When she got home from work that night, the phone rang and there was more of the same -- heavy nasal breathing, a car horn, static. She hung up and called right back using the return call feature her carrier provided and, yes, it was the Nazi-lover, being a stalker. She told him who it was -- didn't he have Caller ID? Why didn't she have Caller ID herself? She used to have Caller ID but that phone broke -- and that if he did it one more time, she'd call the police.
"Fine," he said, and hung up.
That might have been that but she got in her car and drove to a nearby Radio Shack and bought their least expensive regular phone with a Caller ID feature. When she plugged it in at home she thought, there, now that really is that.
Sixty seconds later the phone rang.
"Caller unknown. Number unknown," said the Caller ID. Of course it did.
"Hello," she said tentatively.
"Hey," said a familiar voice that sounded far away. "It's Connie. How are you?"
She was silent while her jaw went slack.
"Hello?" asked Connie. "You there?"
"Yes," she said, "Yes, I'm here, Connie. How are you?"
"Oh, been better, been worse. I've definitely been better," he said. "I'm just calling to wish you a Happy Halloween."
"That's next month," she said. "Can you wish me that in person?"
"Oh, maybe not," he said. "Listen, please call Kevin. If Kevin's not there, speak to Mrs. Kevin. Tell one or the other to please activate Plan B."
She wrote it down.
"Okay, Connie. I'll call right now," she said. "Anything else?"
"I've been thinking about you every day and I hope you've been out living your life," he said.
She breathed a sigh of relief.
"I have been," she said. "I met a Holocaust Denier, last night."
"What do you mean?" he said.
"Someone who says the Holocaust never happened," she replied.
"Who doesn't think the Holocaust happened?" he asked.
"Well, this guy," she said. "Long story short, we screamed at him in public then we ate clams and drank Rum Punch."
"Oh, fried clams?" he asked.
"Yes, fried clams."
"Who doesn't think the Holocaust happened?" he asked.
"We kept asking that and then we drank too much and went home in cabs."
He was quiet.
"I need to get back there so you don't have to deal with that crap," he said. A car honked on his end of the phone and she heard a crow's caw, loud, like it had major objections. "Please, tell Kevin and Mrs. Kevin."
She picked up the piece of paper on which she'd written the instructions.
"Please activate Plan B," she read.
There was a pause on his end, then he said, "Every day I think about you," and then he was gone.
She immediately picked up her cell phone and called Kevin.
"Yeah, well, hey, hi," said Kevin. "My lovely wife and I were just talking about you and wondering how you are. We were talking about Connie and hoping he's okay."
"That's why I'm calling, Kevin," she said. "I just heard from Connie and he told me to ask you to please activate Plan B."
She heard Kevin suck in breath. The person who spoke next was not the big, lovable lug she'd come to know. This Kevin was all efficiency, expedience, and urgency.
"Just now? He called just now?" asked Kevin.
"Yeah," she said. "As soon as he and I hung up, I called you. Called ID said caller and number unknown."
"Did he say anything else?" Kevin asked.
"That he thinks about me every day. That he hopes I'm living my life," she shared.
There was silence on his end except for what sounded like fingers drumming on wood.
"I'll call you back," said Kevin. "If not tonight, then soon."
Kevin hung up.
She walked into the bathroom and looked at herself in the medicine cabinet mirror.
"What the fuck?" she asked herself. While she was in there, she decided to brush her teeth. When she was done she looked at herself again.
"The fuck?" she asked then snapped off the light and paced around her apartment for twenty minutes until she felt like she could sit down and watch TV.
Quicker than she thought it would happen, it was fall. Her aunt has passed away in her sleep one lovely summer night, a night that wasn't so humid and uncomfortable so the windows could be opened wide. She must have died right after everyone had fallen into the hard, deep sleep of the emtionally exhausted. When her cousin went into the aunt's room in the morning, the aunt was not just cold, she was covered by more flies that anyone could describe, having their way with the corpse, decomposition being their favorite feast.
As her cousin's husband told her, it was unspeakably gross and sent her cousin into the living room where she collapsed onto the floor, her body first stretched up and out, her arms shooting over her head like that of a modern dancer.
"I hope this isn't a thing of hers now," the husband told her at the wake.
"What? Collapsing dramatically onto the floor?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah. She seems to really like doing it. It's choreographed now. It's been the same for a few weeks. If I didn't know better, I'd think she'd rehearsed the best dramatic fall. But I know she hasn't," he said. "When would she have the time?"
"I don't think she'd do that," she told him, then thinking better of it asked, "She wouldn't do that, would she? No, she wouldn't. Would she?"
"I think I've witnessed 17 separate collapses, and the last 12 have been identical," he said. "It kills me to say it. I feel so disloyal."
She was silent while she thought about it, she and her cousin's husband standing together at the back. Then she decided what it might be.
"She's been taking care of her mom for weeks. For months, really," she said. "Let's just call it a hobby. A lot of people have hobbies. Her hobby is choreographed collapse."
The husband thought about this for a while.
"Very smart. Hobby, then," he said. "I hope like hell she gets a new hobby."
"She was quite the little dancer in high school," she said. "Maybe she doesn't even know she's doing it."
Some mourners were looking very sad and coming their way.
"Thanks," he said. "You made me feel better today."
He hugged the mourners, friends of his late mother-in-law, and she walked to the other side of the room and watched from a corner and thought.
She'd not heard another word from Kevin and it was if Connie had never existed, like he was a dream. Wherever he was, she hoped he'd get out alive and well. If it was all a stupid ruse, then karma would take good care of him.
She'd tried not to think about Connie, going on a few dates her sociable cousins set up for her. One of them was very nice but recently divorced and not ready to do anything but go out and talk about his break up. It felt like she was being told in real time.
Another was a Holocause denier who told her "don't tell your cousins because they wouldn't understand." She immediately pulled out her phone and texted, "WTF? He says the Holocaust never happened. Insists it was all a lie." The end result was her cousin and her husband driving to the very nice family restaurant where they were having dinner, coming to their table, and screaming at him, then grabbing her and running from the restaurant. She enjoyed their reaction best of all: justifiable outrage.
In the parking lot she told them she'd driven her own car there and they walked her to it, apologizing profusely. They saw the date trying to make a quiet retreat to his car and they all three ran over to him. They called him Nazi (the husband), Nazi lover (her), Dr. Mengele (her), weirdo (the cousin), bigot (the husband), uneducated freak (her), and fucker (her cousin's fallback insult). They threw parking lot litter at his vehicle as he drove away. Now that he was gone, the three of them decided they were hungry and went back into the restaurant for a meal of fried clams, house salads, and a pitcher of rum punch. Four different patrons came over to thank them for the show -- "It really was the most exciting piece of theatre," one woman said -- and a very serious young woman said her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and she appreciated their verve.
"Who uses verve to describe ripping someone a new one?" asked her cousin when the woman was out of earshot.
"Someone young and enthusiastic. The world hasn't knocked her down too much yet," she said.
"Yeah," said the husband. "Let her have her clear vision. We already crushed the problem for the night."
"Who doesn't believe the Holocaust happened?" asked her cousin. "I mean, who doesn't believe the Holocaust happened?"
They sat quietly then got the attention of the waitress and ordered a pitcher of rum punch and some more fried clams.
Those clams were excellent but they ended up in taxis to go home because the rum punch did its job and got them pretty drunk.
Before she fell asleep, she set her alarm clock for early so she could get a bus to her car then drive it to work. When she woke up, she saw there was a phone message. While she waited for the shower water to get hot, she listened to it.
There was a lot of static and noise, like someone was calling from a moving vehicle in another part of the galaxy.
But that's all there was -- static and noise. A car horn honked. Then more basic static and general noise, then breathing, heavy and hard through the nose. Then it disconnected.
Good grief, she thought. I hope it's not that Nazi-lover, she thought. That Nazi-lover touching himself and stalking me. I hope it's a wrong number, she thought. Maybe it's Connie, calling with a snagged cell phone, she thought. I hope Connie's okay, she thought. Why do I still have a phone machine? she asked herself. It's a zillion years old, she thought. I'll get rid of it when it breaks, she thought.
Then she put it all out of her mind and got ready for the day.