Short Story Saturday: The Third Ring

Edward Sloan picked up the phone after the third ring. He alway did, even if he had in his hand. The deliberate wait gave anyone else who happened to be in the house ample opportunity to answer ahead of him. It made sense. The call was rarely for him, and rarer still was the moment when he truly wanted to converse with the individual on the other end. Ring. Ring. Ring. He sighed, laid down his reading and caught the call just before the answering machine picked up.

“Hello, Edward,” his oldest sister’s voice breezed over his greeting, “I was just calling to see how you were doing.”

“Why, thank you, Barb—“ Edward began.

“We haven’t talked in a while and I was wondering how things were. Doesn’t time fly by? You do remember that Bob and I just put our house on the market, don’t you?”

Edward did remember, but there was no point attempting an answer to the affirmative. He nodded habitually to her question, catching himself after the second nod.

“Well, this afternoon a friend of our called, just IN A TIZZY saying that her neighbor needed to find a place to live. See, his girlfriend, who he lives with just went on a vacation with a couple of girl friends. It turns out she actually went with some other man. I don’t know exactly how he found out,” She interjected as if he’d questioned the validity of the statement; he hadn’t. “Naturally he’s furious and wants to be completely out by the time she gets back. He came through our house and liked it just fine. Now I know it would be sudden if he bought the place. I mean, we’d have to be out by Friday. We can manage, I’m sure, but it will be such a horrible rush to handle on our own with us being so busy as we always are. Don’t worry about him as a buyer, Edward, his neighbor assures us that he’s just wonderful and, of course, he has a top-notch job with some major electronics company in town, too. Yes, he could be transferred, I suppose, but it’s been 15 years and he hasn’t gone yet. I don’t anticipate any problems on that end.”

“We’re going to move in with Ted and Susan for a couple weeks until our new house is ready. That was so kind, so generous of them to offer, but I don’t think I’ll be able to handle living in that place for too long, if you know what I mean. I can only hope that our living there will rub off a little on them. Every bit counts, you know. Well, I imagine we can handle all manners of evil for a couple of weeks. Ted was a little resistant, but Susan convinced him, just like I knew she would.”

“Well, I’ve certainly got my work cut out for me this week, no doubt about that! We have a whole lot of packing and moving and I’d certainly appreciate any help anyone may be able to give, of course.”

She paused. The silence snapped Edward back to the conversation. The pause, it seemed to Edward, lasted an unusually long time. Dang it, the poor man thought to himself, I wonder what she was talking about. Her house? A friend’s neighbor? Unable to make sense of what she’d said, he did what he knew best and held his tongue.

“Soooo…what’s going on in YOUR life, Edward?”

“Actually, I started a new project at work. It involves—”

“Oh, don’t you waste your time explaining all those details to me. You know I never can manage to understand a word of it. Your time is much too valuable to throw away on a horrible oaf like myself. All that technology business…you might as well be speaking Italian! You always were the smart one. Oh, my! I really must run! I have so many things to figure out with this big move this weekend. It’s really more than the two of us can handle.”

She paused again.

“Well, I won’t keep you, Barb. I know you’re busy.”

“Good-bye, Edward,” she huffed.

Edward hung up the phone with a quiet click and breathed deeply. At least she didn’t need anything this time. Odd. Oh, well. Edward picked up his book and sank into the armchair with a contented sigh. Next time, he decided, I’m going to save myself the bother and ignore the third ring.
(written 7/2005, edited 2014)

 

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