She had decided that it would be the very last time she called the number. Angela had insisted that she keep trying. “He won’t answer immediately,” she whimpered. “But he will. And I need my uncle.” She had wanted to call the child’s parents, but since she wouldn’t give her full name and the only number she would surrender was her uncle’s, she had no choice. The doctor wouldn’t treat her without parental consent. She had no such consent. And now, standing in the foyer of the emergency room, she was getting irritated at the one person the child insisted had to be there. “Pick up the damn phone!” she whispered under her breath. “Pick it up!”
John sat by his bed in the overstuffed maize colored chair. It was his favorite from growing up and the only thing he had insisted on inheriting when his mother died. All the other children split the fine china, the antiques, and the two million dollar policy they were surprised to learn about at the reading of her will. He told them to keep his portion and divide it among themselves. The lawyer raised her eyebrow ever so slightly as she explained in a monotone that he would have to sign an affidavit and get it notarized in order for them to take his quarter of the money and give it to his siblings. He had already anticipated her response and had brought his own attorney and a notarized statement surrendering any and all effects left to him, to be divided among his siblings and their children as allowed by law. He had already told his sisters that he only wanted the chair. Sitting here now, he waited once again for the phone to stop vibrating. He had looked at it each time, and had not recognized the number. He waited for the person on the other line to actually listen to his message instead of merely hanging up when the message center picked up. “Idiot,” he thought. “You can find out you have the wrong number if you just listen to the message.” He turned his thoughts back to the comfort of his chair and the latest collection of Alice Walker essays, “Living by the Word.” Running his fingers over book spines in Book Lover’s Haven, the title had caught his attention. He wrote, but had not yet figured out how to live by what he wrote and hoped there would be a hint, an inspiration in the volume that would help lead him.
She walked back into the emergency bay where Angela was curled into a fetal position with four blankets thrown over her. Even so the child shivered as if she were naked in a snow blizzard. Her heart hurt for the baby. “Honey, he still hasn’t answered. Please give me the name of someone else to call. Or I’m going to call the principal at the school to come identify you so we can get you some help.” Her own desperation was talking over. Almost in concert The Voice and the little girl said, “No!” She shivered, but not from cold. “Please try one more time,” Angela said. “He’s there. He’ll answer this time.” She sighed, some out of frustration, some out of compassion, but mostly out of unbelief. Thirty minutes of nonstop calling did not give her hope that this time would be a charm.
He put the book down and closed his eyes to imagine himself at a reading from his own novel and a book signing. He saw himself smiling as his sisters and their children lined the walls, watching him with admiration. He caught Angela’s eye and winked. She was his favorite niece, the child he never had. He was more than uncle to her and, holding her when she was five as she cupped his face, he promised her with the earnestness that she demanded that he would never leave her. This promise felt more covenant than anything he had ever said in his life, and he had meant it. In this reverie, she looked intently at each person that approached him and either approved or not. She had his attention even as he signed books, but…
The phone interrupted his daydream. He looked again. It was that number again. He decided this time to tell the person how much of an idiot he thought she or he was.
“Hello, you crazy person,” he answered the phone with the irritation and sarcasm he felt. She was taken aback and paused. “Well. You’ve been calling for the past 30 minutes. What’s wrong? You realize you’re an idiot when I answered the phone.” He was amused at the silence on the other end. “I, I… I’m calling for your niece Angela.” She didn’t know how to respond to his rudeness. But she knew Angela needed her not to give a damn about his phone manners in that moment.
“What?!? What’s wrong? Who is this? Where is Angela?!” he asked with rapid fire cadence as he reached for his keys and his coat. “WHERE is my NIECE?” he screamed.
“Angela is going to be okay. She’s at Mercy Hospital and asked for you.” The phone clicked off. She knew the rude uncle was on his way and she would have to meet him. She wanted to calm down before she did because right now, in that bed crying was a little girl who needed them both. The Voice had insisted.