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Saturday, June 20, 2009

In the Present Tense

I hold the phone's receiver more tightly than I would have liked.

"Hello B," I say. What else can I say?

"Hello you," she replies with a half laugh. She quickly interjects before I can open my mouth to say something. "How did your charity film project go?" She is miles and miles away in Cyprus, I am in England, and yet I know already that she knows I know.

It's a game we play; first the small talk.

"It didn't," I reply, smiling down into the phone. I hear a quick intake of breath, a semi-snort of frustration aimed at me.

"And knowing you, it was either all or nothing for charity, right?"

I smile at the phone again. "Don't go pretending to know me so well. You probably read my post about it."

A sudden force of silence stampedes on the line, so sudden it comes like a blow and I quietly remonstrate myself for my stupidity. Of course she hasn't had the time, stupid. She's been in-

Before I can apologise, or maybe to stop me from apologising, B speaks first: "N-No. Actually I haven't been able to log on for a while."

"B, I-"

"How's Gizmo? Is he well?"

It is my turn to let the silence storm on in.

"Hey, mister you there?"

"Yes, missy course I am."

"How's the cat doing?"

"I moved out of my brother's place months ago B. I wanted to take him, but my brother gave him to someone in Wellingborough."

"Why didn't you insist?"

"Because he wasn't mine."

"And?"

"And they told me he died last month."

There is no silence now; our thoughts are loud. "Oh baby. How did he die?"

"He was hit by a car so they tell me. I still have his videos and the photos I took, and they sent me some of how he last looked. He'd already started to grow into a beautiful big cat, B."

Is. Was. How quickly we could move from the present tense to the past, and not realise the lifetime that it took in between. Is. Was. Had. Been.

Meanwhile in the present, B let's out a sob on the other end of the line. "B, don't cry," I say. What else can I say?

"You know, don't you?" She says it with a quietness that frightens me. Suddenly the game is, was, over.

"Yes. How did you know?" Stupid question.

"Oh mister! Do you really think I don't know you? Would I ever have heard from you if everything was fine! I even have to call you up on my birthday!"

I don't smile this time. "Is that partly why you came down at Christmas?"

"No. Not really. Your dad was ill... I thought it wasn't the right time. Maybe I thought it would go away."

"Why didn't you tell me, B. You should have-"

She interrupts me again, and I can imagine her waving her hand B-like in the air as she speaks, "Don't. Not now. Not yet. Not over the phone. We'll talk when you get here."

For the first time I hear uncertainty creep into her voice then, and when she speaks that B-quality I adore has slipped from the timbre of her voice, and she sounds like a small child in the dark.

"You are going to get here, aren't you mister?"

I clench the phone's receiver even more tightly.

"I'm already there honey B. You hang on. I'm already there."

Main Index | End of part one | Part two | Part three | Part four | Part five

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