THIS IS A WORK OF ORIGINAL FICTION
It will be serialized over the next several days, and the finale will be marked with the traditional…THE END
Aaron Silverman vacantly stared into greasy, fingerprinted phone booth doors. He rubbed two quarters together between the middle finger and thumb of his right hand; a subtle, exterior tic manifested to control inner chaos. The faint sound of metallic friction, and the repetitive motion, calmed him to a degree, but he wouldn’t feel complete relief until he entered, ran his eyes along the frayed phone book pages, and dialed what he simultaneously longed and feared to be the correct number.
The untapped possibility caused a painful build up of hope. The twisted desire to hold onto the exquisite pain of possibility outweighed the need to relieve it with closure. So, he simply stood there, blank and still, except for the ineffectual abrasion of the two coins in his hand.
He felt the same tightness in his chest and tingle in his limbs he felt before he made this same call thirteen years ago. He didn’t have the manufactured courage and delirium born of adolescent fantasy and winter cabin fever, or Ronnie there to bully him into it this time, though. He wasn’t safely snowed into his parents’ suburban two-story; he was alone in an abandoned parking lot, in the baking summer heat, having internal debate about completing a task he first attempted in high school. That attempt was successful, which only added to his agonizing optimism.
Positive thinking inevitably led him to disappointment. With only the one exception, whenever he allowed his hopes to rise, they crashed down around him in disaster. He operated with less difficulty on the down slope. He moved his thoughts decidedly to the worst case scenario. If ‘worst case’ happened, he’d be validated by being right. If ‘worst case’ didn’t happen, he’d be uplifted by the pleasing shock of a better conclusion than the imaginary, catastrophic one he’d drawn for himself. He was happier as a pessimist.
He prepared to cope with failure. Setting himself up to fail was a tried and true defense mechanism. It’s what made him stand, rubber soled shoes sticking to scorching, broken blacktop, perspiring from heat and nerves, and fidgeting with fifty cents, in front of a relic from his past. Looking up the number on the internet was certainly more accurate, efficient, and convenient, and so was calling from his cell phone from somewhere climate controlled. Those call options, however, would save data in a search engine, or a redial log, or outgoing call bank. He wanted room for error to help him rationalize being wrong, and he didn’t want to delete a record of his wrongness when his mistake was confirmed. Plus, his own number wouldn’t show on anyone else’s caller ID. The gaffe couldn’t be traced back to him. Using this antique pay phone was not only symbolic, but would eliminate revisiting the blunder he was convinced he was making. It was worth the fifty cents to walk away without forfeiting his anonymity. He knew it was self-defeating. The only person who’d ever really beaten him at anything was himself. He’d constructed his own demise eleven years ago, leading to his current self-created dilemma.
He shifted his weight, pulled his shirt tail up to wipe the sweat from his face, and thought. Aaron was a thinker. He thought many people didn’t list their numbers, or only used mobile phones, which would render his search fruitless. He thought perhaps she’d married, and changed her surname. He thought maybe she didn’t live close enough to be in the local white pages anymore. He thought about calling a wrong number, of course. He thought he may call and a man would answer, forcing him to ask for her and likely cause undue tension in a presumed happy life. He WANTED her life to be happy, or to become happy upon his re-entry into it. His personally defined ‘worst case’ could happen: he’d call and she’d be available, but unreceptive, or even hostile toward him. Then there was the nagging ‘best case’ he was working to bury. It could do even more damage than ‘worst case.’ He could strike gold twice in a lifetime, endorsing his calamitous misstep years ago, fueling already crippling regret. He didn’t know which was worse; rejection soothed by authentication, or elation tainted by remorse.
His erratic, stalling thoughts turned from plausible outcomes to whether or not bravery really existed. He once thought it did, and sometimes even felt he possessed it, but over time, apathy, mislaid sacrifice, and unfortunate circumstance convinced him true valor was a myth. It could be explained away with biology. In youth, human beings’ brains weren’t developed enough to appreciate the nature of consequence, and this allowed them to be bold. They were too naive and headstrong to accept the likelihood that their grand plans would dare not happen. Then, of course, he began replaying history.