The Phone Call

Prologue

I just received a phone call from myself.

My phone, vibrating in my hand, glowed with a number: 712-780-8844, my number. Queasy confusion attacks my already-nauseous stomach. I set my snotty tissue upon the pale wooden coffee table before me. Student stories are strewn across the table, waiting to be graded, but for now their only company will be my Kleenex. In my cold medicine haze, I swipe my thumb across the screen to accept the call.

“Hello,” I say. I sniffle. Silence. I take the phone away from my ear. The screen lights up. I check again, and yes, it is my cell phone number. My brow knits itself into a knot, as I put the phone back to my ear, and repeat:

“Hello?” I hear my voice on the other end of the line, simultaneously repeating the same greeting. My initial reaction to this is to say nothing, to wait, to listen, my eardrums beating with anticipation. If it is myself on the other end of the line, she must be doing the same.

They say that in time travel, you must be careful never to meet yourself, for it would cause a paradox, or otherwise that your present self would not be able to handle the impossibility. I consider this for a moment. I’m not really meeting myself though, just my voice. And I am sick out of my mind, so at the time I believe this paradox is a possibility.

I sit up, straight-backed on the couch. And then, I hear it, a nervous clearing of the throat. My hand reaches up to my own throat, as though checking to make sure the noise did not originate here, on this side of the line. Again, I hear it: hem-hem-hem. But my own throat, though sore, is still as stone beneath my cool fingertips.

A sudden, strange calm spreads over me, my hand landing, a careful sparrow upon the cushion beside me. “Are you there?” I try again.

I swallow. A second passes, and another, and another. My curiosity crumbles into doubt. I’m starting to question my sanity. Here I am, sitting in my living room, answering a phone call from my own phone number. Did I press a button accidentally, prompting the call? Did I take too much of that sickly sweet syrup? Am I dreaming right now? Am I going crazy? And still, my curiosity creeps in on drawn-out clawed paws, wondering whether I’m about to have a conversation with myself, when I hear her–me.

“Yes,” she says, with a slight scratchiness and a definite lower tone than my own voice at present, but I know it instantly. She is me.

“How are you–how are we–?” I start, the right question escaping me. I lean forward, as if doing so will help me to be closer to her, to hear her.

Then she speaks, an urgent but calm purpose emanating through every word.

“This is the first time we’ll talk, but it won’t be the last. Listen carefully,” she pauses.

“Yes, of course,” I respond. I listen for background sounds, trying to gain clues, when a siren sound rings through, soft, distant, but there.

Then she says, “I’m trying to save us.”

I don’t even bother asking from what or from whom, and to this day I’m not sure why.

“Okay,” I say. I stand up and rush across the room, snatch up a pen from my “Best Mom Ever!” Mug, with the little e’s written backwards, and I start to write on the back of the CVS pharmacy receipt from yesterday morning.

Tuesday

4/9/2024

10:49 a.m.

This is today. This is now. This is a record that this, right here, is happening.

“What do I need to know?” I say, ready to write more.

I can’t tell you why I accepted this phone call, or why I immediately accepted this impossibility as possible, but what I can tell you is that until you talk to yourself, you won’t know the connection, the trust, the love I feel and know even now. And I know you’re sitting there angry, perhaps livid at how fictitious this whole “scam” this must seem, but it’s true, all of it. It’s even more important that you banish your doubt like I did mine. These phone calls saved my life. This story may save yours. I beg of you, take a deep breath and a chance. To let me save your life,

you must turn the page.

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