The phone doesn’t have an answering machine. The digits seem the same, but backwards, an anagram of someone else’s number. When I don’t get through to you, I try taking the number apart and putting it back together but it still doesn’t work. I do the same with the telephone and it doesn’t work again. All I hear is a dial tone. The beeping busy signal. Nothing. I hear more nothing.
There’s a family who lives in the apartment beneath mine. A mom and a dad and a three-year-old boy. Most days, I take the elevator down at the same time as them. The kid always points at his dad and says, “You can’t ride the elevator! Stop it! You can’t!” His mom tells him to be careful with his words, she doesn’t like what she’s hearing. At the bottom, the boy presses his thumb into the button as the door opens. “Good job,” the dad says. “Look what you did. You opened it.” The kid turns around and points at him.
“Don’t get out,” he says.
And then there’s me, standing against the side of the elevator every day, watching this routine like the perpetual fly on the wall.
He writes these emails to thirty people, journal entries about his mornings in Nepal, the family he’s living with, the tea he drinks, the way his bones feel different living in the mountains. I never read them all the way through. He must be high every time he writes them. He wonders if infinity exists, describes an ant crawling across his window sill.
I can see the other people he emails these to, the long list of truncated names and at symbols. I see you there, near the bottom, and wonder how he knows you, how you met, how long it’s been since you’ve talked to him, if it’s been as long as it has between us.
The diner was small and cramped. We asked for a table outside. The waiter sat us at a window. She shrugged and said, “You can look outside if you want.” We didn’t talk as we looked at the menu and when the waitress came back over, you complimented her bracelet before ordering a burger medium rare without the fries. I asked for a salad. We didn’t say anything as we waited. The tables were covered in newspapers, decoupaged into the top. We read about decade-old crimes, politics-now-irrelevant gone awry. Our food came.
We ate and paid and left.
I say it happened gradually, this silence. I say we started clipping our sentences. “See you later” became “See you.” “Until then” became “Until” then “til.” Slowly, the sentences balded. We lost the words completely. Between us stretched this unspoken ballpark.
The truth is that we woke up one morning without anything more to say, so we said nothing. To say unspoken is to imply something worth speaking. What I mean is that there was nothing to say. We lost intent and then we lost action. We said nothing for six months.
There wasn’t anger or fear or need. Only silence. We agreed.
I’ve been trying to find others like us, trying to listen for that silence. Sometimes I order my coffee without saying anything but the baristas always look at me with those manicured eyebrows like I’m insane and what the fuck do I want to drink can I just order or get out of line already. It hasn’t worked. None of it has.
She comes over for dinner and asks me how I’m doing. “You should write out what you’d say to him if you could,” she says. “It helped me for getting over Brian. It really did, honest. You should try it.” So I sit down at my desk and try to think of something, anything, but there’s nothing waiting there. Even in absence, we’re silent. Like somehow our conversations found their way into a black hole.
So I write a letter to our dog instead, who you took with you to your new apartment.
Dearest Ollie. I miss your slobber and your paws and the way you’d burrow into our bed in the mornings before we woke up and how you’d get so upset at us for not waking up on your schedule and the way you’d run up to strangers in the park who you thought we should be friends with and was always disappointed when we laughed embarrassedly and apologized and pulled you back along the park. Ollie, I hope you’re doing okay. Dear, dear Ollie.
The waitress sits me outside this time. The table is yellow plastic looking, no newspaper decoupage. I order eggs and watch the couple across from me. They talk intermittently. I can’t hear them, but I pretend I can read their lips. She tells him about waking up that morning and how her first thought was of the coast and how they hadn’t been there in ages. He says that he never went there with her, that she must be thinking of another boyfriend. She says, No, no, she’s sure. It was him. He shakes his head. He frowns.
I try calling you again. It still doesn’t work. I sit for minutes with the phone to my ear, listening to the hum of nothing.
I’ve been apologizing a lot lately. I pass someone and say, “Sorry I’m so sorry are you okay so sorry.” Or someone elbows me and I say “Jeez I’m sorry that certainly hurt though are you okay.” Like I’m hemorrhaging words. But then I get angry with myself because I think how these are useless words. If I want to hemorrhage words, shouldn’t they be good ones? Shouldn’t I be saying things like “Sir you are using your body like a plethora of parts when it should be zipped more clean like salmon in a freezer-proof bag.” Or: “We’re all like whales in a candy shop can’t we just pause a moment and sing.”
You stand on my doorstep. You don’t knock but I open the door because I have this feeling I should and there you are. You come inside. You sit. I bring you tea. I sit. We look at the rug and then the ceiling and the mantel. You tap your fingers on your knee. We don’t stand. We don’t speak. We