By Melissa McGraw
Back before area codes (cradled in the curve of parentheses) preceded every dial. Back when a caller was revealed only after the connection was made, when the underlying din of traffic was the only indication your line was pre-paid and public, when the technology that cataloged your bursts of bravado and oh so many hang ups was not yet a given… that was when you called him.
That tall boy, flirting with manhood, who stepped out of the hallways and into your dreams. Yes, that dream.
You were so desperate to be loved, then. The depths of womanhood—that ancient copper knowledge—within you, but just out of reach. Each lunar cycle drawing you ever closer to the woman you would become.
Not just yet. That afternoon was an uninterrupted stretch of lemon-yellow light, pink-purple-red tulips parting their petals, teasing you and the bees with their subtle perfume.
Alone in your bedroom, you flipped through the school directory and traced his name, tested the shape of it on your tongue, imagined the sound of his voice hitched with the pleasant surprise of hearing yours.
But you had yet to speak to this boy, had merely passed him on your way to algebra or art, then tallied the sighting in your spiral notebook, peonies blooming in your cheeks.
Your best friends had snared you in a dare, and that afternoon you were buoyed by Coca-Cola and an empty house. The phone lines were open.
So you dialed. Waited while the tone droned 5, 10 times. Then the click of the answering machine, his mother’s request for you to please leave a message. You couldn’t disconnect fast enough.
Did you call your friends next, the ones who grew up across the street, where they were awaiting your report, telephone clasped between their ponytailed heads? Did the sound of the distant ocean echo in the shell of your ear when they insisted that a missed call wasn’t enough, that you had to actually talk to him to satisfy the dare?
Perhaps. Because that long afternoon was punctuated by deep breaths, misdials, hollow rings, and the ever-present answering machine. Eventually you got over your apprehension, memorized those seven digits, and devised a schedule to redial.
You were actually caught off guard when someone finally answered, hours later. You asked for him—at last saying that name out loud—wishing for a cord to coil between your shaking fingers as you waited.
When he answered, you suddenly calmed. This wasn’t so bad. You didn’t even mind when he told you your voice had been mistaken for his cousin’s—a child still—and that’s why he came to the phone.
Because he didn’t know you. He didn’t know your older brother, either, though they were in the same grade.
No matter. You navigated past pleasantries and slipped into secrets. So easy to admit your crush when he was just a voice, when you could picture him as he was in your dream, where you were in control. You made him promise not to tell. His chuckle was that of a college guy—though that wouldn’t be his path out of your small town.
He had confessions too. At least that’s how they sounded to you. And when you later hung up the phone and descended the stairs in a dizzy daze, you were sure something had begun.
The next day at school you spotted his blond head above so many others in the fluorescent hallway. He looked right at you as he smirked to his friends, as you skulked past their honking laughs, head down, wanting to die.
But you made it through the day. And in your journal that night you rewrote the ending.
Standing tall at your locker, you shrugged him off as you did your bookbag, tousled your hair in the mirror, and gently pursed your luscious lips to blow yourself a kiss.
Melissa McGraw earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Carroll University. She has been published in Wisconsin People & Ideas, Anthills, Arbor Vitae, RE/VERSE, The Shout, Portage Magazine, Century, and Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar. She lives in Madison with her husband and two rescue dogs, seeking aesthetically pleasing adventures.