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Impatient to Be Free

The text message says: It’s me! And for a minute I let myself think it might be you before I snort a little. Probably the usual thing. A phone solicitor, a ruse to get me to call some recording in Florida telling me I’ve won 5000 dollars in free travel vouchers, a wrong number. Hardly anyone calls my cell phone, and no one ever texts me. I look at the message again. The number looks legit, not an 800-number, local area code and all. It’s me! Could it be? There’s only one way to find out.

Who are you? I text back, slowly. I see kids do this at lightning speed all the time. Me, I never do it, and it takes a lot of effort. But I get it sent off, and it’s nicely done, I must say. Succinct. To the point, doesn’t sound desperate. I don’t think. Of course, I tell myself, don’t get your hopes up. It probably isn’t him.

I put the phone in my pocket, go out to walk the dog. Beautiful day for December. The sunrise clouds are orange and purple over the snow-blue hills in the distance. What a gorgeous day. Could it really be you? You never used to have a cell phone. You weren’t exactly a snob about it, but you were kind of proud of being a Luddite in that area. Rebel, rebel. I always thought it was because you prefer to be inaccessible. You’re much better at those games than I’ve ever been. What you see is what you get with me.

I decide I won’t obsess about this. I won’t drive myself crazy over a two-word message that probably isn’t even from you. I stop the dog, put my iPod on, shuffle it. Doris Day comes on: Once I had a secret love that lived within the heart of me…

So you broke down and got a cell phone, eh? What’s up with that? Guess you’re growing up a bit, changing. Well, you’re not changing that much. You haven’t texted back yet. I know you. You’ll probably take days to get back to me, and then you’ll be all casual, like, “Oh, I just thought I’d check in and see how you were doing.” Well, if it’s even you. Careful. Don’t get all worked up about this. You don’t even know who it’s from.

Back at home I go about my business. Do some work. Leave the radio off, in case the phone rings. Well, I mean, I know it probably won’t. And even if it does, it probably won’t be you. You’re at work, you can’t just stop and text me, no matter how much you want to.

— I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I could have been thinking. Can you ever forgive me?

— Of course, darling.

Now, wait. No. I can’t say that. Of course, darling? How desperate does that sound? Go ahead, darling, grind me into the ground some more. Hmm. Well, that’s a little bitter, isn’t it?

Stop this. Stop this now. It probably isn’t even him. Whoever it is hasn’t even replied yet. Just put it out of your mind.

I warm up lentil soup for lunch, breathe in garlic and lemon and ginger. Sing: All at once my secret love became impatient to be free…

I think I sound like Doris Day when I sing that song. I sound like her when I sing “Que Sera, Sera”, too. We’re both altos. You said you liked my low, sexy voice. I liked your low, sexy voice, too. I wonder if you like Doris Day? It doesn’t seem all that likely. I could get you a Doris Day CD for Christmas. That would be kind of a sweet little gift. I wasn’t going to get you anything at all. Of course, how ridiculous would it be to get you a gift? But now that things are different — well, if they’re different — um. Oh. There I go again.

Is that phone even on? Maybe there’s a message and I just didn’t hear it.

Mid-afternoon I take a break, brew some coffee. Listen to it drip into the carafe, breathe in the aroma. It’s me! That’s so like you. All carefree and breezy, after what you did to me. But I guess you know I can’t resist you. I never could. What would be an appropriate kind of meeting, I wonder? Coffee? A drink? A walk in the park? Lunch? I could wear that new green shirt I got. The cut is very nice, but the colour is a little — I don’t know, frumpy, maybe. Can a colour be frumpy? Something low- cut? I don’t know. I guess it depends on where we go.

The whole thing is ridiculous. I try to keep my mind off it, try to stay occupied. As I play some scales on the piano my phone makes its piercing message notification noise, consistent with the time you get off work. I feel a little twinge in my stomach, stay rooted on the piano bench for a minute before I walk down the hall to pick it up. I want it to be you so bad. But what if it isn’t? Or worse, what if it is? What will I say? What will you say? I take a deep breath and open the message.

Re: Who are you? It’s me, Claudia. Yesterday, remember?

Who the hell is Claudia? I read it several times, as though I’m somehow misreading it and it actually is from you. Through tears I try to blink away, I text back slowly, as is my wont: You have the wrong number.

God dammit.


Lori Hahnel is the author of  Love Minus Zero (Oberon, 2008), and a story collection, Nothing Sacred (Thistledown, 2009), which shortlisted for an Alberta Literary Award. Her credits include CBC Radio, The Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire and The Antigonish Review. Work is forthcoming in the anthology Freshwater Pearls (Recliner Books, Sept. 2011).


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