Eleven answer-phone blanks from my mother. Nothing spoken. No words. Nothing to say, but then people so often open their mouths and begin to make noise without having anything to say. All blank, except for the fuzz of a television in the background; her patient and less patient breaths amplifying their scrape across the mouthpiece; and, twice, the accidental clang of the earpiece as it journeys back towards the cradle.
Listening to the absence of something is not the same as listening for something and hearing nothing. Aware of an absence, the mind begins to fill, without desire or bidding. It happens involuntarily. Mum is there in all of the empty messages. She’s there: fallen, lying on her back, outside the school gate, snow everywhere, my brother and I stood helpless and ashamed. She’s there: leaning back into the chair, too close to the four-bar electric heater, the skin of her legs polished a sickly scarlet from the heat. There: in the photo from the day we were together, smiling the most beaming smile; a photo once framed, once standing on her sideboard, next to her cat ornaments, her non-matching vases and her telephone.
I erase the two flashing LED numbers from the digital display.
The last call, the last nothing message, was more than twenty minutes ago. It’s now late, too late to return the call that could wake her, or bring her from her chair to the phone. She might be there though, stood next to the phone, waiting, thinking it’s not too late, but knowing that she can’t call again, not to not speak again. She’s there, both too late and not too late, both wanting to speak and with nothing to say. Both there and not there.