by Edie Meade
I leave the same message every time I call on the bus home from work: ‘Hey Anna, it’s Mom.’ I pause to bask in the absurdity of announcing my identity to my own daughter, then slop my loneliness all over the phone. ‘Just calling to see how you’re doing. Just been a while. Everything’s fine here, just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. Okay, hon. No rush. I know you’re busy. Just wanted to check in. Call me back when you have time. Bye bye.’ Everything’s just this and just that, just so. Even in a recording, I drag goodbyes out in a conversational mosey. Then, because I never know if it’s the last words I’ll get to say to her, I cross myself with a hasty ‘I love you.’ I want to ask if she’d like to come in for my sixtieth birthday next week, but I’m not planning a party.
One day Anna will get a call from a number she doesn’t recognize in her old area code, I think. She won’t answer it, won’t listen to the voicemail. She won’t know it’s the hospital or the sheriff’s office or the coroner or the landlord trying to get ahold of my next-of-kin.
Maybe if I die she’ll finally listen to her voicemails, and there I’ll be, checking in with one last I-love-you. Her glittery nails will clasp her glittery phone and she’ll feel so terrible she didn’t answer all those calls. Tears will glitter in her pretty eyes.
I hope I don’t sound as morbid in the playback as I feel. There’s always some YMCA- or shelter-bound sad face mooning at me from across the bus aisle who hasn’t heard an I-love-you in decades. I’m scared to become that sad face: I’m getting old, living alone, and my routine circles tightly around the bed I’ve made. I stare out the window at midtown unspooling until I reach my stop.
Anna returns my call on Saturday while she’s out running errands because she considers a conversation with her mother one more errand. I’m stirring powdered creamer into coffee I made too strong for a weekend. She answers in the wind of a parking lot.
I hear her jerking a grocery cart out of the cart return and the let’s get this over with comes through clear as crystal when she says, ‘Yeah hey Mom.’
That’s the way she always answers my call – a breathless ‘Yeah hey Mom’ – to let me know she’s busy and she already knows it’s me. Like a news desk editor with a telephone on every corner of the desk, we can skip the formalities and get straight to the facts.
I start with an explanation anyway – ‘I wasn’t sure if you got my message’ – and cringe at the quaver in my voice. She’s the first person I’ve talked to today. The only person I will talk to today.
‘You’re the only person who still leaves voicemail,’ she says, reading my mind.
‘I wouldn’t have to if you answered your phone!’ I laugh, then hold my breath so I can hear her laugh, too. I enjoy her exasperation, the way it mixes with affection now that she lives four states away. I imagine her immaculate nails around the phone, sparkling with blue polish the way they looked the last time I saw her. That was way back in November when she came in for Thanksgiving.
She’s got an uncooperative cart. What sounds like wine bottles clatter together over a bum wheel. ‘You planning a party for me?’ I ask.
‘Oh, that’s right,’ she says, and laughs again. A lonely idea rakes over me: Anna’s turning thirty in September. That’s half my age – the age I was when she was born. I could plan a party for her, for us! But I never made a big deal about birthdays when she was little; she might even resent it now. She’d think it was more about me than her, and she’d be right.
We chat for fifteen minutes about the clinic where she just started working and the cobalt blue car she’s thinking of buying once she gets a few paychecks built up. I like the thought of her rolling up in a new model sedan with salon-perfect hair and nails. She’s doing well for herself. I don’t ask about her love life – I’ll jinx it the moment I show any interest. Heck, maybe Anna will land a doctor at this new clinic and bring him in with a bottle of good red wine next Thanksgiving. Sixty isn’t too old to be an active grandmother, I think. Sixty’s a good age for grandparenthood.
The conversation winds down. ‘Well, everything’s just fine here,’ I volunteer. ‘Just staying busy.’ Everything’s just so.
She’s half-listening, ringing herself up in the self-checkout line. She’s got a lot of errands to run, I know. We exchange our moseying goodbyes and heart-crossing I-love-yous that I linger on longer than she does. She can’t know how far four states away feels with only the midtown bus to get around. But she’ll get that cobalt car and need to drive it somewhere soon enough. Maybe to back home for a visit. I hear the groceries beep under her free hand as she ends the call.
About the author
Edie Meade is a writer, visual artist, and mother in Huntington, West Virginia. She is passionate about literacy, and collects books like they’re going out of style. She has published two collections of poetry, Every Day Is A Love Letter, and Birth & Other Stages of Death.