‘Michael and the phone: 1’
Michael was staring at the phone in front of him. Michael stared at the phone that lay on the table in front of him. He’d been looking at it for a while. He remained unsure of what to do. He put the box of matches he’d been toying with down on the armrest. For the last twenty minutes he’d been thinking about calling Karen. For the last ten, he had been thinking about how he shouldn’t. The box of matches was nearly full. He didn’t smoke any more and didn’t have too many candles. Michael didn’t smoke any more and didn’t have too many candles. Michael didn’t smoke and didn’t have too many candles in the house at all and was clearly about to call Karen, his ex-wife, because he was lonely, and felt sad. He was in Beijing in front of a mobile phone. He picked it up and dialled. It started to ring.
“Hullo? Michael?” said Karen. Perhaps she was drunk. Was he stored on her phone anymore?
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“Why are you calling me? What time is it there?”
“Oh. Well, I was about to meet some friends at the pub.”
“It’s early to be at the pub, no?”
“Did you call half-way around the world to tell me that?”
“I just wanted to talk to you.” He stopped talking and there was silence on the line for a long time. “I just felt like we might have some things to say to each other, after all this time.”
“Discuss the past, you mean?”
“No, discuss – the here and now.”
“Oh. I see. Well, how is Beijing?”
“It’s – hectic. And not really in a good way.”
“That’s too bad. Blubs.”
Her word. She used it as a glib end to sentences where the other person was expressing displeasure. It had infuriated him but she had never quite lost the habit. Here it was, again. He felt his anger rising, despite himself. Blubs, Michael, he said to himself.
“Do you – remember,” he began. “Do you remember that time we drove to Mount Park and you nearly lost your shoe in the mud near the Fish Pond. I was thinking about it today.”
“That’s discussing the past, Michael. And, no,” said Karen.
‘Ermina and Richard: 2’
“If we walk, um, due North, we go past Williams Woods and end up at a picnic area,” said Richard, stopping to take a drag of his cigarette. “There’s a hill, too. And a cute cottage.”
“You’ve been here before?” asked Ermina, a little too quickly. She had snatched at the words.
“With my mother,” he said, smiling. There was a pause while things were recalibrated. “Will you need me to hold your hand as we walk through the wood?” he asked, smiling.
“I hope so,” she said, flirting.
“Well, now. We’ll see,” he said. “When we get there.”
She looked down at the path and carefully put one foot in front of the other.
“Careful of the mud,” he said.
‘Michael and the phone: 2’
“Surely you do? Your shoe came off and I had to get it for you?” He been careful not to raise his voice.
She paused. “I … really – don’t, Mikey. Sorry.”
“We went to Trout Park and the next day we took the train into London to go to the National Gallery and you got that beer you liked, the chocolate stout, at the pub.”
“You have an excellent memory, Michael. Better than mine.” The line crackled and Michael moved his mobile phone a little, instinctively.
“Well, okay. I guess it was a long time ago.”
“It was a huge amount of time ago.”
“I mean, what year was it? The year your parents bought that boat that sank?”
“It was one year before that. And I was wearing purple flat shoes.”
Michael took a while to absorb what he was hearing. “So you do remember?”
“You wore a blue shirt and a plaid scarf that you took off because you got too hot.”
“Don’t confuse remembering with caring.”