The Call

VERA CONSTANTINEAU

Robin looks out her kitchen window and thinks the tulip bed, which is beautiful and bright in daylight, looks eerie in the cold light of the full moon. It’s April; the trees have no foliage so of course the yard looks stark.

She grips the telephone and listens to the steady ring. Where can he be? He should be home by now. She fingers the pieces of her chunky necklace, and tries to calm her nerves.

Last year, she wouldn’t have given this sense of foreboding a second thought, but with all that’s happened, she no longer denies her intuition. Perry says she puts undue pressure on him. Says he can’t possibly live up to all her demands. He tries, she knows he does. With a sigh she hangs up the receiver and picks up her cup of tea hoping its warmth will ease her. Ridiculous British heritage, the world can be going to hell in a hand basket but if one simply serves tea at the right moment, all will be well.

She walks to the living room listening to the sounds of her house and stops in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows facing the lake. The ice is almost gone. The unusual heat of the day warmed the ground— as a result, there is dense fog; the boathouse is barely discernible.

They’ve lived here a year. Perry jokes about the commute; he says the daily ride is like being perpetually on holiday. She shivers. Last year, he got an infection in his lungs. It came on so suddenly and so violently that all the doctors, his friends, had warned her there was a chance he might not make it. He is so weakened even now, a full year later, that she’s seen him fall asleep at the dinner table. He just drifts off. He’s returned to work in the Emergency Room at St. Joe’s insisting he’s needed there. He says she shouldn’t worry; the mortgage insurance is up to date. Die and the house is all hers.

She hates that he treats the whole situation so casually. As if the house matters to her more than he does. She glances away from her reflection in the glass. Yes, she’s the one who fell in love with this place. Yes, she’s the one who craved the five acres of untamed bush. The studio, which is hers alone, is hidden from view and accessible only from the lake side of the house. The path is indiscernible, the double row of bushes so cleverly planted they look natural. She wanted this place so badly; loves it so much.

Perry hadn’t been as keen. He tried to tempt her with a condo overlooking Lake Ramsey. Said there’d be no pizza delivery out here and he’d been right. But one look at this place and her mind was made up.

She looks at her watch, wonders if she should try him again and walks back to the kitchen. Ten rings. She hangs up and considers what to do. She sits at the small desk in the corner of the kitchen and turns on the computer. When the icons appear on screen, she clicks to open her e-mail. A window pops up asking her to verify her password. How odd. Earlier in the day a similar message read that she was already signed in at a different computer. She keys in her password, EarlGrey, the window disappears and the inbox opens.

Her heart skips a little. Eric has written again. She’s told him he must be more careful, that he should not contact her, but he insists their relationship is the only thing keeping him sane. The gallery is suffering in the wake of the world’s latest financial crisis. He says he can’t survive indefinitely; he hasn’t sold a piece in months.

She opens his e-mail and it immediately makes her smile. He calls her Robin Capulet. He says Perry is a very bad Romeo. He insists it is the two of them who are truly the star-crossed lovers. He is such a fool. She smiles at his silliness. Really, he can have any woman he wants, yet once again he says he is saving himself, almost exclusively, for her. The key words are ‘almost exclusively.’ She knows he’s been seeing other women. Mutual friends take perverse pleasure in dropping such information into casual conversations, warning or jealous jabs, who can say. She thinks women have some form of sophisticated radar that allows them to pick up on even the faintest signals. It isn’t as if she and Eric ever go out in public. Well, only those few times last year, prior to Perry falling ill. She feels the old anger stir. Perry, always working, refused to take care of himself, and what was the result? He almost dies.

Now Eric makes dinner for her in his apartment at the gallery. Ostensibly they meet to discuss commissions he’s arranging on her behalf. He’s so sympathetic, has always been. That first night she found herself telling him everything and soon they’d gone past dinner and a bottle of very expensive champagne. Dessert had been rather more carnal than caloric. She can admit that she became infatuated, is still infatuated. He pays her a great deal of attention. Perry does not.

She made an unfortunate drawing of the two of them. Perry, who previously never entered her studio, came home unexpectedly a few weeks ago and walked in. It was too late to do anything about it then. The sketch was on her table in full view. She’d made a joke about becoming an erotic artist. The sketch was rather telling. However, Perry didn’t press the point.

She reminds Eric of his promise to be friends, just friends, but she knows she would be devastated if he kept his promise to the letter. She assures herself it’s a harmless flirtation, nothing more, not now. She hits send.

Robin hears a car and closes the laptop. As she walks past the island she draws her fingertips over the surface of the granite. It’s so beautiful. She opens the door.

“Hello, Robin Darling.”

“Perry, why are you so late? I’ve been worried.”

“Have you? Robin Capulet? Nothing to keep you occupied? You should have called Eric, the perfect Romeo.”

“What? What do you know about Eric?”

“And ‘EarlGrey’ Robin? Such a predictable password when one knows you. I’ve read all of his e-mails. I especially enjoyed the replies. You know what this means, of course?”

“N-no. What?”

“I’m afraid you’ve lost your untamed woods, lost your oh-so-secluded studio, and of course, these granite counters you so lovingly polish.”

She reminds herself to breathe. She backs up slowly, thinking. “If you are talking about divorce, Perry, I’ll do whatever I have to. This house is mine.”

“Robin, Robin, I’ve printed your e-mails. Didn’t I tell you? I want you gone. Now. Go pack your things.” Perry turns on his heel, taking her compliance for granted.

Shortly she returns to the kitchen with her suitcase. Perry is sitting at the island. He is holding the antique ice pick. She sees he’s scratching something on the counter. Real fear rises inside her, she tells herself not to be ridiculous, this is Perry not some crazy person.

“Here’s the deal, Robin. I’ll live here because I know how much you love it. Just as a reminder I’ve carved today’s date on the counter. Rather fitting, don’t you think? A granite gravestone for a dead marriage.” Perry puts down the ice pick and walks out.

Robin picks up her car keys and again reaches for the telephone.

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Vera Constantineau lives in Copper Cliff, Ontario. She writes short fiction, poetry and humour. Her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, Acorn Haiku Journal, Haiku Canada Review, Notes from the Gean, Kernels Online, Bottle Rockets, Emerald Bolts and journals Sulphur II and III and Terra North/Nord, as well as in the anthologies Canadian Crossroads, Amprosia, Our Lakes Shall Set us Free, Manitoulin Morsels, Wild Words and Outcrops.

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