| Fiction, From the Archive

The Landline

Cover art by Alex Walsh

Issue 45.1
Winter 2015

Christian A. Winn

Yesterday the boy I pretend is David phoned. “Hi, Mom,” he said. “Happy birthday.” It was not my birthday, and I told him so, as I always do.

         “I miss you out here,” he said.

         I could hear the clatter of traffic behind him. I asked where he was.

        “Indiana,” he said, because he always chooses different states.

         I asked if he was coming home. “Not yet,” he said. “Not yet.”


All kinds of people phone me still—earnest strangers believing they’ve seen the adult him, or met a man at work with his name and features; women and girls who say they dated him, or bore his child; lonely drunk fathers who lost their own sons one way or another years ago, too; college boys claiming he starred in the porno they watched last night.

         At least these are lives for him to live. I so hope he is living one of them.


It’s nineteen years next week since I put this number out in the papers, on radio and television shows, on church and school poster-boards, on power-poles. The number. My thirteen-year-old son’s photo and name. Smiling kindly. Moppy dirty-blond hair. David. If you have ANY information, or if YOU see this, David, please call, PLEASE simply call.


I don’t see how I can ever give this number up. I can never give this number up. And I will never move from this squat ranch house in the south bay. He knows this number. He knows this little yellow home. One day he will come loping around the corner, one day he will truly be on the other end.


The boy I pretend is David has been calling for years. He gets many things right—the timbre of David’s voice, the schools and friends and his father’s middle name, his sister’s age. All gleaned from the papers, from television, memorized, delivered with heart. I never tell him the things he gets wrong—my maiden name, the color of my eyes, the name of our first cat, the correct ankle he split wide with a hatchet when he was nine, the shape of the birthmark along his spine. I used to dig. Now we simply talk, mother to son.


My life has taken its own skewed path since that day when David left for school, but never arrived. I’ve shifted jobs and friends, new favorite films and fashions. My husband is gone. My daughter now lives in a city I have never seen. But to disconnect this number would be to disappear myself, and to disappear without him. Some days I think I’ll make my own call, ask the phone company people to end it. But I know I won’t, deep down I know.


The first weeks and months were hopeful—David was spotted at the bus station, the train station, getting into an old Bronco, a conversion van, a VW Rabbit. People talked to him at parties three towns over. People heard he was hitching north to Oregon. People had sold him weed, advised him to phone his mother. The phone rang twenty or thirty times a week, and we followed each lead, but nothing cracked open, and David never phoned. So, I pushed harder—TV, radio, newspaper, national magazines, local political rallies. I knew he’d call. I knew he was out there, listening, watching, just waiting for the right time to come home.


One year and sixty-three days in the boy I pretend is David called at 11:38 on a Tuesday night. He said, “Hi Mom.” He said, “I think about you all the time.” The boy I pretend is David said he missed his sister who was back at State for her sophomore year. He said he even missed his father who slapped him in the garage for swearing at the dinner table that night before he left. He forgave Dad, he said, and he said he was okay, just travelling around with some new friends. He had money. He had food. He’d be home one day, when he was ready. I asked him when, I asked him please, could you come home tomorrow. I was crying, begging. And this is when he started laughing, “Goodbye Mom,” before hanging up. I sat trembling, hearing the round pitch of David’s vowels, the slight lisp he has when he gets nervous. And he knew things. How did this boy know things? It is all forever murky now. But, he called me Mom, and that word is exactly what it always will be.

Christian Winn is a writer living and teaching in Boise, Idaho. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, The Chicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row Journal, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Gulf Coast, Santa Monica Review, Greensboro Review, Bat City Review Chattahoochee Review, and several other kind and gracious publications. His debut collection NAKED ME is recently out from Dock Street Press – dockstreetpress.com – and check out christianwinn.com for further information.


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