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If you’d told him at twenty that he’d be starting over at forty-five and be remarried with two not-yet-teenage boys at fifty-five he’d have called you a liar while slapping you heartily on the back and offering to buy your next round. He was still known to buy the occasional round, though no one ever saw him drink anymore. It would usually be a birthday. He’d turn up early the night of a buddy’s birthday, walk in like he owned the place, throw down a wad of crisp twenties, bang the gong, and holler “first round’s on me; Happy Birthday!” before clapping the birthday boy on the back and laughing that laugh.
He had the best laugh. Women of course loved it. But even the guys had to admit they lived for the sound of it. The laugh made everyone else laugh and brought out a light in even the darkest corner of that shitty small town bar. It was the laugh he’d be known for. The laugh they’d all talk about at his funeral (the one they had even though he’d expressly forbidden it in his will). But that wouldn’t be for another thirty-two years. At fifty-five he was still in his prime and very much the incredulous and grateful father of two as yet pre-teen boys and the husband of one soon-to-be-dead wife. And he was happy.
Sure, he sometimes found himself thinking what life would be like if he’d never had more kids. He’d still be drinking at the local every Friday night before slipping away when the evening crowd arrived, tab paid in full with a tip and his drink nearly empty. He probably wouldn’t have married that gal if he’d never knocked her up. He’d like to think they’d still be together though, even without the ring or the kids. Hell, he loved her before the kids but isn’t sure she would have stuck through some of his nastier traits without the little ones to consider. Still. He liked to think they’d still be together.
But that quiet life really wasn’t for him. He couldn’t think of anything he liked more than the sound of her whistling some tune he could never place as she pulled out dishes and directed the boys to set the table. All the sounds of life happening all around him. This was what he’d always wanted and he did his best to make sure they all knew it every day.
He’d just finished reading through his emails for the day, deleting most of them with no reply, and had wandered into the kitchen to scrounge up a snack which his phone rang. He could hear the damn thing clear across the house and he cursed as he realized he’d once again left the mobile phone immobile by his desk.
“It’s a good thing she’s gone or she’d be laughing at me,” he thought as he tried to make his lumbering into more of a jog so he could catch the phone before it went to voicemail. Realizing he’d never get there in time he considered just grabbing the snack he’d come in for first but continued toward the phone anyway.
Just as he took the turn through the doorway towards the desk his toe caught the door trim and the immediate blinding pain made him rock back.
“God damn it!” tore out of his mouth as he reeled about trying to plant his ass in the rolling chair so he grab his foot, as though through sheer power of massive hand squeezing he could stop the pain.
Sure enough the phone had stopped ringing and he heard the familiar tone indicating whoever had called had left a voicemail. After ensuring there was no blood and his toenail probably wouldn’t fall off, he picked up the phone and proceeded through the motions of discovering who had called and why. The area code was local but he didn’t recognize the number. He hit the button that would play the voicemail and listened to the strange emptiness all messages seemed to have before they got started.
“This is Clark County Hospital. Please contact us immediately at four-five-oh-six-two-two-one-three-two-five and ask for doctor Voss’ unit. Thank you.”
His first thought was that this was a mistake. His family had only just left, they were fine. None of his friends would use him as an emergency contact as they all had spouses or immediate family in town. The only other option would be his brother, who had lived in town his whole life too. But his brother was away on a fishing trip, some big river thing in Montana, and the voicemail had come from the local hospital.
Pressing the link that would return the hospital call he heard it ring once before a voice answered, “Clark County Hospital, is this an emergency?”
“Uh, no, I don’t think so.”
“Please hold,” a voice said crisply. Before he could argue he heard a loud boop and then silence.
He waited patiently for about thirty seconds, then pulled his phone away to see how long he’d been on the call. He made a deal with himself that if the phone didn’t get picked back up in the next thirty seconds he’d hang up and call again. Just as he was about to make good on his deal, the loud boop came again followed by, “thank you for waiting. How can I direct your call?”
“I’m returning a call for Dr. Voss’ unit?” he said. He’d meant it to be a statement, but it came out like a question.
The loud boop. Silence. Again. Funny thing this kind of silence though. It’s not the complete lack of sound. Is there ever a complete lack of sound? This silence was more of a technological silence. There was the strange whisper of being connected to someone somewhere.
“Dr. Voss’ unit, Nurse Ditmire speaking. How can I help you?”
“I’m just returning a voicemail from this number?” again, it came out like a question. He was irritated with himself and realized he sounded like his wife when she was confused.
“Yes, sir. Your name please?”
“This is Paul. Paul Easton.”
“Easton,” he heard her say under her breath as he heard what sounded like papers being moved around. “Ah, yes, Easton. Sir, I’m going to need you to hold for Dr. Voss please.”
And there it was again. Boop. Silence.
~~~That’s one hour~~~