The phone sits in its cradle, the dust of quiet years obscuring the yellowing plastic handset. It's been quite a while since anyone touched it. Its dial is cracked but serviceable, its cord loosely tangled around itself. I sit and watch this phone for hours each day, awaiting the familiar ring. Awaiting that one call, the one that will end my suffering. Only one person has the number to this phone. She said she would call. She promised me. No matter how much time goes by, I don't lose faith. I still believe she'll fulfill her promise.
My parents think I'm insane. They think I've given up on reality, that I can't tell fact from fiction anymore. I know that it seems unusual, or stupid. But she never lied to me. Never. Not once. I have to believe that she meant what she said.
There's a knock at the door. I sigh, getting up to answer it. I hate visitors. Every moment I'm away from the phone is a moment where I could miss her call. I open the door. It's my sister. Unlike my parents, she hasn't given up on me. I step aside, grudgingly allowing her to enter my home. She looks around, clearly disapproving of the dust and clutter. I have better things to do than clean house, so her disapproval doesn't bother me.
"You've really let the place go, Jack."
I frown. I hate it when she shortens my name like that, and she knows it. She does it to annoy me.
"Did you come just to criticize, Alice, or is there an actual REASON for this visit?"
She sighs, clearing herself a seat on my decrepit sofa, trying not to let her exposed skin touch the moldy fabric. "Jack, when are you going to give this up? You KNOW it's not going to happen."
I sigh, rubbing my forehead. She doesn't understand either. She doesn't even try. "Alice, you KNOW why I can't give up. I have to believe. If she doesn't keep her word…"
I leave the thought unfinished. She knows what I'm referring to. The hospital visits. The diagnosis. The long nights spent huddled over a toilet, shivering, praying that the vomiting would stop. The slow slide that even now was dragging me closer to the end. If she didn't keep her word, there would be nothing to hold me here.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. But what about the rest of us? Are we that worthless? Wouldn't WE be enough? Why do you need to hold on to some vain imaginary idea?"
"Because the rest of you don't care about me. Only she does."
Alice stands, giving me a disgusted glance. "She's DEAD, Jack. Diane is dead. I know it, you know it too. So quit lying to yourself."
She shoves past me, stalking out. I knew she wouldn't stay long. She says she wants to help me, but all she really wants to do is make me as miserable as she is. Trapped in a cold, sterile marriage, her younger brother slowly dying of cancer…she can't stand the thought of me having any hope. Of having any single bright spark to lighten my last days. I don't care. I won't let her take it away from me. I know Diane will call. She said she would.
Diane is my doctor, and my friend. She always tells the truth. She helped me through those first days of depression and anger. She cares about me more than anyone else I've ever met. We even sleep together sometimes, though we're not together. I haven't seen her in…almost two years. She was deployed to Iraq. She promised she would call me. The Army says she's dead. I don't believe them. So I keep waiting for her call.
I sit back down next to the phone, staring at it. She made a promise. Her words keep echoing in my head.
"Don't worry, Jack. You'll hear from me soon. Just hang in there, alright?"
I'm doing my best, Diane. I know you'll keep your promise.
The phone rings.