- Wrong Number
The phone rings, and it’s a woman with her backbone up because she knows—don’t think she doesn’t—that I was with her man last night.
Better keep myself distant from him, she warns, better stay away from her Buzzard, or else she’ll be forced to put the hurt on me, swear to God, just see if she won’t.
“I’m not playing, missy,” she says. “I know where you live.”
I put her on speaker phone, and my husband, Stephen, and I listen to her go on and on. Buzzard’s her man and has been for twenty-five years. Her silver anniversary man, her all-day-long and night-time man. “You go after your own,” she says to me. “Piece of trash that you are. You go see what you can get.”
Stephen rolls my wheelchair out onto the deck. He leaves the sliding door open so we can still hear the woman’s angry voice. Since the car accident, I’ve lived in this chair, all sensation gone from my breastbone down. I’ve rolled through life, I like to say, and I’ve been blessed with the love of a good man who tells me he never wishes for more than what we have: a tender life, a kind life, one full of mercy and small blessings.
“Home wrecker,” he says to me with a smile.
“Oh, baby,” I say with a wink. “You don’t know the half of it.”
The sun warms my face. A hummingbird hovers at the feeder. A car goes by, and the bass from the cd player thumps. I can feel it in my throat. I give thanks for the vibration. I close my eyes and hold onto it.
Then Stephen is kneeling beside me. He has my face in his hands, and he’s kissing me, kissing me hard, a kiss I can only call hungry. A kiss that I fear tells me everything he’s never been able to say about want and regret and the woman he wishes I could be. For a moment I wish it, too. I wish I were the sort who might sneak out some night with a man named Buzzard, his wife be damned. Nothing on my mind but the good times, and the baby-hey-baby, and the look in my man’s eyes, as full of want and gimme as any one soul can muster. [End Page 7]
But I’m not. I’m who I am. Only now, for the briefest of moments, the woman on the phone still talking—“Slut,” she says. “I bet you’ve fucked so many guys you can’t close your legs anymore.”—I’m who we all want me to be. The woman on the phone, Stephen, me. I’m a woman with options. A woman Stephen presses to him now. A woman he fears he might lose. A woman another man might want so much he’d do something crazy, something he’d never be able to take back.
The thumping bass fades as the car drives away. I don’t want to open my eyes. I don’t want to look at Stephen. I don’t want to think of the next things we’ll say, or more than likely what we won’t. I just want to sit here until the woman on the phone stops talking. I want to think about that moment when she realizes I’m gone, when she’s said everything she’s called to say and knows it’s not enough—will never be enough. I want her to feel like there’s an itch she can’t quite scratch. Maybe it’ll be a tingle, just the slightest stir. If only she could reach it. I want her to ache like that. [End Page 8]
Lee Martin has published three memoirs, most recently Such a Life. He is also the author of four novels, including Break the Skin and The Bright Forever, the latter a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. He teaches in the mfa program at Ohio...