by Laurel Osterkamp
Merlot from a box
The answering machine’s red light pulsed like wound. Ruth was powerless to ignore it. Someone had called while she was in the shower, and Seth, oblivious as always, let the machine pick it up.
She walked across her living room and pressed play. “Hey Man. I’ll be by with the van in an hour. I have something at 10, so be ready to go.”
Seth was leaving her today; this was no surprise. Ruth, who was ready for the day in her business attire, her hair slicked into a bun and her makeup skillfully applied, strode back into the bedroom. Seth was still sound asleep. She grabbed the glass of water that she kept on the nightstand and threw it on him.
He bolted up. “What the fuck?”
“Your friend called. He’ll be here in an hour to help you move. You need to get ready.”
Sleepy, shocked Seth, in his boxer shorts and V-neck t-shirt, hair rumpled and in need of a shave, still squeezed at her heart. Ruth leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “Take care of yourself, Seth.”
And then, Ruth picked up her bag and walked away.
All day, she congratulated herself on her composure, on her dignity. She wasn’t even sad. Ruth was fine, right up until the moment when she walked back through her door and into the dark, quiet solitude. Then the realization hit her like a gut punch: Seth took the answering machine.
Ruth could have smacked herself. The answering machine was the one thing Seth had brought to their relationship. Now it felt like she had nothing left.
The absence of that blinking light finally made her break down.
Ruth allowed herself a cathartic round of angry tears. Afterwards, she dried them with a worn t-shirt that Seth left behind (probably the same V-neck he’d been wearing this morning), poured herself a generous glass of wine, and turned on the TV. There was big news. Charles, in an interview for some documentary, admitted to cheating on Diana, after his marriage became “irrevocably broken down.”
“Whose fault is that, asshole?” Ruth slurred at the TV. That was the last thing she remembered before passing out on the couch, and then waking the next morning, determined to walk to Best Buy and purchase a new answering machine. She would pick out the best, most expensive one they had. She deserved it, after all.
When she got home, Ruth took her answering machine out of the box even before taking off her shoes, and immediately plugged it in. There were already eight new messages! She stared at the flashing, digital eight, wondering how this was possible.
Realistically, Ruth knew that someone must have bought the answering machine and then returned it without erasing their messages. Yet, she still clung to a futile, irrational hope that she would hear Seth’s voice, that he’d beg her for a second chance, so then she could call him back and shoot him down.
Ruth played each message, one by one. They all came from the same gruff male voice, a voice that did not belong to Seth.
(Tuesday, 7:14 PM.) Hi. It’s me. Please give me a call. I’d really like to talk.
(Tuesday, 9:02 PM) Look, I am so, so sorry. Okay? Please call me.
(Tuesday, 10:58 PM) Come on. Call me back.
(Wednesday, 12:17 AM) I swear she meant nothing to me. I promise, I will never cheat again.
(Wednesday, 2:01 PM) I’ve heard that cheating is a symptom of a bad relationship, and not the cause. What about your role in all this?
(Wednesday, 4:48 PM) Sorry about that last message. None of this was your fault.
(Wednesday, 7:27 PM) Hey. I left behind my brown sweater, the one my grandmother knit for me right before she died. I’m going to come get it. I’ll be there in a few.
(Wednesday, 8: 39 PM) Sorry I yelled and pounded on the door. But I know you were home. I swear, I’m not giving up. You’re the one for me, and we belong together. I will always love you.
The messages weren’t for Ruth, yet she owned them as if they were written underneath her skin. After all, Ruth had put $129.00 on her credit card for an answering machine that she didn’t really need, just so she might hear from a man wanting forgiveness. So what if the man didn’t want forgiveness specifically from her? That was immaterial.
Ruth thought about Diana, about how many messages she had waiting on her answering machine. Did she long for Charles to call and leave a message, saying that it had always been her, that he did not love Camilla? Ruth wondered whether Diana and Charles would ever reunite.
She hoped not. Diana would live a long, fulfilling life, away from the royal family and from the pressure of being queen. When Charles eventually ascended the throne, he’d be alone and empty inside.
Still, Ruth had to acknowledge an essential truth: as long as there were answering machines, there would be wronged women waiting to hear, I made a mistake. Please, I beg you. Please take me back.
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