David picks up the phone receiver, then puts it back down. His heart’s pounding. Running his hand over his mouth he takes a deep breath and picks it up again. Holding a fingernail under the number in the phone book, he dials slowly, his shaking fingers almost slipping off the raised buttons.
The phone rings, once, twice, three times. In the middle of the fourth ring an old woman’s voice trills, “Hello, Lindberg residence.”
He isn’t expecting her to answer. “Ah hello. Is Amel there?” The line is quiet. “Hello?” he says again.
“Oh, you don’t know…my husband died just over two years ago.”
His legs feel wobbly, his muscles have melted like hot butter, and he slides down the kitchen wall until he’s sitting on the floor, the curls of the phone cord stretching out to follow him.
“No I didn’t. How did he die?”
“Cancer. His pancreas. It was real quick.”
“He’s gone home to be with our Lord.” The old woman’s voice warbles slightly. Clearing her throat, she says, “Now, who am I speaking to?”
“Linnea, this is David.” He pauses. “Jessica’s dad.” There’s another silence. He can hear her thinking, the sounds of shock registering with the force of clanging metal.
“Oh forever more.”
“Linnea, I want to get a message to her…Jessica.” He wonders if he should tell her about his meetings with Amel in recent years. Maybe she already knows.
“That’s why I wanted to talk to Amel. He would…tell me things about her. When I worked at the health food store he came in sometimes and showed me pictures of her.”
David paused for a second, conscious of the flutterings happening in his chest. “He told me once he’d heard her play a Minuet on the piano. So, I was hoping he could help me reach out to her. But since he’s not -”
He is remembering spending a Christmas at Amel and Linnea’s with his baby daughter and her mother Emily. And taking photographs the following summer in their backyard, how his daughter had fussed about keeping on a hat Linnea wanted her to wear.
“You know my daughter said I’m not allowed to give you her and Jessica’s phone number,” Linnea is saying.
She sounds wary and David is afraid his chances are slipping away, like raindrops running down the outside of a window pane. Sweat begins to prickle under his arms. He tries to keep his voice even.
“I know Linnea. That’s ok, I don’t need you to give me her number. Would you just give her a message for me?”
“Well, I guess I could do that.”
David swallows hard. He wants a drink. Reaching his foot forward, he traces the repeating diamond pattern in the cheap, stained linoleum with his big toe, feeling his skin pushing into the slightly indented grooves.
“Could you please tell her that I’m clean now? That I have been for a while… And I want to meet her?”
“I’m sober. I stopped drinking. Alcohol.”
Bright winter sunlight streams through the kitchen window and reflects off the metal toaster on the counter. The glare catches in David’s eye and he turns his head away.
“I went to rehab. I’ve got my life on track. I want to meet her. Will you tell Jessica that for me?” He holds his breath. The tip of his toe is turning white from pushing it into the linoleum.
“Ok. I’ll give her the message.”
“Thank you Linnea. Let me give you my number.”
“Just a minute now while I get a pen.”
David hears shuffling sounds and then Linnea trills, “Hello?”
“My number is 555-0128.”
There’s a pause. Afraid she’s going to hang up, David says, “Before you go…what’s she like?”
“Oh Jessica’s a beautiful girl. She’s in high school. And she plays the piano real good.”
He hears the pride in her voice and feels a hot, bitter taste rise into his mouth.
“I’ll be sure to tell her you called now.”
“Thank you.” He lets out his held breath.
“Ok, bye now.”
David absently sets the phone receiver next to him on the floor. He imagines his daughter as a teenager, brown hair and brown eyes. Like his. He imagines her sitting at a piano, hands flying across the keys. He imagines her calling him daddy, like all the other images in his head have. But no, in this one she is more likely to say dad.
The insistent pulsing tone of the disconnected line brings him to his feet and he hangs up the phone. Pushing the record button on his machine he says, “Jessica, this is your Dad’s answering machine. I’m so happy you called.”