And I nearly did. My gloved hand clutched the phone like a life line and I strained to hear her over the wind rushing through the cracks in the glass of the phone booth. The connection was poor but I could hear her breathing, long and ragged breaths between hiccups and sobs. I was crying too, trying to pull myself together as I watched the precious seconds count down on the payphone. I pulled at a loose thread on my scarf and then wiped my eyes on the fraying fringe. Black mascara and snot streaked the knitted fabric. I thought absently that I ought to buy a new one. I snapped back to reality at the sound of her coughing rasps and remembered that I had used my last quarter for this phone call. I almost laughed. A new scarf. Right.
"No one’s saying you didn’t give it your best shot, Duckie, but..that’s just the way it goes sometimes. You just gotta know when to say what’s what. Come on home now. Everything’s fine, you just gotta get it together and do what’s right."
I pictured her then, clutching the phone with her good hand, wearing a nightgown despite it being early afternoon. Her attention wavering between me and the blaring TV in the kitchen. I could hear it droning on in the background. Day time soaps.
"Come home, Duckie.."
The words swam like silver minnows through the staticky connection, baiting me. I felt her hooks, their hooks, the hooks of that place, sinking into the skin of my cheek and wrenching me in.
She coughed again and the line was quiet for awhile. I listened to the background din again. It was an infomercial now. She had changed the channel.
"It’s not to say I didn’t tell you so, but you know, I won’t hold that against you. I suppose you did just have to get it out of your system. Everyone’s got some growing up to do but you’ve come up short and that’s life now isn’t it? So you just come on back and we’ll sort you out good ok?"
She sniveled into the line again but my eyes were dry. My grip tightened its hold on the receiver. It was the tone of her voice that did it, it was what I heard under her words that made me pull myself together. It was victory. She was triumphant. I had let her win, again.
There was still 40 seconds left on the call but I hung up, placing the receiver gently back on the cradle. I stood for a moment watching my breath fog up the glass over the words ‘Mannie was here culo’. I wrote my name in the transient white cloud. It faded quickly but I didn’t mind. I had never been the sort to make a lasting mark anyway.
It was still day time but the sun had all but disappeared behind grey clouds. I wrapped my scarf tightly around my ears and nose and stepped out into the biting wind. Still hungry.
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