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The Answering Machine

It was good while it lasted.

As if all color had drained out of things. As if music were the bridge to take you elsewhere, and elsewhere turned out to be right where you were, where there was no such thing as music.

He was alone in the kitchen, listening to the hum of the refrigerator as it played against the swishing of leaves outside.

Then the telephone rang. But there were certain persons he was afraid to talk with, especially on a telephone. So he let the answering machine take the call, while he stood by, listening for a voice, his ear leaning toward the possibility of a voice.

As if the kitchen were growing smaller.

It was someone calling long distance, from across the country. Someone to whom he was, and still is, as they say, attracted. Someone with whom he has had some ambiguous sexual relations.

Just as he reached to pick up the phone the voice said: if you’re there, don’t pick up the phone…

And so, following the voice’s instructions, he retreated a few steps, to play the part of the sad listener, as the sad message squeezed itself out from the tiny speaker of the answering machine.

Nothing but stillness now—a photographic negative. And the dull voice, too familiar, lapsing into formalities.