The Number You Have 
Reached Has Been Disconnected

Brian J. McDonald

© Copyright 1999 by Brian J. McDonald


Photo of a hand holding a telephone receiver.

This is a partially true story. It is based on the author's attempts to tie up a loose end regarding a previous relationship he had with a young woman who lived in a distant city. His final attempt to contact her has resulted in a recording informing him that the number has been disconnected. As he listens to the loop of this recording, he ponders the past relationship and finally realizes that this loose end will forever remain untied.

"We're sorry. You have reached a number which has been disconnected or is no longer in service. If you feel that you have reached this recording in error, please check the number and try your call again."

These are the final words concerning someone whom I once knew, someone whom I once loved. It has been nearly six years since she and I last spoke. Six years, life can really change in that time. I've really changed in that time. I want to tell her of these changes. I think she should know.

I want to tell her how my life has unfolded. There is so much to tell. I figure that I have enough material to support a good conversation. She wouldn't be so quick to hang up. She's become a woman in haste. It never used to be that way. We used to spend hours on the phone together. It was our only option. We were hours apart. We were cities apart. Because of this reason, we always had an underlying need to appreciate our time together. Perhaps this shortness of time was our downfall. I frequently wrote to her. I would send her amorous letters and postcards emblazoned with black and white images of kissing couples. I would tell her that these couples reminded me of us. She was fond of the constant attention. The deluge of letters was a reminder of how much she meant to me. I knew that if I couldn't be by her side, I'd at least have her thinking of me. I never wanted to lose her because I could never be Mr. Everyday.

We never had more than a week's time together. We never had the daily relationship. It was never convenient to put on a pair of jeans and come over after prompted by a late night phone call. Every moment together was bounded by a time frame. It was as if we attempted to exhaust every minute as if they were the final minutes before the morning alarm sounds, and were saddened when we realized a relationship doesn't come with a snooze button. "Why can't we have more time,?" we used to ask. We would discuss what we would be like if we lived in the same city. "We could get a place together." This dialogue became part of the scenario. I suppose it was our way of making our relationship work. If we could at least discuss our possibilities, then perhaps we stood a chance of surviving. Distance became our enemy. Inches on a map were hours by car.

She would be proud to hear that I graduated from university. She knew how much that meant to me. I wonder if she did the same. She attended on and off for a few years. She was consumed by her work. The long hours made it difficult for her to be regularly enrolled. It was never the priority to her, as it was for me. I would support her decision either way. We both were English majors. She used to quote passages from books once read. I would attempt to do the same, often times memorizing the passages prior to phoning her. I suppose I wanted to impress her with what I had learned. I imagine it is something I still desire to do.

I want to tell her of my downtown apartment. She knew how I always envied hers. We used to discuss the importance of a downtown apartment. We often found ourselves conversing how it was integral to one's image to live downtown. All the good bars and cafes are downtown. Hip apartments with wood floors could only be found downtown. I would describe my apartment to her. She would love to hear that it featured wood floors. Her apartment had wood floors. Wood floors, they remind me of her.

"Hello. I was just thinking of you," she said.

"What are you doing,?" I asked.

"Not much, just thinking of you. The floor is cold."

"Pardon me?" I asked.

"The floor is cold. You see, they're made of wood."

"They must be beautiful."

"Sure, they truly are. They look really pretty in the morning when the sun is seeping through the blinds on them. Of course, they don't warm up until noon and are nearly unbearable to walk on until then."

I remembered her words and imagined her movements. She walks barefoot upon wooden floors wearing a summer dress where summers are seldom seen. Small ivory buttons slightly undone revealing freckles upon her cleavage. Long auburn hair extending to the small of her back. Small, pink crescent moons for lips. A phone cord draped over her shoulder reaching to the floor.

Her lips were her best feature. I used to admire her lips and wish to kiss her. I enjoyed kissing her neck and her cheeks and teased her by kissing the side of her mouth, only braising those same lips I so desired. It wouldn't take long before we were exchanging each other's air. Because of the infrequent times in the same city, kissing never became old. Nothing did. We had nothing but the good times found in a relationship. We didn't argue. We seldom disagreed, and when we did, we laughed it off. We didn't have time for conflict. Our lack of time together was all the conflict we could handle. It was more than enough to do us in. Now here I am, six years after the fact, pressing a phone receiver to my ear and listening to a recorded message remind me of someone I once knew as no longer existing, and staring at the same sun cascading upon my wood floors as they once did upon hers. She used to call just to tell me that she loved me. Sometimes it's all she needed to say.

She and I had some good times together. I wonder if she is as fond of them as I am. It saddens me to consider that I continue to think of her, and dread the truth that she no longer thinks of me. How does one fall from the grace of another? If only falling out of love was as easy as falling into it. I continue to ask myself if I miss her because she may have been the "one", or if I am simply lonely. I have made several attempts to contact her in the past and when I did, our conversations were brief. I looked forward to her birthday and Christmas because they gave me an excuse to call. She always downplayed the occasion and found an excuse to end the conversation. "I've got to go," she'd say. "I have some people over." I would excuse her and tell her that I'd call her soon so that we could catch up. I never did.

Does she also wonder about me? Does she consider me her "one"? I suppose this is an answer I hope to know. I attempt to find resolve in what has become unfulfilled, a loose end. What if she too has attempted to contact me? I mean, I had moved several times, and my phone number has been unlisted. Perhaps something once reminded her of me and she tried to reach me. Perhaps when I have attempted to reach her and she was brief, maybe this was her way of telling me how upset she had become with what we had the potential to be, and what we have become.

Truth be told, I doubt she thinks of me at all. Could I have meant so little? Am I just another person in her history? I imagine that she has found another. Perhaps this other lives in the same city. He doesn't need to dial an area code to contact her. Perhaps they live in that downtown apartment she and I could only speak of. He knows the nuances I never grew to know. He knows where she places her brief case when she arrives home from work. He knows just how much cream and sugar she likes in her coffee. He helps her find her car keys when they are lost. He knows her day in and day out, 365 days a year. I know her on holidays and vacations and through telephone conversations.

We seemed almost destined to be together from the start. We had a good beginning, a good intro. We met at a bookstore.

"Oh, I'm sorry I was gonna…," I said.

"No, that's okay. You had it first."

"Hmm, that's funny. I was gonna say that you..."

"No really. I believe that you grabbed it before me."

"Are you sure,? I think the Russian judge would have said you beat me."

"Pardon me,? she looked quizzically.

"I'm sorry. Bad joke."

"Well, what do you need it for?" she asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, what's the reason for you buying the book? I mean, I realize you want to read it and all."

"I need it for a class at the university."

"Well, okay you take it."

"You're giving up so easily? It seems we should at least flip a coin or do rock, paper, scissors," I jested.

"No really, I mean…it's a good reason."

"Well, I don't know. What's your reason?"

"It was recommended by a friend."

"Well I wouldn't feel right about taking it from you if a friend recommended it, unless of course, she's a bad friend. Is she?"

"No, she's not," she laughed.

"Are you sure you don't want to do rock, paper, scissors? It would make me feel better."

"No, I feel you should take it. Besides, I've never had very much luck with that game."

"Come to think of it, neither have I. I can never remember what beats what. Rock over paper, scissors over rock." I mimicked the movements with my hands.

"No, paper over rock," she said.

"Hmm?" I looked at her with skepticism.

"You see, the paper covers the rock." She covered my fist with her hand.

"Yes, I suppose you're right." I mused at the softness of her hand. "Listen," I said. "I want you to take the book. I don't really need it at the moment. I won't need it until later in the semester. I can get it from another place." I was lying through my teeth.

"But don't you need it for your class? Won't you fail without it?"

"No, really I can get by," I said.

"I don't feel right about taking this. Each page read will make me feel guilty. I'll feel responsible if you fail your class."

I asked a cashier if there were more copies in their stockroom. He typed in the book's title into the database and informed me that there were no more copies on hand and that a replacement shipment would not arrive for three weeks. I reminded her that I'd be all right without the book and insisted that she take it. I wrote my name and number on the book's inner sleeve and asked her to call me when she finished the book. Despite her apparent selflessness, I was resigned to believe that she wouldn't.

Nearly three weeks passed. I had just returned home from work and found a note resting on the kitchen counter with the name Audrey inscribed on it and a phone number that was long distance. I didn't recognize the name and wondered about the long distance number. Who is Audrey and why did she call? It was obviously a message taken earlier that day by my father. It was simply a name and a number. No explanation of who Audrey is or why she called (I believe that a universal code exists which forbids fathers from taking any detailed messages).

I decided to call her. It was shortly before nine-thirty in the evening. I didn't know anybody by this name and was curious. I was looking for work at the time and had sent out a few resumes. I figured that the phone number would provide me with a recording that would tell me whom she represents. It wasn't as if many people were knocking down my door to give me an interview. My lack of experience and school schedule prevented me from finding a job that would allow me to not count on my parents for a roof over my head. The phone rang four times before a woman's tired voice answered. It was not the recorded message I anticipated. I paused and uttered "Hello, this is Jason. I'm sorry to wake you, but I'm trying to reach an Audrey. You see, I got this message and…"

"This is Audrey. Hello Jason," she interrupted.

I didn't recognize the voice and scrambled to place it. "Um...hello."

"You don't know who I am, do you?"

"I must confess that I don't."

I explained to her about the written message and asked her how it is I may know her. She reminded me of the encounter at the bookstore. I was surprised that she had called.

"I'm surprised that you called," I said.

"Why do you say that?"

"I'm not sure. I suppose I figured you wouldn't."

"Well, you were kind enough to give me the book that day, even though it seemed more important that you take it. I must have seemed selfish."

"No don't be silly," I assured. "Besides, I found a copy at another store."

"Good, then I don't feel so bad about taking it," she chided.

"You right, you are selfish," I said jokingly. "Are you on vacation somewhere, you know, the long distance number?"

"No. I live in San Francisco. Truth is, I was attending a business conference when we met at the bookstore. Well, actually, I guess we didn't really meet. I just stole your book."

"So you finally admit it."

"Now I can admit it. I'm 500 miles away and besides, I have the book."

"I suppose you're right."

We spent the next three hours speaking on the telephone. This device brought a comfort among strangers. I was in my element. She was in hers. I never anticipated her calling me, yet when she did, it didn't seem out of place. It was so easy to speak with her. The telephone afforded us this easiness. We unfolded our stories. Each word uttered brought us closer. The neat thing is, I realized as it was happening that we had something special. When we met at the bookstore I thought of her as being pretty, but didn't think much beyond that. It wasn't love at first sight. I became attracted to the woman whose voice traveled through my phone cord. I couldn't remember how she looked. I didn't know if I'd ever see her again. For all I knew, this could have been our only conversation, but it wasn't. We had many other similar conversations. Weeks later she again would be conducting business in San Diego. We agreed to meet.

Weeks later we did meet. She called me when she arrived in town and we agreed to have lunch. I was nervous. We had great banter over the telephone, but how would we perform in person. Much to my relief our first date went without any problems. The second date, a trip to the zoo, also went without any problems and seemingly, every date we had since then was error free. Our lack of time was our only problem and this thought was something we always attempted to keep from surfacing, and we did this quite well. It was seldom that we ever went more than three weeks without seeing each other. I would visit her and she would visit me. My favorite time together was when she surprised me by arriving for my birthday, despite telling me for weeks that she would be out of town on business that day. It was a plot she corroborated with my family. Holiday weekends were the flavor because of the extra time.

I suppose it all changed one day in the autumn of that year. It was the day when we adjusted our clocks back an hour and the sun began to go down around five p.m. This time of year always saddens me because it makes me think of what has now been dubbed "the visit". I went to spend the weekend with her in the Bay Area. This visit didn't seem out of the ordinary. It was something I had done numerous times for the last two years. I didn't realize at the time that it would be the last time I would see her. I'm not sure if she realized it as well. I suppose it took us both by surprise. Everything seemed fine prior to my visit, but I knew the moment I saw her at the airport that something was different. She embraced me at the arrival gate but not the kind of embrace one would expect from their lover but moreover the kind one would expect from a friend. I didn't question it at the time, but felt an awkwardness between us. It was the first time I'd ever felt this way with her.

We had dinner at our usual restaurant and had trite conversation. It is this trite conversation which I have grown to hate. I asked her if everything was all right. She said that everything was fine and that she was feeling a little tired because of all the extra hours she had worked that week. After dinner we returned to her place. I tried to engage her in some conversation but she didn't respond with anything more than a few utterances. She undressed and went to bed. I did the same. We didn't speak again until morning.

I woke up to the sound of the telephone ringing. It was someone from work and they needed her to come in. It wasn't unusual for her to work on a Saturday but it was disappointing that she had to go in on this day. It was our time together and I didn't want to lose a minute of it, especially after what I had felt from her since the airport. I felt a need to talk with her about it.

"I love you," I said.

She did not respond.

Days later we were having a conversation on the telephone. There were many periods of silence. We both realized what was happening. It was our end. We agreed that it was for the best.

"It's for the best," she said."I'll be back in San Diego in a few weeks. Maybe I'll give you a call."

She never did.

Some people spend their entire lifetime attempting to find someone to utter three simple words to and when I found my someone, she lived in a city far from my own. Click.

Brian J. McDonald is an English as a Second Language instructor at the University of California San Diego. This is his first short story.

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