The telephone's shrill ring yanked me from the dreamy quicksand of a Benadryl slumber in the middle of the night. Half blinded by sleep encrusted eyes and dark shadows, a head still clouded by an over the counter high and the chill brought on by a buzzing air conditioner made my journey from the bed to the desk as equally exasperating as my earlier ride that afternoon on a crowded Q train squished between an Ipoded over-fragranced Yuppie and an Ipoded under-deodorized teenager, both blasting very deafening and highly conflicting musical genres for more than 18 stops.
"MmmHmmm?" I questioned too heavy-eyed to decipher the message of the caller ID on my shoddy Radio Shack cordless phone.
"It's been a long time since we last talked. It's me."
She spoke with a tone of expected recognition, as if our relationship was far beyond the enlightening formality of a re-introductory casual name mention.
"Hmm," I said with affected, quiet concern still unable to make sense of the caller's identity and not yet prepared to produce intelligible speech.
"I just needed to talk to someone right now. You're the only one I know who is always up in the middle of the night. I knew I wouldn't wake you up or anything like that."
Not wanting to tarnish my insomniac reputation, I covered the mouthpiece to clear the phlegm from my throat. I then spoke into it with caffeinated vigilance.
"Are you okay? What's going on?"
"My grandmother died yesterday morning. She wasn't sick or anything like that. She just died out of the blue. The funeral is on Friday morning."
At this point in my life, I've reached an age where some of my peers mothers and fathers have already begun to drop off from natural causes. For the life of me, I couldn't recall anyone in my social circle swimming around a healthy enough gene pool to have recently had a living grandparent. I took a deep breath before reflexively uttering an apology with a mildly exaggerated inflection on the “sorry.”
This stupid custom of apologizing turns all the friends of mourners into bold faced liars. I had absolutely nothing to do with her grandmother's death and I felt as foolish for making this act of contrition as I hoped she felt in providing me with her obligatory remarks of gratitude.
She began to sob. I felt wholly unsure of how to fill the long pause in our chat. After a few "awws" and more insincere I'm so sorry apologies I decided to speak up.
"So uhm, what else is going on? Are things cool with work?"
I offered these questions hoping they would be a welcome distraction from her grief as well as a chance for me to possibly garner more clues about her life that fully baffled me.
The tone in her voice shifted with bipolar precision from sorrow to fury. "What the fuck? You want to bring up that bullshit about work now? God damn it! "
"I...I didn't mean it. It's like I just don't know you anymore. I'm sorry," I told her with all the canned conviction of a soap opera actor.
"When someone calls about a fucking death, you're not supposed to bring up other stuff, especially sore subjects. God damn it."
"Please don't be mad at me. I said I was sorry."
If you're really sorry, why the fuck did you even go there?"
She didn't have a problem accepting my insincere apology for a death I didn't cause, but my sincere apology for posing a vague question about something as innocuous as the current events in her life seemed grudge worthy if not fully detrimental to the diminishing health of this impossible to recollect relationship.
"I just really wanted to know what's going on with you." I pleaded with her, feeling confident in my honesty.
At the risk of blinding myself, I flipped on the light to more carefully make out the faint liquid crystal display on the caller ID window. My eyes adjusted more quickly than expected probably because of the jolt in my blood pressure. Unknown Name. Unknown Number. I still had nothing.
"Listen. I haven't spoken to you in so long. A lot has changed. I called you out of the blue because I thought you would have the right thing to say."
She told me this with a spirit of lament, which fortunately informed of her slightly softened mood.
"You don't know this, but I am going through a lot of hard times myself right now. I don't always know what to think, let alone what to say, especially to you."
"That's fine," she blurted with a sense of sarcasm.
"It doesn't sound fine."
"I've got to try to sleep soon because I actually have to be up in four hours. If you want, you could call me, not that I expect you to. But I am not leaving until Thursday night for the funeral and I'll be back on Monday. I am still at the same numbers."
I didn't want to hurt Unknown Name's feelings anymore by asking for the numbers she expected I already had.
"I can't promise I'll call because I am in the middle of a crisis. Just know that I'll be thinking of you."
"To be honest, I am not even sure now why I called you."
She suddenly hung up, which felt as fitting as her abrupt opening.
I spent the rest of the night fruitlessly scouring every incarnation of my telephone address book as well as the social register of my memory for an answer. Perhaps she'll take my silence as indifference, which will probably prevent her from calling back to ever clear up this late night mystery. If only Unknown Caller hadn't been right about my tendency to maintain night hours, I could more comfortably rely on the thought of this call simply being one of the more astonishing outcomes of a wrong number.