Under the Influence

Phone Zach Diamond

He held the phone in his hand, weightless yet inconceivably heavy at the same time. He could feel it tremble against his skull, quivering as he crushed the receiver against his ear. He knew it should hurt as he pushed, knew he should feel something other than the sheer, unreasonable pressure of the belied phone, yet there was just the quiver, just the empty shake of a muscle locked in tension like an arm bearing too much weight.

It had only been a few hours, less than even half a day, since she had called and said goodnight. He hadn’t slept well, he never slept well when she didn’t skip into his room and tease him about his balding head, or his “old man pajamas,” or his growing tummy, then lean in for a kiss on her pale forehead before vanishing to her room. She said her friends mocked her about still saying goodnight at 22-years-old, for still wanting a kiss from her father before bed. Yet night after night, the two of them shared at least a few short moments alone together, joking around like they’d done all her life.

Someone murmured in remorse on the other end of the phone, a calloused, professional voice like that of a uniformed man at the wrong door, a folded flag held tight under his arm. He knew they were there, knew they were talking, but the sentences made no sense. They had syllables, vowels, all the morphemes of the English language, yet the words were completely illogical, completely nonsensical. It was simply impossible.

He woke up several times the night before, his mind swearing the phone vibrated and rang, a photo of her pale skin, her red, curled hair, her perfect, freckled nose, illuminating the darkness from the LED screen. He always got up to check, always pulled himself out of bed and across the room, turning on the screen and expecting the worst. It was always the best, always just a phone with no messages to share. Sometimes he’d call her, no matter how late, just to make sure she would answer. He pretended it was to see what time she’d be home, or to tell her to bring something back, but he never much cared for the reasons he claimed. It was always just to hear her voice, to hear her friends laughing in the background of whatever bar, club, or house she was in. He just wanted to know she was safe.

The unfamiliar voice on the other end of the phone had grown silent. He closed his eyes, the world around him melting into the outline of the phone shrouded within a veil of black, then slowly reopened them. The twisted, tangled cord of the beige telephone remained in front of him, taunting him with the promise of a dream from which he needed to wake. He clenched his teeth, jaw refusing to function as the tremble spread uncontrollably through his body. The phone remained firm to his skull, a searing pain absent that he was sure should be there.

She promised she would call in the morning, promised she would let him know what time she’d get back. She said she was going to be out drinking with friends, mostly the ones that he didn’t mind. She never called them the ones that he liked, laughing as the words slipped from her mouth. He could see the curl of her smile, the white teeth he told her to show off hidden behind closed lips. It wasn’t that he didn’t like her friends, it was just that he didn’t think they were right for her. He didn’t trust them to keep her safe, they did stupid things. He’d overheard one of them—Charlie, a name he hadn’t again heard until today—boast about getting a DUI. He warned her of him, told her to always use her brain. Sure, some of her friends were fine people, a few even with promising futures, but they simply weren’t good enough for her. No one was good enough for her. No one could protect her like he could, ensure she’d be safe like he could, look out for her like he could.

His body trembled, teared eyes turning the world a pellucid blur of color and light like a fresh painting dipped in water. The phone, still crushed against his skull, was beeping now, the dial tone ripping into his ears and reverberating throughout his body. She promised she’d call in the morning, promised she’d take a cab home, promised she’d be back that night to give him a kiss before bed, promised she’d make fun of his diet and the clothes he left scattered around, promised she’d be there the next day and the day after, promised she’d help him meet new women, promised she’d be there to make fun of him as he aged, as they aged. She promised she’d call, like he promised he’d always protect her. He closed his eyes again, the dial tone deafening as the pain finally set in.

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Writing Prompt: A man gets a phone call saying his parents have been in an accident and passed away. Five minutes later, he gets a call saying his daughter had been in an accident and died on the scene. Turns out she was drunk driving and crashed into his parents. Write what happens after the second call. (I totally didn’t follow this prompt). 

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