The phone was ringing when he stepped out of the car. How long had it been ringing for? He asked himself. His girlfriend ought to have been at home anyway. Why wasn’t she answering it? He wondered. He wasn’t expecting a call but supposed that if it was important they’d leave a message. How many rings before the machine gets it? Dave started to run for the door. He unlocked it and burst inside. The ringing stopped. “Nice one,” he muttered, grabbed the phone from its cradle and slumped onto the couch. After allowing time for even the most garrulous caller, he typed in the code to access the message service, listened, put in a few additional numbers, and waited.
“Call received today at four thirteen p.m.,” said the automated voice who could never seem to manage casual intonation. “Ah, yes,” said a rather pompous voice, sounding as if it might have recently recovered from a bought of laryngitis, “yes, hello, Mr and Mrs Walters” – that made Dave chuckle – “it’s Garth Gleeson here from Second Chance Adoption Agency,” Dave rifled around in a nearby drawer, found a pen and paper, and put on his listening face. “right, now, Mr and Mrs Walters, I have some good news for you both … I am delighted to inform you that your quest has come to an end, I have found you a child to suit all of your adoptive parent needs … Well, I suppose he is a smidgen older than the seven years’ you requested, but I assure you, Mr and Mrs Walters, in every other facet, this child is a veritable delight … So I’ll let you two go and revel in this most joyous of occasions, be sure not to drink too much celebratory Chardonnay, and I’ll hope to hear from you tomorrow, when we will discuss what happens next … Oh, gosh, I am so very excited for you both and -”
“Message length exceeded,” said another mechanical voice.
Dave put down the phone. He hadn’t taken any notes. He wondered if Garth was gay.
She arrived home some hours later. The house appeared empty. She glanced at the wall clock: 3.24 a.m. If he was home he was probably in bed, anyway. She switched on the lights and went into the kitchen, wondering if Dave had picked up groceries as she had asked. She opened the pantry door; the dearth of vital food products gave her query a resoundingly negative response. She grabbed a few rice crackers from an open packet then went back out to the lounge and sat on the sofa. She glanced at the cabinet to her left and saw the cordless phone lying there where Dave had obviously left it; to think, she thought, he has the gall to complain when the battery’s dead. She picked it up and placed it in its cradle. She worried about the orphaned children of the North Korean Horror Story; wondered how their lives would now be with nobody to love, and to care for them.
She felt her mascara started to run, wiped a clumsy hand across her cheek, and decided to go to bed.
She woke to the sound of her boyfriend thumping around in the kitchen – probably making another batch of ‘Dave’s patented eggs on toast’: regular eggs on toast but garnished with a sprinkling of basil then laced with grated cheese and tomato sauce – so reluctantly rolled out of bed to face another day. Beth made her way into the kitchen wearing only a well-stretched t-shirt and kissed her boyfriend on the cheek, who incidentally, was preparing a meal of eggs on toast.
“Mornin’ baby girl,” he cooed.
“Morning hun,” she replied with a sleepy grin, “how was work?”
“It was great, flew to Jakarta, via Adelaide, brought a load of Indonesian-ites back to Kalgoorlie – why anyone’d want to go to Kalgoorie’s beyond me but – then came home … You know Beth, you should really take your makeup off before you go to bed, can’t be good for your skin – or the pillow for that matter.”
“Thanks Martha Stewart,” she retorted, “but as long as I’m the one who has to wash the pillowcases, you can go to hell.”
“Well as long as I’m the one who has to kiss that pretty little face,” he jested, “I’d rather you took better care of it.”
Beth had zoned out, pondering something else. “Yip, OK,” she said idly, then once a few seconds had passed, “hey Dave?”
“Yes my insatiably hot little piece of 34-year-old arse, what is it?”
“First, please don’t remind me how old I am and second, I was wondering, since you fly those long flights and that, and I don’t go on those ones anymore and even when I did we weren’t allowed off the plane anyway, I was wondering, what’s it like in those places?”
“Yeah, you know, like, those Asian countries and that – is it as bad as we see on the News and that?”
“Shit,” Dave suddenly enlivened, “that reminds me – remind me to tell you something after this.”
“O-K, what is it?”
“Look, Beth, do you want me to tell you about what those Asian countries are really like from the perspective of a handsome pilot sitting in the cockpit of a massive jet airplane at an airport surrounded by nothing but black asphalt for as far as the eye can see,” he took an exaggeratedly loud breath, “or, would you rather I told you my news from shortly after I arrived home last night?”
“News first please.”
“You sure? Acre upon acre of black asphalt can be pretty engaging stuff once that equatorial heat hits it..?”
“See, I don’t even know if you’re being serious right now, but I wanna hear your big news.”
“Hang on, I don’t recall saying it was ‘big’ news…”
“…Although it is pretty massive.”
“Stop playing with my brain just ‘cause I’m not as smart as you are,” Beth scolded, feigning indignation.
“I’m sorry, baby girl … Alright, the news, of which I earlier spoke, and which came only last night – are you ready?”
“You’re building it up way too much, Dave.”
“You know what, little lady, I don’t think I am … I know that no matter how much time I spend building up this sensational piece of news, it will never be too much.”
“So what is it?” she asked again, beginning to lose interest in the game.
“Alright, here it is … Last night when I arrived home, the phone was ringing” – Beth’s attention piqued – “so I dashed inside to answer it -”
“You ‘dashed’ inside?” Beth mocked, “Really? Gee whiz, I hope you didn’t break a hip, old man.”
“Come on,” smiled Dave, “what’s wrong with ‘dashed’? It’s a good descriptive verb, or active metaphor, or whatever they call it in literary circles – you wanna hear the story or not?”
His meal prepared Dave had moved to the breakfast bar; Beth took a stool to his right, a stack of rice crackers cradled in her palm: “Go ahead,” she urged sarcastically, “don’t let me stop the flow.”
“Anyway, the phone was ringing, I was dashing – in speed and in appearance – I unlocked the door, dashed inside; the phone stops ringing.”
“Oh wow, Dave, you were right, there was no way you could have talked that story up too much – wow.”
“Aren’t you a clever little bitch this morning? Anyway, I come inside, I grab the phone, I check the messages, and guess what?”
“They, didn’t leave a message?”
“Oh but they did,” he said, gesturing to the phone, “and just be aware, when you hear the message, that it should be considered part of my story, otherwise, you were quite right, my story went nowhere – but with the phone message…”
He then watched, smile broadening, as the face of the woman he loved became increasingly mirthful – then fell back slightly as Garth must have begun his rambling – then culminated in her already makeup-streaked face becoming awash with tears of joy.
“It’s finally happening,” she whispered, her voice quaking with emotion.
“Oh it’s happening, baby girl, and all you have to do is make the call.”
She made the call. The call was a long one. Looking on, in Dave’s opinion the call lasted anywhere from two to three hours and while Beth was certain that it hadn’t been quite that long, by the end of the call she was being intermittently badgered by the ‘low battery’ tone.
She sat the phone back in its cradle and from the enveloping cushions of the low-slung sofa, the very same position she’d been in for the duration of the call, gazed up at the love of her life. “It’s happening, Dave,” she said listlessly, “we’re gonna be parents.”
He simply smiled his response; lifted his girlfriend from her seat and embraced her.
Suddenly Beth was revitalised: “First thing,” she instructed, “we have to tidy this place up. Garth’s coming around with our child and I don’t want it looking like the pigsty it normally is.”
Dave smiled again. He was so very happy for her; she deserved a child more than anyone he knew and it still broke his heart to think that he couldn’t be the one to give it to her, even so hearing her use the words ‘our child’ gave him goose pimples. He was pleased that she was again excited about the prospect of children and regarding the housekeeping, he’d put up with any amount of nagging just to see her happy.
She never did get to hear about the equatorial asphalt.
Exactly three hours later Garth’s big Holden Commodore rolled into their driveway, eliciting an ironic remark from Dave, having rushed into the kitchen with his dearly beloved to watch as the unknown duo disembarked. A big man of at least 190 centimetres with shoulders to match stepped out from the drivers’ side. He wandered around the front of the car, as if nothing in this world was worth his haste, lifted the passenger side door handle, pulled the door fully open and with a warm smile on his broadly featured face, peered inside. From the vantage point inside the house the view was poor. Neither of the pair could make out any more of Garth than his dapper black trousers and nor could they see through the lightly tinted windows of his car. They scrambled over each other for the best view until Dave announced: “To hell with this, it’s my house, I’m going outside,” and strode towards the front door.
“No!” called Beth just as he was placing his grip on the handle, “Mr Gleeson instructed us to stay indoors until they were ready to enter.”
“Really?” he said, hesitating before turning a gaze of incredulity at his partner, “Sounds pretty dumb to me.”
“No, Dave, if you come back here you’ll see why – and hurry up.”
He walked back to the kitchen window where, just as he’d been told he would, he could see exactly why they’d been told to not intervene during passage to the house: Garth the Giant was leading an emaciated lad painstakingly across their front lawn. The poor boy looked terrified. Every car rushing by on the street, every noisy pedestrian; every sound in the least, even screeching birdlife had the boy wide eyed and glancing around, continually assessing then reassessing his surroundings. Gradually they made it to the front door. Dave and Beth Walters now milled around the doorway and awaited their guests. There was nothing to be heard. No indication they should intervene. There was nothing at all. Should they wait for them to knock, Beth wondered, or just open the door? As if reading her mind Dave gently shook his head and mouthed the word, ‘wait’. The expecting parents waited. She considered going back to her hideout in the kitchen with the slim hope of seeing what was going on under the porch. It was strange. There was no sound behind the door, no quiet discussion; not even the shuffling of somebody removing their shoes. There was absolutely nothing.
Finally, a whisper. Neither resident could make out the words, but it was a start. Another whisper – this time louder and with the distinct inflexion of imploring. Beth stared quizzically at Dave, trying to make sense of it all; suddenly there was a knock. There was a knock at the door. Someone wanted to come in. She lunged for the doorknob; Dave restrained her. “Be calm,” was all he said as he slowly turned the handle.