Landlines

December 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

We still have a landline. It’s not really tethered to anything, it’s floating in the ether like everything else these days, but still, in our imaginations, it’s a landline, tied to the earth. Jeff insists that we have one, though logically speaking, there’s no need for it.  I was deleting the messages the other day because we never answer the thing, so few people have the number. The school, political candidates, my younger son’s friends, and our friend Pat had filled it up. I hit “all message playback” and all of the sudden, I heard my mom’s voice. “Steph, give us a call when you get a chance.” That’s all she said. It stunned me. I long ago deleted the messages of her slurring her words, or saying something caustic. I kept this one, and now I cannot let it go.  I play it over and over.

I’m afraid I will forget what she sounds like. The mind’s ear plays tricks, you know. I have tried to use my strange and useless teenage talent to remember: I can mimic people. I started with my eighth grade Algebra teacher, Mr. McCracken. Who knew the fun I would get out of remembering that man who never washed? I try to imitate my parents. I used to think I was good at it, but now, it doesn’t ring true. I live some of the gestures, unconsciously—sometimes I rub my nose with the palm of my hand like my mother– but I can’t get what I want, which is the actual sound of their voices.  I think about when I was pregnant. I didn’t read books about it—I’m not that organized—but I read on websites that a child can recognize a mother’s voice heard in the womb.  That must be what I want to hear. The cadence of my mom’s voice, the rhythm of her words, her mispronunciations I often ridiculed–Massatuchets, for one.

Sometimes I hear my Dad too. He had a lot of phrases that stuck. If anyone in my family wakes up before six, for example, it’s dark thirty. We empty our bladders when we stop at gas stations on road trips. We stop for fuel. I wake up at dark thirty from dreams where I have seen my parents, but they never talk to me. This part of them seems already lost, except for that answering machine. I wish I had a message from my Dad too, though my mom was always the talker, the one who dialed and handed the phone over for a minute or two. This was her realm. I can still hear her, at least when I push the button, asking me to keep in touch, over a landline connected to this world.

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