At ten her time, every night, Richard called his wife. Sometimes it would be dawn in Reykjavik, or late afternoon in the Gobi Desert, but Richard kept a timepiece on his left arm tuned to San Diego, and he always called on time.
“At ten she reads her book and drinks green tea in bed,” he’d think. He’d run his fingers on the telephone keypad before calling, feeling the moment before it happened. She’d pick up on the second ring. “Ricky…how are you?” Always news from the scenery. Temperature a record high in Addis Ababa. Runaway bulls in Barcelona. Fried duck in Beijing.
“Did you see today’s broadcast?”
“You’re in Kabul, Ricky. You know I don’t like the war correspondence.” Indeed, it rendered her wistful and in no mood to talk. He asked about the baby. Sprightly young Abner! Pulling himself up from the crawl, tottering about. “Dr. Klett says his development exceeds expectations.”
What of the book on her bedside table? “I unearthed some Faulkner. I worshipped the man in high school, and I think it’s even better, coming back after all these years.”
He told her of an Afghan girl, Laila, who handed him a poem with eyes downcast. He read aloud the curling Urdu script.
“That’s lovely. What does it mean?”
“Frankly, I’m not sure. I don’t even think I pronounced all the words correctly. But you know, I think she likes me.”
“Careful, I wouldn’t want to lose you,” she said with a laugh.
He wanted desperately to bottle her laugh, stop it with a cork, and hang it from a string around his neck. The flask warm beneath his shirt, hovering over the heart.
“I’ll be home soon,” he said. “By next Thursday. We’ll have a long weekend.”
“I’ll make sandwiches and we can eat them by the river.”
“Like we used to.”
There were never goodbyes. Richard let the phone hum a little while before he put it down. In San Diego, Cecilia set the phone by an empty teacup and looked at the man lying beside her. “Now then,” she whispered. “Where were we?”