The Phone Book
He'd come to the library to borrow a book on CD, but had forgotten his library card, which turned out to be more bothersome for her than it turned out for him. Take away that simple mistake on his part and Elizabeth would have never known his name and knowing his name had become a serious distraction in her life. A life that had enough distractions without even more distracting additions piled on top of the immediate distractions at hand.
“I apologize. I've forgotten my library card”, he'd said in a voice that was nothing short of NPR perfection. The squirrel-like librarian smiled up at him showing him her over-sized teeth, said it happened all the time, not to worry one little bit and asked for his name. “Raymond Altwright” and that was that for Elizabeth. The distraction, in this case thinking about some man again, would embed itself like an uninvited house guest, but one with a voice like chocolate cake with chocolate sauce on it.
She'd come to the library for a book on CD as well. Raymond Altwright had been browsing through non-fiction, while she'd been looking through the fiction collection, which shared the same case, but faced outwards on opposite sides, allowing her to catch sight of Raymond Altwright through gaps where titles had been checked out.
Books on CD were company in the car for her. They filled up the silence with words more interesting than she would have, thinking about what ever it was she was thinking about at the time. But, the reader had to have the right voice, they needed to sound like a confident pilot or perhaps a veteran news anchor for her to keep listening. Honestly, the plot could be going nowhere in a swampy mess, but if the reader sounded like Terry Gross, she'd listen to the end every time. No doubt, too many books on CD had a reader who's voice she couldn't listen to for long. Read by the author? Forget about it.
Raymond Altwright, unfortunately, had the perfect voice for a book on CD. Not particularly handsome, but not unappealing in any way either. His dark hair had stuck out in odd places as if he'd left home without checking himself in the mirror. He was slender, wore a Ralph Lauren teal colored button down and polished black shoes. Elizabeth didn't know if the shoes were wingtips, wasn't clear on what a wingtip might really mean in men's footwear, but decided they were probably wingtips anyway.
She'd been wondering if she still considered herself a feminist as well, because she really didn't know what Feminism might mean in women's lives today, but decided she was probably a Feminist anyway. Going boldly where any man can tread didn't seem too much of an issue and that included overt leering if she happened to find a man appealing. Perhaps feminism had run it's marathon and won and some women just didn't know where the finish line was. Elizabeth was happy that just short of fifty she still attracted some admirers, even if it was usually unwanted and quite often a pain in the ass.
Her ass, she reminded herself, was as tight as a can of sardines. She never worked out, didn't do the yoga thing, couldn't be bothered with sports of any kind and she ate whatever she fancied whenever she fancied it.
She'd heard somewhere that if you wanted to meet single men, the frozen food section was actually the ideal place to stalk them: A strategy that assumes the men shopping there don't have a woman to cook for them and can't cook themselves and which also recalls the old adage that love and men's stomachs are the true perfect match. It also implies the dreary supposition that being a woman is synonymous with being a good cook, an unfortunate misnomer that feminism successfully shuffled off to the History Channel some time ago.
Seeing Raymond Altwright make his CD selection and begin moving towards checkout, Elizabeth followed along behind him, making a blind CD selection of her own and imagining striking up some idle talk with this somehow appealing man. Perhaps, “Come here often?” No . “Here for early voting today?” Perhaps.
She wondered if he was a Democrat. His shoes didn't look Democratic, but certainly not all Democrats wear shit for shoes. In the end, she was separated from him by a mother and child, both of whom had asses the size of aircraft carriers.
Exiting the library, she saw him walking towards the university which she assumed meant he lived in town, and which also indicated that he was most assuredly a Democrat. Let's face it, Republicans just do not walk.
She early voted and got a sticker to prove it. What was with the sticker anyway? They were always the exact same election after election. I Voted! They must have bought billions of them from China all at one time twenty years ago.
Once in the car, she realized she'd picked out a Margaret Atwood book and threw it in the back seat. What had Margaret Atwood done to deserve all the acclaim and accolades? Elizabeth had no idea.
She arrived home, intending to stir up some stir-fry but instead zapped some of her macaroni and cheese, a recipe that she'd concocted herself which included cottage cheese and opened the NPR app on her mobile. The silky voice of NPR. The homogeneous commentators not unlike warm macaroni and cheese. Raymond Carver, the beloved short story writer who's new film adaptation of Five Boys and A Wheel was receiving the typically fast-paced NPR review that you trusted without reserve. It didn't matter what NPR said. They could say anything. The earth is running out of cottage cheese. Sounds like a warm blanket. Raymond Carver this and Raymond upon Raymond that. She turned the app off.
If one were trying to find someone, track down a stranger, what would be the way to proceed? She fired up her Facebook app, typed in Raymond Altwright, got some free-range bearded outdoorsy type in Portland. Tried an alternate spelling of Raymond Altright, got listings for some political groups that loved white people and America, with white people coming first.
Elizabeth had been single for ten years, since her divorce from Roger the gloomy engineer. Roger had got caught putting his over-sized pecker into a co-worker who happened to be a fellow engineer at the same firm. Shortly after that, Roger declared with liberated glee that he was gay and had been denying himself the comforts of hairy chests and morning stubble to nuzzle against. A quick no-fault divorce followed, including the state-mandated equitable distribution of assets, revealing Elizabeth as the overwhelming majority share-holder in that financial partnership, and which according to law, Gay Roger received half of. Talk about Women's Liberation.
She cracked open her Instagram app, typed in Raymond Altwright, got the same barrel chested tree lover in Portland.
Elizabeth gazed out the window into the autumn twilight. It got dark so early. Was that really necessary? Were people working around the clock on this problem? Bare trees. The over-priced little yellow bungalow that had been on the market since Spring. A tangle of telephone and electrical cables slumping along above the street.
Did people still use telephone wires? Elizabeth still had her land line, even though she'd been thinking of switching it off, but just had never gotten around to it. The land phone was part of a cable deal, grandly branded as the Silver Package, which also brought her the ever growing internet of things along with Showtime, HBO and countless other entertainment channels, which she only lit up when she was sick.
She was never sick. Why she was never sick, no idea. She was convinced she was doing something right, but could never put a finger on what it was. She glanced over at her land line, which was attached to an antique answering machine. The answering machine had a little red light on it that would blink like a little bitch if anyone ever left a message, which no one ever did. The only calls she received on her land phone were people or robots trying to sell her something.
Did people buy things from telemarketers? One supposes so. Other-wise, why bother calling? Maybe buy a timeshare, who knows? And where did the robot callers get her number? Were there still phone books? Was there even a phone company any more that watched over and cared for the sad phone wires, strung coast to coast and largely empty of voices? If there were phone books, Elizabeth thought it a good bet that they were getting thinner and thinner.
Wine was a good idea. Wine was always a good idea. Was wine and cottage cheese a good idea? Unclear. Probably not but who cares. She was an unstoppable fortress of healthy wellness.
What exactly was cottage cheese anyway? How was it different than say, any other tub of cheese? Why the word Cottage? Why not Bungalow or Cabin or Condo Cheese? Elizabeth poured herself a generous wallop of wine allegedly made by the film director Francis Ford Coppala. The label had his name on it. Coppala would wash the Raymond right out of her brain, for sure.
The cook books were in a closed book case, one of her favorite pieces that the Gay Roger didn't get his unwashed hands on. Pondering the nature of cottage cheese, Elizabeth thought the answer might be tucked away in the beautiful book case that Roger would never, ever open again.
She could open up the internet and do a search for Cottage Cheese, but knew she'd end up at the Wikipedia. Who can trust the Wikipedia? Anybody can go in there and add whatever flat-earth notion they have on the subject of cottage cheese. She'd come across too many topics that she knew for a fact were incorrect or at least harmfully misleading. On more than one occasion, she'd actually popped open the editor on a subject, typed in what she knew to be accurate, but for some reason could never pull the trigger on the save button. Why bother? And what if what she thought was true was just something a lazy high school teacher had written on the board that he thought was a fact and then committed to a test that she'd subsequently aced? Perhaps facts were up for grabs to the highest bidder. No way to know.
Elizabeth trusted her cook books. How could a cook book be wrong? One wrong passage in a cook book and you get a solid block of concrete for dinner. She opened up the case, the long leaded glass doors that she loved, both heavy and somehow reassuring. Tucked away between the old reliable Joy of Cooking and a misplaced Dictionary was the yellow spine of a faded phone book. The year 2001 was prominent on the cover, the very heft of it a solemn reminder of how fast the world will change.
She paged through the A listings and there it was. Altwright, Raymond 828-258-4773.
Her magnetic refrigerator notepad had Tuna written at the top. Below that, she had written dish wash. Below dish wash, was written oil change and this was neatly underlined twice. Below oil change, she wrote 828-258-4773. So, Raymond was now on her to-do list.
The next morning, Elizabeth poured herself a cup of coffee. The coffee maker, which had obediently made her coffee a half hour before she got up, was a Cuisinart. Elizabeth knew this because the name was stamped directly onto it, making the brand unavoidable to ignore. What gives a coffee maker maker the right to place an advertisement in her kitchen? Her ceramic top stove assumed the same privilege. It advertised Whirlpool front and center. The refrigerator, which advertised KitchenAid, reminded her that tuna, dish wash, oil change and Raymond Altwright were on her to-do list.
The land line phone was the Princess model, with a twisted phone cable attaching the receiver to the pink base. Gay Roger had bought it years before coming to grips with his true sexual destiny. He was the princess now and really should have taken it as part of the split. She said, “Right then” and dialed the number. This is a bold move, she'd thought. This is the type of rights we women of the liberated front have fought for and won. Victory in the battle for voting rights, early voting rights, drinking copious amounts of Coppala on equal footing with the rotten boys, all victoriously sealed in stone.
The phone rang. Her palm went moist around the pretty little princess. “Hello this is Raymond.” His recorded message sounded better than NPR. “Sorry I'm not home. Please leave a message.” She hung up and finished her coffee.