But could she do it?
She left her purse on the side table in the hall where Josh used to drop his car keys. She had sold the car; she had never learned to drive. And his side of the wardrobe in the bedroom was empty; his fingerprints were still on the nightstand, hidden in the dust of lost time. There was a mug he had liked, but it got pushed all the way to the back of the cupboard in the kitchen because of the more frequent use of the other mugs.
Photographs of their joint past accompanied her into the living room. It was like he held her hand as she walked past their wedding day photo from twenty-five years ago and remembered how he had pulled her into an empty room for a few stolen moments of intimacy as their guests waited for their first dance. There was a large image of their first trip to the seaside in their red Citroën Dyane with a two-year-old Claire. They had had to stop nine times because Claire was sick most of the way. As a teenager Claire had preferred to stay with her grandparents, and Josh and Emma traveled alone, feeling like newlyweds again. Until he had fallen ill and they were left without a future. Life had a tendency to write its own stories and make young people into old memories and faded images on a wall.
It was just a recording. Why was everyone so troubled by it? Would Claire get upset if she told her that she sometimes didn’t answer the phone on purpose? Because that felt more justified than simply playing the message over and over again. She couldn’t help it, his voice made her feel … tethered. It was like a bubble-wrap around her broken heart, keeping it together, fragile and hemorrhaging dreams. Emma fingered her wedding ring. Deleting the message would be like throwing away the ring, like trying to negate her whole life, wouldn’t it? But nonetheless, whenever Claire reproached her, she felt childish and guilty. “It’s like every time life calls, that recording is your ‘No, thanks, I’m fine perishing here all alone,’” Claire had said while Kris pretended so hard he didn’t hear them squabbling that the TV remote slipped from his hands.
Emma dropped heavily onto the couch, staring at the blinking light on the machine like it was about to pounce. She hadn’t heard the rest of Claire’s message. It was like the room still pulsed with Josh’s strong voice instead, “Having fun. Having fun. Having fun …” Emma looked around the red and beige room and the words bounced off every surface, even the soft fabrics of the curtains and couch didn’t suppress them. Having fun. Having fun. But when they came back to her, they sounded distorted, the a’s too long, the i’s screeching, mocking – who the hell was having fun? Not her, that was certain. They echoed in her – not so much the words as Josh’s voice –, not in her ears, but in her heart until it started thudding and her hands shook.
She looked at the machine. It was just a sound, a wave pulsing through the air, she told herself.
The first time she missed the button, but then the message crackled through the speaker again. “Emma and Josh are having fun out somewhere. Leave us –”
words: Brigita Orel, Slovenia (Do the write thing)
image: 'Bridge' - Claire Ibarra, Florida/Peru (homepage)
another echo: Chaucer and Hass (#8)