Blind Kid Calling
“Hello, I’m Brian,” said a voice I didn’t recognize. “What’s your name?”
I wanted to hang up. But it was obviously a kid, so I said, “Raymond. My name is Raymond.”
“Hi, Raymond,” he said. “Ms. Dunbar gave me her number when I was in first grade. I still know it.”
Something clicked in my head. I knew who this was. My wife had told me about a blind student of hers who had this incredible memory. I could still see her face when she spoke of him. She felt something for the kid.
“Are you Ms. Dunbar’s husband?” he said.
“Yes,” I said, dropping my head back on the pillow. The middle of the afternoon and I’d been lying on top of the covers with my shoes on. “I am.”
“Raymond,” he said. “How does Ms. Dunbar like the school she’s teaching at now?”
“She likes it very much,” I said.
“Is she at school right now?”
“Yes, she is,” I lied. “I’ll tell her you called. Good b—”
“Tell her I’m seven now.”
“I will. Okay—”
“How old are you?”
I took a breath. “Forty-one,” I said. The dog was on the bed with me. He looked at me as if unsure of what I was doing.
“How old is Ms. Dunbar?”
“You’re two years older than her.”
“That’s right,” I said. “I’m older. Alright now, good—”
“You get to see her every day.”
“Ah huh,” I said.
“That must be great to see her every day. I wish I could.”
“I wish you could too. Now—”
“I like all my teachers, but I like Ms. Dunbar the best.”
“That’s really great,” I said. “I’m really glad she’s your favorite. I’m sure you’re not alone. It wouldn’t surprise me if some other students liked her too. That wouldn’t surprise me in the least. I don’t think. Okay…now—”
“Maybe I could come over to your house sometime and see her.”
“You want to see Ms. Dunbar at our house?” I said.
“My mom would drive me. My mom knows Ms. Dunbar too.”
“Your mom knows Ms. Dunbar too,” I said.
Brian didn’t respond.
“You still there?” I said. “Are we done?”
“I wish I could talk to Ms. Dunbar right now. I miss her.”
I closed my eyes. “Yeah,” I said. “You miss her.”
“Tell…” he said, “tell Ms. Dunbar that I love her.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. “I guess that’s good.”
“I like talking to Ms. Dunbar,” he said.
“Yeah, right,” I said.
“Maybe next time she’ll be home,” he said.
“I can’t promise that,” I said. “Ms. Dunbar spends a lot of time away from home.”
“Ms. Dunbar loves me. She told me,” he said.
“Yeah, okay, I understand. Ms. Dunbar loves you. She means something to you.”
“That’s all I want to say,” he said. “My mom told me to say good bye.”
“Well, if your mom says to hang up then I guess you better hang up. It’s been good talking to you about Ms.—” He hung up.
I placed the phone back on the nightstand, put my head on the pillow and closed my eyes.
The phone woke me. I looked at the clock. How much time had gone by? I didn’t know since I couldn’t remember what time it was when I fell asleep. The room was dark.
“Hello?” I said, picking up the receiver.
“This is Brian. Is Ms. Dunbar home from school now?”
“Ah, well, no,” I said. “Not yet.”
“My mom said she should be home by now. It’s late.”
“Right,” I said. “She was home, then she had to go to the store for something. She has a lot to do tonight.” I hated lying to the kid but he gave me no choice.
“Oh. I still want to talk to her.”
“Okay, first thing when she gets home I’ll tell her to call you. It might not be today or tomorrow, but when she gets a minute I’m sure she’ll make time to call you.”
“She doesn’t know my number,” he said.
“Okay, well, why don’t you tell it to me and I’ll write it down.”
The kid told me his number as I closed my eyes and cultivated the sleep still in my head.
“I don’t hear you writing it down,” he said. “I can hear when people write but I don’t hear you.”
I opened my eyes. “Ah, yeah, you see—I don’t need to write it down. I have a good memory,” I told him.
“Like me,” he said. “You have a good memory like me.”
“Yeah, just like you,” I said. “I’m just like you.”
“Tell me my number,” he said, “so I can see if you remembered it right.”
The kid was more than I bargained for. What do you do with a kid like this? Just to be on the safe side, I said, “Why don’t you tell it to me again?”
He did. This time I listened and repeated it back to him. That seemed to satisfy him.
“Now you know it,” he said. “You can tell it to Ms. Dunbar. I don’t want to know her cell phone number, so don’t tell it to me. My mom says I should just know her home phone.”
“Okay, I won’t tell you. No problem. Alright, Brian,” I said. “I think we’re all squared away.”
“My mom said that it would be rude if I called Ms. Dunbar’s cell phone, so I won’t do it.”
“That’s good,” I said. “Now I think it’s time to get going.”
“You give Ms. Dunbar my number. I want to talk to her.”
“But remember though, it might take—” I started to say but the kid hung up.
I set the receiver back, looked at the dog. He needed to go out. It had been a while. He jumped off the bed then jumped back on, then off again. That was his signal. He sat there looking at me, pleading his case. He barked to let me know he was serious. He had expectations of me that I wasn’t meeting. “In a little bit,” I told him.
I took my shoes off and tossed them on the floor. The dog sniffed them then jumped back up and settled at the foot of the bed. He knew what taking my shoes off meant. I slid my legs under the covers, pushed the back of my head into the pillow and thought for a little while about nothing in particular.
Something woke me up, the dog barking downstairs or the warm piss in my pants. I called for the dog but he didn’t come.
The room was bright with light. I lay there opening and closing my eyes. I had trouble keeping them open so I closed them and kept them closed.
The phone rang. Maybe it had been ringing and that was what woke me. It might have been ringing for a while. I didn’t know. My eyes shut, I reached over and felt around for the phone. “Yeah,” I said, dropping the receiver beside my ear on the pillow.
“Ms. Dunbar didn’t call me,” the kid said. “Schools are closed Saturdays.”
“Yeah?” I said. “I know.”
“Why didn’t she call me?” He sounded hurt.
“You ask a lot of questions,” I told him.
At first he didn’t say anything. He just breathed. “Is Ms. Dunbar alright?” he said.
“Yeah, she’s alright.”
“She didn’t call me,” he said. “Did you give her my number?”
“Another question,” I said. “Where are you going to take this?” I was losing my patience. “You there?” I said.
“Does Ms. Dunbar live with you?” he said.
I opened my eyes. “You know things, don’t you?” I said.
“My dad doesn’t live with us,” he said. “My mom doesn’t love my dad. My dad doesn’t call here anymore.”
I took a good breath. “Uh huh,” I said.
“Ms. Dunbar doesn’t love you, does she?” he said.
I pressed the phone against my ear and sat up. I looked around the room. The dog must have stopped barking some time ago, but I was just now realizing that the house was quiet, that this kid’s voice in my ear was all I could concentrate on. For a second I forgot where I was and what I was doing.
I opened my mouth but nothing came out. Finally, I said, “You’re very bright, you know that?”
He made a noise I didn’t recognize. It might have been a sigh. Then he said, “I’m not going to remember this number anymore.”
“No? Why not?”
“I’m not going to call it again.”
I didn’t know what to say to the poor kid.
“Ms. Dunbar said she loved me,” he said.
“I know. You told me.”
“She said I could call this number any time and talk to her.”
“But that’s not true. I can’t call her and talk to her. I can’t at all.”
I didn’t like the way he sounded, as if I was letting him down. “Hey,” I said, “you can still call here. We’ve talked enough now that you can consider me a friend. Right? You know me.”
He didn’t say anything. I figured he was thinking about what I’d said about me as a friend. “Hey, why not? Huh? Why not me?” I said, surprising myself by the vigor in my voice. “I got nothing better to do. I’ll listen to you. And talk to you, just like Ms. Dunbar. Call any time. What do you say, Brian? Huh? You and me. Can we be friends?”
I waited on this kid’s answer. But he wasn’t speaking. I could hear his breathing. I could even hear his thinking. He was thinking that nothing good had come from his phone calls to Ms. Dunbar’s number, just a desperate proposal from the man Ms. Dunbar didn’t love anymore. He wasn’t going to waste any more effort talking to him. He couldn’t see a future in it.
That’s why he hung up.