Around the World

By A. Molotkov

The phone is all the way across the house. The kitchen, the dining room, the long corridor. It didn’t used to look so long. I’ve told you this house is too big for you. Each step is so slow. Just three digits to dial, 9-1-1. And yet, it’s so far. A trip across the house like a perilous adventure. One more step. Betsy offered to stay, didn’t she? You should’ve taken her up on it. She will feel terrible if…no, no, you can’t think that. Not as long as you keep making step after step. Yes, that’s right, step after step. And that pressure in my chest is okay, it’s not so bad. It was nice of Betsy. She’s been nice to me for the last year or two. She used to be so irritable. I wonder what’s changed. One more step. Don’t panic. You can make it. Yes you can. One more step. One step at a time, nice and slow. Betsy has been doing better since she divorced that terrible man. Why not let your daughter stay overnight? You know why. She can’t stay every night, can she? Then she might as well move in. Tonight is like any other night, or at least it was supposed to be. One more step. The doctor told you, didn’t she? Told you more than once. Well, what did you expect me to do? It was going to happen one day, I knew it. Now, don’t panic. Just keep walking. One step at a time. It’s hard to breathe, I know. Of course it is. What did you expect? Just breathe slowly. No panting. You need the oxygen. Breathe deeply. One more step. Done with the dining room, already. Now down the corridor. It’s all straight from here. The door to your room there in the distance. You should have listened to Betsy about getting one of those newfangled cellphones. Never mind that, now. That plant over there in the corner, you really should treat it better. Can the leaves possibly be this brown? It’s dying on you. I’m afraid it’s the other way around. Ha! Very funny. This plant gets enough water. Maybe it’s the light? Not enough light? e Don’t worry about that pain in your jaw. It doesn’t feel good, but it’s the least of your worries. Betsy will be upset. But she has to deal with it one day or another. Maybe sooner better than later. One less worry for her. And me? It’s all been worth it, nothing to regret, is there? As they say. Nothing big. One more step. Hadn’t realized this corridor was so long. At least you can hold on to the wall. Lean on the wall while you make your steps. Just fifteen or twenty steps is all you need. The phone in my room, waiting. And Betsy. That Betsy and all her men. What is it about her? You shouldn’t keep blaming yourself for Betsy! She’s an adult. She makes her own choices. But didn’t I teach her how to make her own choices? I did my best. Do you think doing our best is the best we can do? One more step. Poor plant! I really shouldn’t get any more plants until I learn to handle the ones I have. And the cats! What about the cats? Who’s going to take them? You haven’t made the arrangements. And none of them around at a moment like this! A moment like this. Sounds very important. I hope it’s not. Because I don’t know if I’m ready. One more step. I should clean the windows sometime. Look at all this dust in the corners, spider web, mold. This house is too big for you, haven’t I told you? Yes, I know. Keep breathing. Slowly, slowly, hold on to the wall. It may take a few minutes. You don’t have to rush. Don’t worry, your chest won’t explode. Just keep moving. One more step. That jaw pain – is it getting worse, or am I just imagining that? That poor heart of yours, it was bound to croak one day, with all those burgers and fries and fish and chips. You should have cooked for yourself. Healthy foods. Carrots. Lentils. Zucchini. Maybe you wouldn’t be here right now. Yes, I know. But what do I care? It’s too late. Just keep moving. See how long this corridor is, and pretty, somehow. Good thing there’s a wall to lean on. Legs are getting weak. Just don’t panic. You’re halfway there. Just concentrate on walking. But not too much. No need to concentrate too much! And don’t even think about sitting down. There’s no need for that. Not with this wall holding you up so carefully. The wall is beige, my favorite color. But the pattern is out of focus. Just think of it: you’re almost there. One more step. Poor Betsy, what will she do now? Don’t worry, she’s a big girl. She’ll be just fine. Remember that time when she was nineteen, so young and sweet and innocent? You hid Michael’s letter, didn’t you? She asked if he’d written, asked more than once. But he was not right for her. He just wasn’t, with his temper and his shady friends. But what do I know? Maybe her life would’ve turned out differently. Can’t go back. He wasn’t that terrible, Michael. I see it now. Better than the bastard she ended up marrying. Maybe Michael was a bit too much for you at the time, with his hippy ways and his confidence. I thought he would get Betsy into trouble. Probably would’ve. How can anyone know? One more step. You’ve never told her about that. How could I? She waited. For several years. Just couldn’t believe he wouldn’t write. Why didn’t he write again? Or call? Why didn’t she? Who gives up after one attempt? So it was meant to be, right? Or did I change the outcome? This pain is distracting. I didn’t think it would feel like this. What did you think it would feel like? Nothing. Just being here, and then not being here. You don’t think these things through until they happen. One more step. Thank you wall. Thank you wall. What would I do without you? Poor cats. What will they do? How long before they know? They’ll probably know right away. Enough food in the bowl for them for a day or two, but they will probably eat it all today, bastards. The phone is very patient. It’ll wait. It’ll wait until you make it. You’re more than halfway there. Just keep walking. Just don’t stop. And Billy. Poor Billy. He was so still when they took him out of me. You remember, it was going to be Billy or Betsy. Turned out to be a boy. I knew, of course. You know those things. He’d stopped kicking. Where is he now, I wonder? Poor little boy. He would have been a middle-aged man by now. Your legs are getting weak, you better watch out. None of these sentimental memories, you hear? They will slow you down. One more step. And Joe? How many years has it been? I guess we knew he would go first. Knew for a while. He didn’t get old well. Sixteen years now. Remember how slim he was when you met, when you got married? Remember all the flowers? But he couldn’t hold on to that slim shape past his thirties. Who can? At least you don’t have to worry about him today. His dear old face. But Betsy? She will feel bad she didn’t insist. She should have stayed. You should have let her. Too late now. One more step. What is this all about with this knee. It keeps bending. No, don’t let it give up on you. Hold on to the wall! Falling is not allowed. Breathe! Hold on to the wall, that’s right, like that! Push up with your feet, get that leg back into its correct position. That’s right. Just two or three steps left, and you’re in your room. Let’s concentrate. Take slow breaths. You can think of your family tomorrow. Tomorrow? That fork is still there in the corner. Dropped it the other day, and still haven’t picked it up. You have all the excuses of living on your own, you do. No problem, I’ll pick it up, I promise. One more step. Now I can get hold of the door frame if I really reach for it, but I better not risk it. Better hold on to the wall and make one more small step. An easy step. You’ll be there before you even notice. All these places you’ve been, all around the world. Europe, Asia, Africa. What wouldn’t your mom and dad do for those opportunities? Their travel was mostly domestic, more camping than traveling. Strange, neither of them got to be as old as I am now. Wouldn’t you like to be there again? In those moments, thos
e places? With your parents. With Joe. I was always the one to plan it all, to study tour guides. Joe didn’t really care, always happy to come along. For some reason I never traveled after he died. Joe was always so nice. I wish we could go through this together. But no, it doesn’t work that way. He went through this long ago.  Do you remember what he really looked like, or is it more the photos you keep looking at? How could I forget? After thirty-nine years. Poor Joe. He was so upset about Billy. I never told Betsy. She didn’t need to know. One more step. Here we go: now you can hold on to the door frame. That’s nice. And the phone, still waiting. Don’t worry, phone. I’m getting there. I’ll be there in a moment. This hardwood floor, it’s so slippery. You should have worn your slippers. It’s safer with slippers. I told you, didn’t I? Don’t be silly. Slippers would have made no difference. It’s my heart, silly. I wish Betsy was here, so I could say goodbye. What goodbye? No one is thinking about goodbyes. One more step. Enter the room. You are in your room, see! Too bad the phone is on the desk, all the way by the window. The world outside so glittery, with the sun and the breeze and all, I’m tempted to just look. No wall to hold on to if I head straight for the desk. That won’t work. I have to go around. Yes, you better. Sounds like a good idea to me. I told you you’d make it. The pressure is getting bad, but I want to celebrate. You’ll celebrate in a few minutes, don’t worry. After you make that call. But my legs are weak. I feel lightheaded. Moving slowly, holding on to the wall. Won’t you meet me halfway, phone? All these people. Mom, Dad, Joe, Betsy, Billy, Emma, Christine, Dave. So many people to run into in a lifetime. Don’t forget the next step. Okay, okay. Think about all these people. Where are they now? Some alive, most dead. Remember how you felt when dad died? Of course I remember. Felt as if I’d missed the chance to know him, or he had missed. Felt sad, sorry, confused, relieved. Then mom. You felt as if you were on your own. And you were. Then all these other things. One more step. Don’t fool around with your knees giving in again. It’s not a good game right now. Okay, let’s try. Let’s hold on to the wall. Why is it so hard to breathe? The wall is too slippery, that’s what it is. But it’s okay, you can hold on to the bookcase. You’ve made it this far. You can travel along the furniture line. Just make sure air gets into your lungs. Then you can reach over for the phone. But my balance is not what it used to be. Don’t focus on it, that’s all! Okay, I’ll try. But I’m so tired. It would be nice to take a break. Not now! Are you crazy? Just keep walking. You’ll get to that phone and then you’ll take a break while they’re getting here. You hear me? Sure. I hear you. I’ll try. It’s not so far anymore, is it? I can’t really see for some reason. The window’s too bright. No, of course it’s not far. Just seven or eight steps. You can make it. You will make it! Okay, let’s do it. Let’s try it. One more step. Betsy, Betsy! If you could go back in time, you would give her that letter, wouldn’t you? I still have it somewhere. Why did I keep it? I guess I was never sure about my decision. Later, I heard Michael ended up doing well in his life. He owned a chain of gas stations, or something practical like that. The letter is somewhere in this house. She’ll find it. She’ll hate you for that. Yes, she will. I wish I had time to hide it someplace, but I don’t even know where to look for it. It’s probably in the attic, with all the other papers, birth and death certificates. There must have been many things I’ve done wrong. I feel like there is something I still haven’t been able to teach Betsy, but I don’t know what it is. I haven’t found the words. Just like with Joe. When he died, all these things I’d never been able to tell him. The pressure in my chest. it’s building. The wall so slippery, my hands can barely hold on, my knees so weak, and the wall tilting, but it’s okay, isn’t it?  One more step. How soon will Betsy find out? Find out what? Stop that nonsense! Nonsense? This last step took forever, didn’t it? Feels like half an hour, or more. You don’t have all day. And the air so strange, thick, as if there’s not enough of it. I guess there are things that Betsy knows and I don’t. Things she’s never been able to tell me. My legs, they refuse to walk. The wall so slippery. Now I’m on the floor. How did this happen? Don’t worry. You can make it. Just get up. Get up right now! But I’m beginning to feel relaxed – it’s so nice. Is this how it’s supposed to be? Joe? Just a few steps left, the carpet is soft. Was there a carpet here? I crawl on all fours. That’s safe, very safe. But the carpet is slippery too – I feel lightheaded – I
need a break. Just for a second, with all this pressure, all these slippery things, all these people I got to revisit. These sweet memories. One more move. More like a half-move. My body is so tired. I see it collapsing right by the desk, but I’m still inside it. The desk’s wood is beautiful, dark, real. Sorry to keep you waiting, phone. I’ll be there soon. I just need a break. My thoughts are so relaxed now. What was the most important thing in all of it? What was it? Shouldn’t I know by now? One of my slippers is right by the desk. Where’s the other one? Get up. Get up and keep going. Get up, now! Yes, yes, I will. But not now. Not this very second. But I will, I will get up. I will keep going. I will get there in a minute, just let me take a break. A short break, now that the pain is subsiding. I’ve tried, really tried. Doing our best is the best we can do, isn’t it? This journey across the house, is … what? You can’t think very well, can you? Like what?

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A. Molotkov

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