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Erica Longford opened one eye and gazed at the ringing telephone with venomous loathing. She was the sort of person who believed that ringing telephones were the cause of half the troubles in the world.
"Communication is the root of all evil," she thought to herself, as she tried to ignore the vile instrument. But closing her eyes again brought no relief. It continued to ring. Not for the first time, she wished that the phone company would turn off all phones at midnight.
One arm snaked out from beneath the bedclothes, clicked on the bedside light and picked up the phone. "It had better not be you," she hissed.
She half-twisted on the bed and propped herself up on her right arm. Her hair had tumbled over her face, obscuring her view as she tried to look at the time on the bedside clock, which shared space on the small cabinet along with a reading lamp, a pair of glasses, a tattered copy of a Kay Scarpetta novel, a glass ashtray, a pack of cigarettes and a sliver cigarette lighter – a gift from her husband.
She was the sort of woman who, even in the wee small hours, still managed to look more than attractive. But her face at this moment had lost its usual glow of beauty and had that particular look of annoyance that indicated that this had better be an end of the world emergency or else there would be trouble for someone.
"Oh honey, did I wake you up?" came the slurred voice, evidently that of a man who was feeling the effects of too many tumblers of single malt whisky.
"What time is it? You know what freaking time it is?" she rasped into the mouthpiece. "Why the hell do you call me in the middle of the night? What's the matter with you?"
"Did I wake you up? Did I wake you up, honey? Aw Jeez. I'm sorry. I kept on telling myself not to call. I kept on telling myself not to call you at this time in the middle of the night. Are you mad? Did I make you angry?"
She squinted again at the bedside clock and was able to make out the time – 2.30am. Erica removed the phone from her ear and gazed at it malevolently. She knew she was trapped. The phone had her by the short and curlies. If she continued to listen to him, he would ramble on in his usual drunken way. If she hung up on him, he would simply call again.
With a sigh of defeat she put her head to the phone. His voice came droning out at her.
"... did I? Are you awake? Did I disturb you? I'm sorry. I'm sorry honey. Really. You don't know how bad this makes me feel."
She cut in on him, "I'm thinking of writing a book. A hundred and one ways to murder your husband. It could be a best seller. Flowing off the shelves like an airport novel. Women buying it in their millions. Undertakers working overtime."
There was a pause in the conversation for a moment.
Then he spoke again. "I woke you up, didn't I? And now you're annoyed. Annoyed. Now you're annoyed. I knew you would be. I told myself not to phone. I knew you would be annoyed. Now I've got you all upset. Aw Jeez. I'm sorry honey."
"Don't honey me. Not at 2.30 in the freaking morning. I'm hanging up on you."
"No. No. Don't hang up, honey. I just called to tell you the convention is going to last another day. So I won't be home until Friday. Jeez, I'm sorry. I mean, I didn't mean to wake you up. Are you mad at me?"
"You won't be home until Friday. You phoned me at this time in the morning to tell me this? Listen, I'm going to hang up. I mean it. I've got to be up early for work tomorrow." Erica reached out and grabbed the pack of cigarettes. She stared at it for a moment and, thinking better of it, she tossed them back to the bedside cabinet. Her aim was not accurate: the cigarettes pack flipped off the cabinet and landed on the carpet – out of reach. She cursed silently.
"How's Bobby? Is he OK?"
Erica let out a long sigh of frustration. "Listen you pathetic drunk. Bobby is OK. Our son came home this afternoon from university. He's doing just fine. Now I'm going to hang up. I'm telling you. I have to get back to sleep."
Her husband was not the sort of drunk to quit talking just because he had been told to. "Is he doing well at university? Did he say? I mean exams and that. Is he doing well?"
"He's just won the freaking Nobel Prize for biology. Now I'm going to hang up, I mean it." Erica shifted her body on the bed trying to find a more comfortable position. She moved back hard against the man's body, fitting herself comfortably against him. The ringing phone had evidently woken him up too. His arm snaked around her, his hand gently cupping her right breast.
Despite her annoyance with her husband, Erica smiled to herself.
"Is Bobby OK? Did he make new friends at university? Did he pass all his exams? I mean, I'm not worried about him or anything. He's clever. He's the clever one in the family. I just wish I had his brains. Did I wake you up? Are you mad at me?"
"Listen to me, Arnold. It's half past two in the morning. I'm going to hang up."
"Oh Jeez. You're mad at me. I can tell."
Erica relaxed a bit, as she felt the man's powerful body move in a bit closer, jamming itself against her warm flesh. She could feel him pressing hard into the curve of her back.
"Did I tell you that I won't be home until Friday? This convention has to run another day. It's a bitch. Did I wake you up? Are you annoyed at me?"
"Arnold!" Erica was now running out of whatever patience she possessed. She had more important things to do at half past two in the morning than to listen to her drunken husband.
"Jeez, I'm sorry honey. Now you're mad. I can tell."
Erica couldn't bear to hear any more drunken apologies. She reached out and very firmly replaced the phone. She stared at the instrument for a few moments willing it not to ring again.
She turned around in the bed and snuggled into his warm body. She wanted to blot out her husband's words. Better a warm body that a slur of drunken ramblings.
Erica pressed herself into him as though he was her last hope in the world for action rather than words.
"Was that dad? What did he want? Is he coming home?"
She slapped her hand across his mouth. "Hush. Don't say anything." She didn't want to listen. As far as she was concerned, there were too many damned words floating around her bedroom.
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