As the phone rang at their flat, Liam read the scribbles on the booth wall, wondering if Elizabeth was tired of the calls from curious strangers, or if this Jack fellow could actually perform the unusual act he was being credited for. He was running through the Jacks he knew when his wife answered the phone. ”Mags, don’t hang up, please. I need you to hear me out.”
It felt strange to call his wife from a pay phone and actually have something to say. It was usually just to apologize for the hour and reset her expectations. Now they had to talk, really talk, and he felt a twinge of youth rush through him. He’d courted her on the phone when they went to university, different ones, and it was a pleasant, familiar feeling, with the exception of his wife now barraging him with curses. He waited for a short span of silence before speaking again.
“Mags, have I ever lied to you?” They both knew the answer was no.
“That was an important game, and you know I prefer matches at the pub. And that was more of a deception than a lie, because…..okay, fair enough. You’re right, and I’m sorry about that one.” Liam didn’t agree, but he was eager to move the discussion toward current events. “But I certainly wouldn’t lie to you about having something on the side, because I would never have something on the side. You’re the love of my life, Mags. I think the forty years on my CV underscore that.” The truth is, he thought she was daft for thinking he’d have to courage to bare his pale, doughy body to some young tart. He barely liked being naked in front of her unless there was a brass ring at the end, but he kept this to himself.
“They aren’t love letters, Mags. It’s a novel. Yes, that’s what I’m writing, a story told through those letters.” It was true. He was 56 years old and in much the way one catches a virus, invisibly and irrevocably, he’d caught the bug to write a book. He couldn’t tell her the reason he’d kept it to himself because she’d say it wasn’t true, even though it was. She had a particular box in which she kept him, and any anomaly that didn’t fit in that box would be tossed with chuckle. He was a motor head, and as much as he knew she loved him, she discouraged him from being more than that.
“True, it’s not a proper novel. But there are a million proper novels. I don’t want to mimic the whole world. I want to make something new.” What he wanted to do with his novel was show how a man reveals himself in the way he loves. How it brings out the better in him when he’s striving to be as good as he thinks his lover imagines him to be. He wanted to show how much it mattered to have someone who mattered. Writing it as a series of love letters seemed like an interesting way to do it.
“I couldn’t type it, Mags. You’d have asked for sure if I’d been in there tapping furiously for an hour every night. Writing with a pen sounds just like reading. This could be filed under deception, too, because……okay, fair enough.” He wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he knew enough to pick the right battles.
“Mags, just consider this: if these truly were letters to some young thing, why would they be stacked in my desk drawer? Why no stash of envelopes and postage?” He was pleased to have stumbled upon this angle. It seemed irrefutable, and he was relieved that she didn’t have a bellicose reply.
“Absolutely, I should have, you’re absolutely right. But didn’t Evelyn seem uncannily familiar? Did you read them?” While Liam had caught the bug to write a book, he was not a fanciful man and could not conceive of pacers like Forsyth and Fleming or treacle like Herriot. He’d read a how-to book about writing novels that advised he write about what he knew, and since he didn’t want to pen a memoir about fixing cars, he wrote about a prize idiot who fell in love with a woman he couldn’t live without. He just called her Evelyn so it would qualify as fiction.
“I understand. But I want you to read one. The fourth one, the one that starts with a grouse about Einstein. Yes, right now. I’ll wait.” He knew she’d know there was no Evelyn. The rant he’d written was the same rant, with better editing, that he’d delivered through the phone wires so many years ago, how Einstein had spent too much energy on time and space and not enough on distance. Why, if the wild-haired man was so smart, had he not figured out how to bend the map to make their two towns touched and he could jump from his dot to hers to be in her arms?
“Of course it’s us, Mags. There’s nothing in me but us. I’m full. I don’t want anything else.” He looked at his face in the reflection of the glass. He looked like an old man, and felt 20 years old.
“You too. I’ll be right home.”
© 2016 WPReagan. This is one story in the 2016 series, Everyday Stories: 30 Tales in 30 Days Inspired by 30 Stranger’s Photographs.