Loneliness, From a Distance
“Hello,” I say into the phone.
“Hello,” comes the reply like an attenuated echo out of a deep cave.
The airy hollowness of this answer can only come from one source: my loneliness. It’s about time he got in touch. I haven’t heard from him for months now.
Relenting to nostalgia and gravity, I sit down on the sofa.
“When are you coming back?” I ask, because nothing else I could say really matters to me. These are the only words of substance I have for him.
“I don’t know. Not for a while.”
“It’s been a while already,” I point out—in case he’s lost track of time in some seasonless landscape without calendars.
“I know. But I think this separation is good for you. Besides, Qalixy’s there. You know how uncomfortable we are around each other.”
“Yes, but it would be nice to feel some existential isolation with you from time to time.”
It helps me see with a certain clarity, I want to add, but that strikes me selfish.
I say no more, and there is only silence from the phone. So I look out the window and watch the wind push its way past trees glistening with moonlight. The branches of the juniper just outside tap on the windowpane as if this tree wants me to relay a message to loneliness.
I think it’s only a matter of time until he’ll say something like, “Are you sure? You have a habit of missing the heavy, hot humidity of summer in the middle of winter, then deploring the sultry days of July once they’ve arrived.”
But he only says, “I’d like some more time on my own, to think about our relationship.”
“Well, if that’s what you really want,” I reply, resigned and permissive.
“For now, I believe that’s best.”
“All right then. I hope you’re at least somewhere you can be comfortable.”
“I’ve got rustic lodging in a little town up north. It’s chilly but lovely.”
Of course he’d pick someplace cold.
Does he have a part-time job there? Perhaps he gives certain bars atmosphere, during strategic hours so the customers will be more inclined to talk with each other. Or maybe he commutes into a nearby city a couple days a week to consult for a dating service. If so, I’d rather not know the details.
“You’d like the mountains here,” he says. “They jut out of the landscape like the fingers of rocky hands, to hold meadows or rivers in their palms.”
He always knew how to describe things in ways that would resonate with me.
So I ask, “What are you looking at right now?”
“A gravel road gently descending to a glacial lake with water so porcelain green and placid the lake seems alive or magical but dormant.”
I marvel at how his cavernous voice sounds just like it did the time I first met him. On the playground in kindergarten, when he told me essentially what he would continue to tell me with greater detail and eloquence over the years: Your heart is hurting. I am making it hurt because you need friends.
Now, traversing the miles of phone lines between us, his words continue to fill my left ear.
“Behind the lake is a thick wall of pines that seems to hold a massive granite mountain at bay. Its craggy, snowcapped peak looks like it should have the redolence of wild berries as it glows lavender and fuchsia in a slow-motion sunset that will last for at least another hour.”
“Sounds like the kind of place one goes to paint or photograph. Or meditate in,” I remark. “Maybe I could visit you there sometime.”
“I’d like that.”
Then a peculiar image comes to mind: in a tiny motel room that’s well past its prime (if it ever had one), he’s sitting on a twin bed, calling me from the other side of the city, the resplendent scene he described just a fabrication. But that can’t be right. He feels very far away. That must be because I want him to be closer than he really is. It’s a longing I’ve only recently noticed, when the delight of Qalixy’s company lets up or after a long day of being around everyone at work. This feeling is always faint, subdued amid the ambient ether of belonging and connection. Enmeshed in an invisible matrix that’s always imparting some measure of solace, I no longer feel that keen incompleteness.
And that has, like he said, been good for me.
I lean back into the auburn velvet of the sofa cushions and savor how, for the moment, we are telephonically tethered, our voices and thoughts available to one another. Soon, one of us will end this phone call by bidding the other goodbye. I want to be the one who does that but doubt I will.
Fascinated by the ways in which fiction can serve as a means of metacognition, Soramimi Hanarejima crafts stories to explore the nature of thought. Soramimi is the author of the story collection Visits to the Confabulatorium (Montag Press Collective, 2017) and works on information design projects that seek to visually communicate aspects of subjective experiences.