During these summer holidays I’ve found myself spending evenings on the living-room floorboards, head on a cushion, a glass of wine not far away, a record on the record player – and a mobile phone in my hand somehow looking lost and deflated. The phone isn’t in my hand because I’m about to make a call; it’s there because of the phone numbers it contains, two phone numbers in particular, contact details for people who’ve moved on to better things, if that’s what has happened.
The first number is for a work colleague. I didn’t know him well but he was someone so very skilled at connecting people, someone adored by hundreds despite being a shaved-head, motor-bike-loving, anti-establishment punk (at least that’s how I saw him). Why I came to have his number in my mobile is anyone’s guess, but I do have a picture of him near my desk so I see him most days and he sees me and makes sure I stay true.
The second number is for a cousin, a great, great woman, the closest I’ve had to a sister, someone I used to email or text when something brilliant had happened, someone who explained the blood that I have in my body, someone who told me that to get ahead I need to take risks, someone who encouraged me to compare myself to no one. An Epsilon character (as per Huxley) someone said, a vital force said someone else; she was another anti-establishment punk I reckon. I’m yet to put a photo of her near my desk because to me she is still alive and I want to keep her that way for as long as I can.
To send a text message to both of them. ‘Hi, how r u?’ But what would happen? Where would the message go? Do the phones still exist? Are they in drawers, the battery fading? Or does the partner keep the phone fully charged by the bed as if it’s a version of the gone-away person, something that might suddenly flash and rumble into life? An almost irritated message may come back to me: ‘You need to know that the person you loved has gone.’
Perhaps the phones no longer exist at all, dropped into a recycling box in a communications shop, but maybe the phone numbers still work although not in the way they once did back here on earth. I could get a response from my text message. ‘Hi, gr8 to hear from u! I’m really well. How r u? xox.’ But what would I do then? I’d scull the wine, that’s what, and I’d stare at the phone and wonder if it’s me who may have shuffled off to Buffalo.
It could be that I shouldn’t have these phone numbers any more; maybe I should just press the delete button. But I can’t have these two people erased all over again – I don’t want to lose this evidence of their living, of our connection. Sometimes I think that despite what I know to be fact I should just write a message anyway and press SEND. And then what? I’d wait. And keep waiting. According to the Italian author Oriana Fallaci, ‘Death always announces itself by a kind of scent, impalpable perceptions, silent sounds.’
(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, January 31 2009)