Joan recieves a phone call no mother wants.
| Joan took a deep breath, exhaled, and nodded to herself. The kitchen was clean. She’d worked all morning to ensure it was spotless. That was the punishment. Now it was time for the reward. So what if it was after noon, a cup of coffee and the Saturday paper in the peace and quiet of a house without her husband or sons made for a pleasant experience.
She closed her eyes as she poured the coffee. The aroma of the French roast wafted ever so gently through her senses. It was almost a Zen moment. The front section of the local paper lay face up, full of the same useless information that passed for news in a small-town paper. The city council argued about zoning. A water main broke on Poplar Avenue. The high school team went down in defeat, badly yet again, to a conference rival. Things went downhill quickly since the twins graduated and joined the Army together. Joan unconsciously smiled at the thought of her boys.
As if on cue, her phone rang from somewhere in her purse. The ring tone always garnered strange looks in public. The twins had programmed a rap tune called, “Momma Said Knock You Out” as a joke. She never figured out how to change it, nor did she want to. What she did want was to find the damn thing. It was buried in the bottom of the black hole, as usual. She managed to grab it and snap it open before the final notes faded away.
“Hello?” she answered.
The voice on the other end sounded distant, somewhat unclear. “Mom?”
“Hello?” she asked again, this time a little louder.
“Mom, it’s me, Johnny. I…I think I’m dying.”
Joan’s voice raised in alarm, “WHAT!”
“Mom, it’s okay. Please listen to me. I just wanted to call you and tell you that I love you.” Johnny’s voice sounded strained.
“I love you, too, honey,” Joan tried to keep her voice as calm as possible, even though she was trembling. “What’s going on, Johnny?”
She heard Johnny swallow loudly. In the background, from even farther away it seemed, were the sounds of what was undoubtedly a major battle of some sort. “My convoy got hit, Mom. The Hummer was blown off the edge of a steep drop. You remember those pictures I sent you? The ones you said scared you? Well, that was the kind of drop. I managed to jump clear before it…,” Johnny began to cough, a wet, tearing sound. Joan heard him spit, then swallow loudly. “Sorry Mom,” he apologized.
“That’s alright, hon,” Joan said. She closed her eyes, willing tears to stay away. “If you jumped clear, how are you hurt?”
“The upper half of my body was exposed in the gun turret. Rocks, shrapnel, all sorts of crap came up and, well, blood is all over my face and I can feel it in my chest. Kevlar only works to a point. I can’t see anything, but I can feel it. It’s pretty bad. I knew I wanted to talk to you, but I had to dial by touch. I’m so glad I managed to get the right number…” Johnny’s voice broke, then he began to sob, “I miss you, Mom. I want to come home.” Another coughing spasm interrupted him. He wheezed.
“Oh, sweetie,” she said, as the tears came.
“I wanted to make you proud, Mom,” his voice was rougher. “That’s why I joined. I knew I was a disappointment with all the trouble I caused you and Dad. I just wanted to make you proud.”
“We are proud, Johnny.”
He swallowed again. The wheezing was more pronounced. In the background she could hear the battle raging. “Remember when we went to the zoo when I was eight?” Johnny asked.
She smiled. “Yes. Yes I do.”
“And I began acting like the monkeys?”
Her smile grew. “You were silly.”
“Then I spilled chocolate ice cream on my good shirt acting like a monkey. You and Dad were so mad at me. I’m so sorry,” he cleared his throat again, “so sorry about the shirt.”
“Honey, don’t worry about the shirt. Dad and I were wrong to get upset about something so small.”
“I’m sorry about the shirt, Mom. Please forgive me.”
“Johnny, we forgave you a long time ago.”
“It’s dark, Mom. What time is it back home?”
“It’s about 1:15 in the afternoon.”
“Please forgive me for going away.” Johnny’s voice faded, getting farther away. “Please? Please tell me you love me and you’re proud of me?”
The plea nearly broke Joan’s reserve completely. “I love you and I’m so proud of you. We’ll go to the zoo again when you get home. Would you like that?”
The voice on the other end was silent. “Johnny?” Joan asked again. “Johnny? Would you like that?”
She heard a voice calling from a distance, “Fitz!!” The crunching of gravel became louder. “Fitz!!” the voice called again. Whoever it was had nearly reached where Johnny lay. The crunching footsteps of combat boots on rock grew, then a crunching sound. Then silence.
Joan closed her eyes, unable to stop the flow of tears. She closed the phone slowly. She heard her husband come in the back door. “I heard you talking,” he said. “Who was it? One of the twins? A wrong number?”
Joan swallowed the lump in her throat. “Wrong mother,” she whispered.