Sam says, “hi” and there’s a good minute of silence.
He used to listen to college radio back in his Duke days, eyes closed and lying on his bed when he had too many “John Doe’s vs. The World” cases in his mind clouding out rational thought. He would listen to the station at two AM and linger in the pauses that would gap the regular broadcast, tiny blips of silence between words. The pause. The space between a thought.
With Josh, there’s always silence. It must mean there’s a great deal of thoughts between them.
“What time is it?” Josh asks, voice sounding groggy. Sam briefly wonders why he ever bothers to try calling Josh at home because he never is home, not lately. Sam wants to ask if Josh has been drinking, but he doesn’t think so. Usually that adds an excited buzz to Josh’s voice, like it’s all the holidays of the year bundled into one hour. “God, Sam, it’s late.”
“Josh,” Sam scolds him lightly. “It’s six. Your time.”
“It’s always late. It’s permanent late now.”
Sam has to scoff. “It’s an election year. No more sleep and the advent of stupider people all across the country.”
“Yeah, and it’s twice as bad in Califronia,” Josh sneers. “All that sun and silicon.”
Sam taps his pencil against the blotter, wondering if there’s a way to write out all the thoughts and emotions in him, pour out onto the page and return to himself empty. He doesn’t think he’d like to try it. It sounds messy and he likes neat. Little compartments for this emotion and that.
“Josh,” he starts, unsure of his footing. California is terrible for faults and he feels like the one he’s on is falling apart. “Josh, I’m moving back.”
This silence has more weight to it, the weight of emotions and considerations and thoughts gone unsaid and words gone unspoken. Sam vaguely hears the stumble of a voice on the other end of the line, like Josh is attempting to speak English and failing badly, but then again, this is Josh and they shouldn’t try and fool anyone. Josh, for all his SAT boasting, has only ever had a tenuous grip on both the English language and sanity.
“Can you say that again?”
“I’m coming home, Josh,” Sam repeats quietly. There’s no static on the line, such is the way of a good long distance plan that Sam had bought. Be sensible and be smart, his mother had always said. Words his father never took into consideration. “So…you and Donna,” he teases. “What’s going on there? Am I going to write the big aria for the unspoken opera of love that’s finally bursting through or are you still at the unrequited song of woe?”
“You…You’ve never been the same since that damn Chinese opera,” Josh retorts lightly – though whether it’s because his voice is weak or because the line is getting worse, Sam doesn’t know.
Silence once more.
Radio silence, like the plague of static that assaults a radio station at three AM when the jockey accepts the wave of fatigue that threatens to dominate.
Sam reclines in his chair with the phone in his hand, wondering if his office is still there for him, whether they all moved on within hours or if there’s a semblance of his spirit haunting that room. He rubs at his eyes, but doesn’t hang up. When there’s silence on the line and Josh on the other end, the pause is a conversation all its own, the words that never get to be said.
“Sam,” Josh finally speaks up. “You’re coming home?”
Sam lets himself smile, but just a little. “Yeah, Josh.”
“It’s about time.”
And this silence brings all the words Josh isn’t saying. Thank you. I missed you. We need you. I need you. Sam doesn’t say it, but he’s saying the same unspoken words in that same stretch of quiet conversation, filling thousands of miles of distance with soundless promises.
“Josh?” Sam comments quietly.
“Don’t hang up.”