Larry had two telephone numbers: a cell phone number that he never gave out and a land line that he never answered.
He kept the cell phone for the sake of the games, the music, and an emergency that never happened. He kept the land line because every time he called the phone company to cancel it, he couldn’t get through the menu of options.
He might have just stopped paying the bill, but it was on automatic payment and he couldn’t get through the bank’s menu of options, either. As for online banking, that was another story. He lost his online banking password and lost his patience halfway through the help page.
Thank God he knew how to operate the TV remote, at least the important buttons.
Every now and then he would play his answering machine. The tape would rewind, and start and stop for a while, and finally recite his messages. It was never anything but telemarketers, although buried deep in the tape he still kept his mother’s last call, the one he never listened to until after he got home from her funeral.
He had still been in his dark suit, he hadn’t struggled out of his trench coat, he had just put his car keys on the counter, when he had pushed the play button and her voice came on, as from out of the grave.
“You’re breaking my heart, Larry. Why do you never call me back?”
That’s all it said. Soon after she called, she had died of a heart attack.
The only thing that made him feel better was the fact that she always said it. Since he was a little kid, she was always saying he was breaking her heart.
Yes, he rarely checked his messages. But today, the incessantly blinking light annoyed him, as if it was a dripping faucet. It blinked at him when he got his first bag of chips from the cupboard. He threw a dish towel on it. It still blinked, whether he could see it or not, when he got his second bag of chips. By his third bag, he had forgotten about the blinking, but he needed the towel to wipe the grease off his hands because he couldn’t tear the bag open. It was still blinking. He played the messages.
He listened through fourteen robo calls from the last election, three surveys, six charities, his alumni association, and, although he was a renter, a persistent salesman of aluminum siding.
In the middle of all that, there was a message from his daughter. Amidst a flurry of electioneering, it must have been almost two months old.
“Hi, Dad, it’s Naomi. I have some really, really great news to tell you, but I don’t want to leave in on your voice mail. So call me. Soon, please. I miss talking to you.”
Larry made out a man’s voice in the background.
“Yes, I’m coming,” he heard her say. “He’s not home. I’m leaving a message.”
She continued, “Oh, Dad, I can’t wait to tell you; I’m GETTING MARRIED! So, call me, all right? Please. I want you to give me away.”
The chips he ate must have all had sharp edges still, because they stabbed him in the pit of his stomach. He rewound and played the message several more times, getting oil all over the buttons.
The last time Larry saw his daughter, she was grinning in a mortarboard and gown. She had a smile that might’ve reached all the way to the back of her head. The corners of her mouth might’ve waved Hi to each other and kept on going. That must’ve been, when? Could it be? At her college graduation?
With her call still not answered two months after leaving it; she wouldn’t be smiling any more. She might be smiling about her wedding, but not about her father. As she met her new in-laws and they asked her about her father she would be saying, he abandoned us at an early age and we haven’t heard from him since, even though it was not strictly true. The future in-laws would regret asking and would delicately move on to another topic.
He couldn’t call her now. She might be in the midst of wedding planning, turned into a bridezilla and ready to snap at the least complication. She might’ve found another father to walk her down the aisle, like that smarmy man her mother married and couldn’t possibly love. The sleaze ball might be getting a tux fitted now, trying not to get turned on as the tailor measured his inseam.
She might be already married. She hadn’t said when the wedding was, after all. The wedding guests must have already whispered about the absent father. Poor dear, at last she has found a man that would stick around, they’d be saying. She might already be on her honeymoon, asking her groom to hold her close, as if that could really compensate for parental neglect.
No, no, no; he couldn’t talk to her this way, for it was clear she had not tried to contact him again. There were no more calls on his answering machine, no wedding invitations in his mailbox, no emails, no telegram messengers at his door. She had already given up on him.
One way or another, just as his mother always said, Larry was still breaking hearts.