Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Chapter twenty-one: phone call

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 7/11/2020

That wasn’t the last time he called.
All of a sudden, Josh began calling me every other week or so. Just to say hi. If I wasn’t available, I’d hear his awkward voice mail, telling me about his last patient, or just to tell me what the weather was like. I liked to listen.
Somehow, somewhere, our roles switched.
No matter how I look at it, even if I protected Josh in one respect, Josh was the one who kept me sane. I went to him when something was bothering me and I couldn’t bear to get lectured about it. I went to him when something was fascinating but no one else could understand me. Even if Josh had no idea what I was talking about half the time, he at least got excited over me being excited.
I realized that he didn’t really talk to me that much about anything. I knew he wanted to be a veterinarian, but that was obvious. What I didn’t know was how knowledgeable he was about canine anatomy or lists of endangered animals. I was clueless about the subject of rabbit eating habits, but I was enthralled when he started ranting about this one shelter down the street that feeds their bunnies all wrong.
“I’m sorry,” he suddenly said one early morning, “am I rambling?”
I was caught off-guard. “No,” I replied, almost disgustedly. To be honest, I wanted to know more about the capybara and why you can’t just adopt one. “Don’t worry about it. Now, where were we, capybara pack habits?”
He remained paused. “You were listening?”
He couldn’t tell that my eyebrow did this weird judgmental quirk. “Why wouldn’t I be? I’ve never heard about this stuff. I’m really interested. I can now say I’ve had a crash-course in veterinary knowledge.”
His amazement was audible. “It’s just that… no one really listens to me over here.” The words slurred out of his mouth in a mutter. As if he barely wanted to say it out loud.
I crossed my room, a fist digging into my hip. I sort of pulled a muscle somewhere in there a couple days ago.
“Oh?” I felt like an idiot. Mainly because I couldn’t just tell him, ‘oh, I’m sure they do in their own way’ or ‘what if they surprise you sometime’. I was so sure there was something I could say but it wasn’t coming to me.
“You know, like, getting excited about stuff and wanting to talk about it and… and everyone else just… I don’t know, Aunt Grace says she listens, but I can see it in her face she just wants me to feel listened to. Yeoreum is just a little kid, so she says it as it is, and Uncle Chan is doing stuff then just puts in, like, filler words to look like he’s listening.” I heard him gulp. “I don’t know. I feel like that hurts more than people clearly not listening.”
I sat down at my desk.
“That sucks a lot.”
He breathed out. “So thanks.” He chuckled slightly. “It… it means more than you think.”
I smiled, and a warm, soft, feeling of being helpful bloomed in my chest, just like a sunrise.
“It’s my pleasure.”
The pause wasn’t too long, but it was thoughtful all the same. I figured I enjoyed not having problems to talk my way through, or a rant to be made. I liked listening for once, and learning instead of teaching.
“It’s just… kind of hard… you know?” he muttered. “When people aren’t interested in what you find cool.”
I winced slightly inside. I barely talked to anyone other than those I could really talk to, those who found what I liked to be at least a little interesting.
“Yeah, I can feel that.”
“It sucks. Really bad. You just feel like you have to shut up and no one will even notice if you do.”
Did he ever do that with me?
“I guess that’s why I like to listen to you a lot. I like being what I want others to be for me.”
“You listen to everything,” I said with admiration. “How?”
“Oh. I don’t know, but it makes me feel better.” I could hear his shrug. “Just to listen. Even if nobody’s talking. It’s really calming, actually.”
“Yeah? How long did it take you to figure it out?”
He was quiet a moment.
“Years of not talking.”
I hit a sensitive nerve there, I was pretty sure.
“You’re really strong, Josh,” I said quietly. “I hope you know that. Really deep down.”
“Thank you,” his voice quivered slightly, but I knew he was smiling.

The wind swept across the surface of the water. The undisturbed deep blue shattered into white caps every now and again. I could catch a glimpse of the setting sun through the nearly opaque silver screen that the sky became. I sat on the dark rocks, silent. I wanted to listen like Josh did.
I was alone.
It’s weird. I don’t know if it’s weird for everyone, but being alone. Being alone in a space that you feel small, and yet, so important. I sat far away from the lighthouse – which stood empty – and observed the horizon. To be completely honest, in the moment, my eyes took in a panoramic view of where I was. Alone, a tiny, insignificant being on a vast jetty covered in enormous monuments of rock, not to mention the gravitational lighthouse standing at the edge.
I was nothing.
But being nothing made me feel better.
It’s hard to explain, but… it’s a feeling of defiance. Even though I’m nothing, I still have a vast and intricate life. Even though I’m small, I have an enormous amount of meaning.
I was a living, breathing, feeling human being in a vast atmosphere of power and gravitas.
Taking in a deep, salty breath, I held it and closed my eyes. The sounds penetrated even deeper; a growling roar of the ocean, sparse calls from seabirds, lapping water slapping against rocks.
Nothing took away from me the meaning I had.
I opened my eyes again and smiled.
I had to call Josh.
I knew now.


User login

Please read this before creating a new account.