The phone began to ring.
When they had gone to the mall to pick out the new phone, Rex stood a good ten feet away from the counter- arms crossed across his chest, staring blankly at a display of cell phone accessories, suppressed anxious energy belied by his posture. The boy at the shop was very pleasant, Bree had thought, well-mannered and groomed, and knowledgeable about every aspect of the products as she inquired about caller ID, and asked if the phones were properly sculpted to rest comfortably on the shoulder.
It was also important that the phone have a nice ring. A volume setting that was loud enough to hear around the house- but not too loud, not offensive to company. A tone that was sufficiently low, soothing, and of a long duration, distinguishable as a telephone ringing, but not invasive or brash.
She realized her tears were falling onto the tablecloth, the saline discoloring the silk threads, and she hastily wiped at them with a swipe of her hand, only to leave dark streaks below her fingertips. Tracing them slowly, the phone continued to ring, one call after another picked up by the answering machine with a cheerful beep, followed by murmured tones.
She couldn’t believe the phone was already ringing. Next would come the trays of muffins and dishes of soggy lasagna, bouquets of wilted daisies from the neighbor’s ill-tended garden, and a stream of tight, sad faces, one melting into the next like one long streak of teardrops on her antique silk tablecloth.
The phone was interrupted by the doorbell. They began to play off one another in a fractured waltz, as she hummed silently to their tune between her sobs, alternately gazing at her left hand before pinning it down with her right, to obscure it from view, only to find herself seconds later fixed upon it again. The funereal cacophony playing behind her, she was staring at her knuckles when the sound went dead. Drawing her eyes up, she tried to focus on the figure standing at the other end of the table.
“My cleaning is done,” she whispered. Lynette said nothing as she slowly slid closer to Bree’s end of the table, grimacing as Bree’s head lolled into her arms and she began to shake.
Placing one hand on Bree’s back, Lynette bent and pulled a thick lock of hair that had escaped from Bree’s mane and tucked it behind her ear. “Your house is really easy to break in to; you should do something about that.”
Tilting her head up, Bree sighed. “You heard?”
Lynette nodded, once again absent-mindedly stroking Bree’s hair. “Your phone is ringing, would you like me to get it?”
“No,” Bree choked on the simple word. “I…”
“Okay,” Lynette cooed, pulling up a chair and taking Bree’s hands into hers on her lap. “We’ll take care of it later.”
“We?” Bree muttered, not as a condemnation, but in an honestly confused reply, her voice weak from the exertion of her crying.
“Yeah,” she replied. “We. Do you want to lie down for a little while? Why don’t you go lay down on the couch and I’ll run and get you a washcloth.”
Nodding, she allowed Lynette to pull her up and guide her to the couch, pulling off her shoes as she stared up at the ceiling.
Lynette disappeared for a moment, and Bree noticed the phone ringing again. It was like putting your ear up to a seashell, she thought, dense and familiar, and she closed her eyes as it rang and rang and rang. She tried to begin cataloguing what needed to be done, but the ideas kept slipping away- obituaries and caskets, getting Rex’s best suit dry-cleaned, talking with the pastor about Biblical selections for the service, what type of stone would be most appropriate for his headstone. Their headstone. Should she have her name put on it now, with the final date left open, or was that too morbid? And the kids…
Lynette returned, a wan smile across her face, with a cup of tea and the promised cool, damp rag. Bree allowed Lynette to place it over her eyes, and could hear the shuffling of Lynette pulling a chair over to the couch, trying desperately not to scratch the furniture or the floor.
Lynette didn’t reply, just leaned over her friend and placed a ghost of a kiss on the apple of her cheek.
The phone rang once more and lulled them both into fitful sleep, Bree curling into the back of the couch and Lynette’s head resting awkwardly on her own shoulder, the stains on the tablecloth in the other room settling into the fabric, the doorbell joining in sporadically in a marching time.
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