It is evening, because the birds have stopped singing. Alone, but for the solemn ticking of a clock, Katherine stretches an arm towards the telephone directory and, finger circling above the page, stabs at a name.
Mr. B. Wallis. The number is satisfyingly symmetrical; she dials slowly and purposefully.
While she waits for an answer, pressing the receiver between shoulder and ear, Katherine opens up her history books to solve the mysteries of the past:
In 1211, Frederick II attempted to discover the natural ‘language of God’ by raising children in silence. The preferred language never emerged; none of the children ever spoke; all died in childhood.
What, considers Katherine, did the children die of? Obviously not of failing to learn to talk. A lack of interpersonal communication then; an unseen force which provides warmth and nourishment but this inaccessible emperor allows no form of response or exchange. She thinks to herself, ‘In this age, over-communication is as silence was to those children,’ and she nods her encouragement and agreement. She remembers – one matinee in a small overcrowded cinema, the air hot and dusty and filled with childish laughter, the rustling of wrappers, the hum of the projector, the silver-screen siren sobbing dolorously in the hero’s arms – she remembers thinking, enough! This is all too much. And so that is why she must make these calls, for life is unavoidably limited and teleological – if we toss this apple into the air, it must land there. But with the telephone, the offending object which she now cradles against a hunched shoulder, we make the very fictions that undermine our own place in an orchestral existence. She laughs aloud now because this device, this device made for purposes of communication, is what has allowed her to live in isolation all these months. The number of interpersonal recluses is directly proportional to the rate of production of East Asian electrical devices. She feels it is her duty to demonstrate and impart this information.
Three rings, four – Katherine begins to worry that no one will answer. She might have to leave a message, and there’s something almost fatalistic about talking when you know no one’s listening - like calling into a well and having a part of you echo against itself until it’s swallowed up by the darkness. Five rings.
‘Hello Mr. Wallis. You don’t know me. In fact, even if you did know me it’s unlikely you’d know any more about me than you do now.’
(An obligatory pause.)
‘What’s that? Who is this?’
‘Consider, Mr. Wallis, this is not a letter. Someone once said that a letter has two times – one of writing, and one of reading – but the sentiment I express now simultaneously vibrates against your inner ear. Does this make for a more effective means of communication, Mr. Wallis? Let us evaluate. You and I inhabit different worlds. Now, it may not have occurred to you that there are different stories being told distinct from your own. This is not only egotistical, worse— it is naive. Isn’t it true that until this very moment you didn’t consider the possibility of my existence at all? Yet here I am. Perhaps you’re one of those self-satisfied people who think that what fills your own world is all that matters. But here we are on the verge of collision, and you have a choice to make: to remain within your own discourse, or to level the ground between us so that we might walk and talk together.’
‘I’m sorry madam, I think you must have the wrong number. Good evening.’
After the click of disconnection, Katherine listens for a few moments to the repetitive drone – a golden symmetry, a last attempt at order in the disorder - but there is sadness in this gesture, like looking for truth in the melancholy sepia of a black and white photograph, and so she puts the phone back down.
She will imagine she is the heroine of a novel, and play her part so well that she’ll almost slip into fictionality: she, a damsel/maiden/victim waits – like a talent buried in the ground she waits – to be rescued. But later, with a sigh, she’ll gather up her Rapunzel hair, withdraw from the window, and lament: ‘this motif is a very ancient and revered one, but it is overused.’
She yawns, stretches an arm towards the telephone directory, and, finger circling above the page, stabs at a name.
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