Last Call, by Katherine Billings Palmer
Her dad’s cell phone was tucked away in a drawer, untouched since his death six months earlier. Keeping his account open was a waste of money, but cancelling it would mean he was really gone. Time to face reality and cut the cord.
Kate logged onto her account at the Sprint website, scrolled down to her dad’s cell number, and clicked “cancel account.” A small window popped up, “Are you sure you want to cancel?”
“Not really,” she sighed, but she clicked “Confirm” anyway.
Later that evening, Kate snuggled into the recliner and reached for the remote. Her hand brushed her cell phone on the table, and she thought, I should call Dad and tell him about my promotion.
Damn. When would she remember that their nightly chats would never take place again?
She picked up the phone and scrolled down to his name.
Just for the heck of it, for old time’s sake, she thought about calling his number. She’d be able to listen to his voicemail message one more time. In fact, maybe she should record it so she could listen to his voice whenever she missed him.
Okay, she thought, I’ll dial and then hang up if it makes me too depressed.
Her thumb hovered over the name: “Dad,” then she pressed down. Silence for a few seconds, then ringing on the other end.
A man’s voice said, “Hello?”
She quickly ended the call.
Well, that was stupid, she said to herself, shaking her head slowly. I dial the wrong number, and instead of apologizing, I just hang up on the poor man.
But wait. How could I have dialed wrong? Dad’s number is programmed into the phone. Surely they wouldn’t have reassigned his number that quickly. Isn’t it archived or dormant or something before they give it to the next person?
Determined to forget the incident, she plunked the phone down on the end table, and went into her office to sort through the day’s mail. She tore open a coupon mailer, then stopped.
But that guy’s voice…he sounded so much like Dad that it was eerie.
She threw the envelope down on her desk, unable to concentrate on the task.
What if I call the number again, just to see if I was right about the voice being so similar to Dad’s?
She rose from her chair and walked back into the living room. After staring at her phone for a few seconds, she picked it up, and scrolled again to “Dad.” Her thumb hovered over the name for a second, then she pressed the selection.
Her shoulders tensed. She put the phone to her ear.
One ring. Two rings. Three rings. (This is stupid.) On the fourth ring, she heard, “Hello? Kate?”
Kate dropped into a chair, eyes wide. She slowly removed the phone from her ear and stared at the display.
What? Kate? Did he say Kate? That’s not possible.
She remained sitting with the phone at arm’s length. Hand shaking, she slowly drew it back towards her ear. The words got louder as the phone drew nearer.
“Kate? Are you there? I can see your name on the damn caller I.D.” Oh my god. It is Dad!
She leaned forward in the chair, phone clutched to her ear. She couldn’t speak, was barely breathing.
“Dad?” Kate let out a squeak. “Dad, is that you?”
“Of course it’s me,” he huffed. “Who the hell else would it be? You called me, didn’t you?”
Kate rose and began pacing the room, phone held tightly to her ear, tears streaming down her face.
Maybe I’m going insane. Isn’t this how it starts? Delusions? Hearing voices? Both?
“Kate? Why aren’t you talking? Oh, jeez, what the hell is wrong with me? Of course, you’re shocked. I’ve been waiting all this time for you to call, but you didn’t know that. I’m so glad you finally dialed my number.”
Well I might be going crazy, but that’s Dad talking and I’ve missed the hell out of him. May as well take advantage of my delusion while I can.
“Oh Dad,” she sniffed. “Oh my God, how much I’ve missed talking to you.”
“I’ve missed you too, dear. How are Rick and the kids?”
With a heavy sigh, she fell back into her chair. And through the tears, Kate began to pour her heart out. However impossible it was, she was once again having her nightly phone call with her dad….
Hours passed. They talked about anything and everything…
“Dad, oh how much I’ve missed you. I feel terrible about every minute we wasted in anger, in stupid arguments, being upset about things that never mattered.”
She snatched a crumpled Kleenex from her pocket.
“Oh, Kate, honey, that’s not what this call is about,” her dad said. “The good and the bad…that was all part of life. That’s what living is about. Ha, but listen to me; I sound like I’m some wise old sage. Just know this, I don’t regret one thing, honey, and you shouldn’t either. I’m so glad we had the time we had on earth. I rejoice in every single moment I shared with all of you.”
“Ha, Dad, remember when you helped me out of the treehouse, when I first discovered I was afraid of heights? And remember how you hummed along to every tune on the car radio? It drove us all nuts. Or how you taught Brandon to skip for his kindergarten readiness, and we all laughed at the sight of you skipping in circles around the back yard?”
She blew her nose and reached for a new tissue from the box on the end table.
“…And the food you cooked for all the special occasions…like the cole slaw for barbecues and your special lemon-lime refrigerator cake you always made for our birthdays? I made one for Marsha last week and she cried the entire time she ate it.”
“Well, you must have messed up the recipe, then.” My dad broke into his husky laugh.
Kate snorted in a half laugh, half sob. Oh, how I missed this banter, but it can’t be real, can it?
“But seriously, Kate, I want to thank you for the beautiful eulogy you gave. In fact, I thought it was a great funeral. I wasn’t thrilled with the cafeteria-style dinner afterwards, though. You know, I had to eat in a canteen in the army, and I’ve despised buffets ever since.”
How often had she heard this complaint? Every time she suggested they go to a buffet. And every time he said it, she’d tuned him out. But not now. Now it was like music to her ears.
“I meant every word I said, Dad. I didn’t say enough.”
“Well, Hon, you just remember to say those words to the living while you’ve got them. It’d mean a lot to you and to them.”
“You’re right, Dad. I’ll remember.”
They talked on. Then Kate’s heard a chirp and leaped out of her chair.
No no no! The call can’t be over! Not yet! I’m not ready! Oh my God, where’s the cord? I think I left it in the car!
She started toward the front door, then did a quick U-turn and ran into the kitchen.
With her free hand, she yanked a drawer open and knocked aside pens, tape, old screws, and used corks. She finally glimpsed the cord, snatched it up, and ran back into the living room. As she reached over the table to plug the it into the outlet, she knocked over a can of Diet Coke.
With trembling fingers, she plugged the other end of the cord into the phone.
Oh my god, I almost lost the call! she thought. The call of a lifetime and a stupid battery almost ended it.
There was so much she still wanted to ask him. “Dad, Dad, listen, I still have so many questions!”
“Is there a heaven, Dad? Is there a hell? Does God exist? Will we see each other again? Is there a way to communicate like this for everyone? Can we talk again?
“Can you see the future? Can you see the others, Dad? Can you get a message to Mom?”
At first there was no response, then quietly, her dad said, “I love you honey. Always remember that.”
Kate listened intently, but there was silence. She looked at the screen. It said, “Call over.”
When she awoke the next morning, Kate was still in the recliner, dressed in yesterday’s clothes. The phone was still clutched in her hand. She sat without moving for a few minutes, then scrolled to recent calls. The last call had been to “Dad” at 8:05 pm. It had lasted 235 minutes.
Slowly, carefully, she scrolled through her contacts, clicked on her dad’s name, and put the phone to her ear. It rang and rang.
Her email notification pinged, so she ended the call and opened her Gmail app.
The message from Sprint read, “Your account was successfully cancelled. If this message is in error, please contact an account representative.”