He did not know if he had woken himself up, or if the ringing of the phone had done it. Either way though he was awake. He got out of bed, and picked the phone off the table, looking at the time before opening the cover. Whoever was calling hopefully had a good reason for calling at half past one.
“Hello,” he said quietly into the phone. Estelle, his girlfriend, was still asleep, and left the room as he was answering so that she would not wake up.
“Marc,” a small yet familiar voice said, “it’s Mom.”
“Mom, what’s wrong.”
“It’s your father. He’s not home yet.”
“When did he day he would be home?” Marc asked, walking over to the couch.
“He told me he would be right home tonight,” Mom said.
He sat down on the couch, “Well, maybe he just got held up. You know how sometimes there’s just a rush right before he leaves.”
“This isn’t Chicago, Marc. This is Bedford. There’s no road where there might be a twelve car pile up. Anyway, I’ve been listening to the radio. There were no reports of anything.”
“You know, he’s probably just out. He does this all the time.”
“I know, but he said that he would be straight home, he knows how I worry…”
“Did you call him?”
“Even if he takes the cell phone when he goes out, the fool just leaves it in his jacket, under a pile of 600 other jackets on vibrate. There’s no real point in having the thing in the first place.”
“Well, no news is good news,” he said, resisting the urge to lay back.
“No news just means that they haven’t put out the wreckage yet,” Mom said, audibly upset.
“Mom, you can’t do this to yourself. Why don’t you go back to sleep?”
“Because I can’t sleep till he’s in bed next to me. Why does he do this to me? He knows how I worry.”
Marc assumed his usual position on the couch. He lay back against the pillows on the couch, and sighed. After the last few months this position was becoming familiar, especially at this time of night. His mother called, panicked about anything from why his sister had not called her in two days, to a dream she had about his grandmother who had been dead for 20 years. The calls tended to cycle though, and lately complaining about his father had become a favorite.
Maybe his father was driving home, and came upon an accident, and was being a Good Samaritan by helping out the people. It’s possible, but it was not likely. Perhaps he had a flat tire. She would just worry about him being along the side of the road alone. There was the possibility he was out drinking and lost track of time. Truthfully this was the most accurate, but that was not the response for which Mom was looking.
“Mom,” said Marc. “You have to try and relax. This isn’t doing anyone any good, least of all yourself.”
“I’m sorry to call you, but if I called your sister, I would have woken up Sam or if I called your brother, he would have just gotten annoyed.”
“No Mom, it’s ok. If you’re worried, I would prefer you called me instead of just sitting there alone.”
Marc rubbed his eyes. “The only other thing I can think to do is call the hospital.”
“Well, I think I will wait until 3 for that.”
“Mom, you have to relax. I know it’s not easy, but this isn’t helping anyone.”
“I know, but I don’t know what else to do. Why does he do this to me?”
“Well, I am just keeping you up. Thanks for talking to me. I am going to hang up, and I will call you back if he’s not home by 3.”
“Ok Mom, I love you. Try and relax.”
“I love you too, Marc. Bye.”
Marc got up off the couch and walked back to the bedroom. He plugged the phone back into the charger, waited for the flash and the charging beep, and lay back down in bed.
“So who was on the phone, she asked already knowing the answer,” she said slightly muffled by the pillow.
“Sorry if I woke you up, but you know no one else is going to talk to her,” Marc said curling up against her and kissing her on the shoulder.
“Your sister uses those children like escape pods. I swear she had those kids as more of a bargaining chip than love.”
“Well, you tell me, who would you rather come home to; me or that Neanderthal Sam.”
“I don’t even want to think about him.”
“If that’s the case, then you could think about me.”
“And I’ll have pleasant dreams.”
“You know, the night is young.”
“And so are we, and there will be many other nights.”
“So then I am going to go back to sleep, because I have to face 20 kids tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t be up that long.”
“Yeah, that sweetens it. Sorry, but those kids are the best argument against. Goodnight.”
Marc kissed Estelle on the back of the neck and returned to his side of the bed. Images of what had happened began to flash through his head. His father had been injured, and was laying in the car, bleeding to death. He would have to take off work to go be with his mother. The rest of his family would never do it, so it was all up to him.
Marc’s sister always had the excuse of being a girl to get her out of most anything. Marc was always surprised that his father always believed her when she said that she just didn’t understand math after coming home with a new dress. This excuse came from the same girl who had aced honors calculus her senior year. His father would smile, say he understood, and nothing more was mentioned.
Looking back on his life, there were only a handful of events in his life where alcohol had not been present. Both he and his sister had pictures of a hand mysteriously similar to his father’s holding a beer to give the illusion that the child was drinking. Most events involved the same group of friends coming to the family parties for baptisms, communions or confirmations. The same group of friends he had from elementary school, high school, and attended college, and would inevitably be there to his dying day.
He imagined the funeral, most likely at a church. All sorts of people his mother never knew would be there, coming up to the casket, saying goodbye. She would be lost among the faces, even more so because she had always said that if anything happened to his father, she would have to be heavily medicated to make it through.
Mom would be speaking softly, sharing treasured memories about her husband’s life. She would tell anyone who would listen about how they met, and how they fell in love. She would smile and remember their first dates, and how he gave her a ring, and a house, and a family. Tonight would not be among the topics.
His sister would be there, with her husband Sam, and their beautiful screaming chain of children. Children were great, so long as he could just play with them, and then send them home to their parents after they were heavily dosed with sugar. His sister would cry the same tears she cried that got her that first car. Sam would put his arm around her, consoling her, telling her how he was a great man.
People would come up to his mother, and up to him (because to whom else would she cling) and tell them how sorry he or she was to hear of his father’s passing. This must be such a sad time for them, and how if there was anything they could do to help, just let them know. People that had long severed connections with the family for one reason or another would appear from places he had not been in years. Everyone would be putting up a saddened façade, but really the whole atmosphere would be a reunion of sorts.
After the ceremony, Sam would pass the children to his wife, and go out with his friends. Later, Marc would get a call from his mother, who was called by his sister after Sam had been arrested, and needed to be bailed out of jail. His sister could not go alone, so he would be called to drive his thoroughly drunk brother-in-law home. After Sam was asleep, his sister would call him, crying about how she finally understood what Mom meant about the sacrifices of marriage.
He moved closer to Estelle, and put his arm around her. She turned in towards him, and moved closer against him. She slowly put her arms around him and kissed him.
“What was that for?” he asked, kissing her on the forehead.
“Nothing,” she said, smiling and looking into his eyes. “I’m cold. Come closer.”
Marc moved so that her head was against his chest. Estelle exhaled heavily and pulled her legs against his.
“Do you love me?”
“Come on Stell, you know I do.”
“And will you make an honest woman of me someday?”
“And we’ll have everything?”
“Mm, hm, with a ring, and a house, and a family.”
Estelle smiled and ran her hands through Marc’s hair. She looked up at him with her green eyes, and shook her head softly. Marc lay there, listening to the streetlight buzz outside, and eventually turn off. He thought about finishing college. They only had a few more years, but there was still graduate school. If he played his cards right, maybe he could be an eternal student. Estelle could teach, and he would work some desk job. They would be happy enough to get by. But he thought that there was no point in worrying about things. After all, everything happens eventually. Marc closed his eyes, put his head against Estelle’s and tried to go back to sleep.