by Eric Lutz
In another world where everything’s fine, you and I live on the second floor of a three story walk-up. We get along with the neighbors, and in the summer we entertain on the deck out back. I tend to the barbeque grill and talk to the other husbands about sports, politics. You mix margaritas for the wives and talk about work and leaving this city.
In another world where everything’s fine, you read Anais Nin in bed and I read Sports Illustrated. I talk about the poetry of competition. You talk about Nin’s life with Henry Miller in Paris.
You say, Love never dies a natural death.
I say, I am the happiest man alive.
In another world where everything’s fine, we make love every night.
In another world where everything’s fine, we have a girl and name her Margot Ann. Margot is your mother’s name, and Ann is mine, and we hope our child will take on both of their best qualities and none of their worst.
In another world where everything’s fine, we turn 29, 30, 31, amongst friends. They come over to our house in the suburbs. They pop champagne that spills onto the tile kitchen floor and makes the baby cry.
You pick up the baby from the crib.
It’s OK, baby, you say.
She’s fine, I tell everyone.
Brad, half-drunk, offers his pointer finger to our daughter.
You OK? he says. Yeah, you’re OK, he says.
Margot Ann smiles and wraps her small hand around his finger.
In another world where everything’s fine, our baby grows into a child and then a teen and then a woman. She gets a job in marketing, but after two years goes back to school to get a degree in philosophy. That is where her passion is.
You encourage her, say that you minored in philosophy.
I encourage her, but remain practical.
In another world where everything’s fine, you take up boxing and I finally start writing the novel I’d always talked about.
You hit the bag.
I hit keys and form words with the letters and sentences with the words and paragraphs with the sentences and pages with the paragraphs. When I’m done, I send a copy to Margot Ann, who reads it in her spare time between bouts with Kant and Hume.
What do you think? I say.
It’s full of life, she says.
In another world where everything’s fine, we have both gone gray and have taken on deeper voices — voices of experience. We read the paper together in the morning and do the crossword puzzle in the afternoon. At night, we drink wine and eat small portions and read novels in front of the TV. You read Borges, and after all these years I finally read Nin — I find her prose unnecessarily dense.
In bed, we talk about death. I say I want to be buried side by side. You say you want to be burned and to have your ashes spread at Juniper Park.
I don’t want to talk about this, I say.
Silence won’t stop the inevitable, you say.
After dinner that night, I drove us to the edge of town and parked by the fence at the edge of the quarry. You smiled and were out the door before I had even killed the engine. I got out and followed you to the fence.
“Cut the lights,” you said.
I went back and turned the headlights off.
By the time I turned back, you had already slipped through a break in the fence and disappeared past the foliage. I jogged over and peered through into the darkness. I heard last year’s leaves tear like paper under your feet.
“Come on,” you said.
So I eased through, and pushing branches out of the way, saw the whole of the quarry. I took your hand and we walked to the edge of it and sat down.
“Look at that,” I said.
The stone sides of the hole were as great as anything anywhere, and the path they traced plunged so deep it was too dark to see the bottom.
In another world where everything’s fine, I kiss you here, tell you I love you, ask about all the boys you brought here and kissed when you were sixteen.
In another world where everything’s fine, we leave your car at the restaurant and I drive us back to my place.
But instead, we sat there for a time. You rested your head on my shoulder, and I read the braille of goosebumps on your wrists.
“I’m getting chilly,” you said, and we headed back to the car. I drove back into town with the windows down, the music playing, neither of us saying anything. I pulled into the space next to your car, and I got out and stood there as you unlocked your door. You smiled and leaned into me, and we kissed. The town was empty and the moon was low overhead.
“Call me when you get home,” I said.
You looked up at me, smiling at my worrying.
“OK,” you said, kissing me one last time. “I will.”
. . .
Eric Lutz’s fiction has appeared in The Boiler, Line Zero, and Bird’s Thumb, among other publications, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives in Chicago.
2 thoughts on “Call Me When You Get Home”
A haunting tale of loss, beautifully written. Lutz conveys the depth of loss, never telling us what caused it, with images from “another world where everything’s fine,” leaving the reader to decide why that world never came to be. A remarkable demonstration of the power of the unsaid!