I clutched the telephone receiver in my hot, red, white knuckled hand. My iPhone was no longer working. The computer had stopped working too. Only the old fashioned telephone was still crackling out a voice into my ear. And now even that had gone silent.
“Jerry, are you there?”
I pressed the receiver harder to my ear. It was beginning to hurt. It was ages since I last used one of those old telephones. I’d forgotten how uncomfortable they were. “Jerry! Jerry!”
There was a loud crackle and then — blessed relief! Jerry’s voice came back. “I was reading that book, the one you bought me,” he said. “Here, I’ll read some to you.”
“You don’t have to,” I said. If only he’d not insisted on driving home to find that damn book he’d be with me now, instead of stranded with a car that would no longer run.
“Something to do,” he answered. “Something to hold on to while I talk to you.”
“But we’ve so little time, Jerry.”
“I know, and there’s so little point to anything.”
“How long have we got left?”
“Hours? Minutes? I don’t know. The temperature rise is running away. New York is dead, now. Come on, I’ll read you some of this. It’s beautiful poetry:
“We are the hollow men,
We are the stuffed men…”
“Not that one, Jerry. I don’t like how it ends.”
“But it’s more relevant now than it ever was…”
“Anything you say to me is poetry, now, Jerry.”
“That’s a wonderful thing to say, Marion. But it’s so hard to think straight in this heat.”
“Just say the one thing you never said to me. You know what that is, Jerry? I’ve longed for you to say it. I know you wanted to. Can you guess what it is I want to hear?”
“Just tell me, Marion.”
“Stop teasing, Jerry. You know what I mean. Damn you’re shy! And at a time like this. This time of all times. Just say it, Jerry. It doesn’t even matter any more — whether you mean it or not. Just do this one thing for me, Jerry. Say those words.”
“Yes, I’ll say it, but I need to clear my throat first. So dry.”
The line went quiet. For a moment I thought he’d gone. But then he spoke again. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he said. “Just getting a drink of water. So thirsty.”
“Oh Jerry!” I said. “For God’s sake, hurry, my darling.”
The first light of dawn crept between the blades of the shutters. If it got any warmer I would pass out.
“Hurry, Jerry. Can you hear me? I love you Jerry. Please hurry back and say you love me too.”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” he had said. But the minute had long gone and there was no sound of him.
“Jerry,” I said. “Jerry!”
The line was noisy again, crackling.
No it was not the line crackling.
It was the book, he was reading to me. It was the pages catching fire and crackling as they burned in his hand.