Go Home, And Be With Your Families
by Steven R. Stewart
Herb walked past his phone's charging station on his way to refill his Crown and
Coke. The little red light in the corner of the phone's screen was still blinking.
Herb had vaguely hoped that it would disappear if he ignored it long enough. He
shut his eyes, counted to three, and reopened them. The light hadn't gone away,
and neither had the voicemail message it indicated. He knew who the message was
from. It was from Triela, his 16 year-old daughter, and that made it stressful
Without meaning to, Herb walked to the marble counter where the phone sat
charging, leaned on his hands and said, "Voicemail." It was probably the alcohol
that made him do it. The phone screen lit up, and after the pretty, sterile voice was
done advertising the mobile carrier Herb was already with, Triela's voice came on.
"Dad," she said. "Hi. You haven't called me in three weeks. Nobody is that busy,
not even you. I understand you're probably worried by now that I'm going to do
the bitchy daughter thing and ream you for ignoring me for almost a month, or that
Mom has finally succeeded in turning me against you, or that I'm going to be mad
that I had to find out about May from Pat."
May was Herb's new fiancé that neither Triela nor Herb's ex-wife knew about. Pat
was Herb's agent. And now Pat was going to get fired. Or killed.
"I'm actually happy for you," Triela's voice continued. "She sounds like a cool
chick. And Mom and I don't want you to be alone forever. Okay, maybe Mom
does. The point is, you should have told me. I'm not okay here, Dad. I sound okay
because I'm trying to communicate rationally with you right now, because I think
that's what you need, but I'm actually really pissed. And I've made a decision.
Kind of a big one, so I need you to listen. This is the last message I'm going to
leave you. The ball's in your court. It's up to you to show me you still . . . you
The message paused for a moment, and Herb wondered if maybe she had gotten
cut off. He started to take another drink but stopped when the message continued.
Triela was crying.
"Speaking of balls, Dad, just grow some and call me. You're the biggest coward
I've ever met, and if you're incapable of returning a simple phone call, then I don't
need you in my life." Another pause. An angry sigh. "And for the record, it wasn't
easy to make this call either."
"To delete this message, say 'delete'," the pretty, sterile voice said. "To save it in
your archives, say, 'save.'"
Herb downed the rest of his Crown and Coke and stared at the white tile of the
kitchen floor. He couldn't call Triela. For one thing, the message was already days
old. And besides, what would he say? That he was sorry for allowing his marriage
to implode -- and Triela's sense of stability along with it? That he was sorry for
pursuing his dream instead of staying in the Midwest and doing radio for the rest of
his life? There wasn't anything to say. She had him pegged.
"Are you still there?" the phone asked.
"Delete," Herb said.