Staying on the line

I awaken before sunrise and pull on shorts, tank top, and sneakers and leave the house for a mile-and-a-half run in my neighborhood while my husband heads to the bathroom to shower and shave. It’s another early morning, and it doesn’t seem scary, at first.    

Within one block, my eyes adjust to the darkness. Within two blocks, I notice two people delivering newspapers, one steering the car while the other jogs from house to house, slinging plastic sleeves at front porches. The papers thud and thump. The car drifts through my neighborhood, a little behind me, my pace not fast enough to really get away. I know they are likely harmless, but my imagination outpaces my reality check.

I call up my husband on my cell phone, “Can you just stay on the line?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not asking you to talk,” I say. “But just keep the connection open between us until I get me.”

“Are you ok?” he asks. “Where are you now?” 

“I’m fine. I’m at the end of our street, about to make a right.” The huffs between my words tell us both I’m out of breath. Am I running that fast? “I just want you to stay on the line.”

“Ok. So you’re not gonna talk?”

“I’m gonna just keep holding the phone in my hand, but not to my ear,” I say. “You can go ahead and do whatever you were doing. I won’t be talking.”

I keep running, and from my palm, my husband’s noises find me: the whirr of the electric toothbrush, the swish of mouthwash, a rush of water from the tap, the slide of a bathroom drawer and then its clicking shut. 

I picture my husband standing at the sink, white towel wrapped tightly around his waist. I picture him squeezing sunscreen with one hand into the palm of his other, then rubbing it onto the top of his bald head in circles, as if he were soothing himself. 

You see someone do something so often you do not realize you have memorized it until you need it. The sounds of his morning make my breath even out as I pass all the houses he and I know from our daily walks, places I know we’ll pass again.

The sky is still a black dome as I huff the last uphill blocks on my street. Finally, our two-story house comes into view.  By now, the delivery car has turned onto another neighborhood lane.

When I am at the end of our driveway and can see the front hall’s amber light through the windows, I lift the phone to my ear. “I’m back.” 


I am about to repeat it, louder, when his voice returns to me. “Good,” he says. 

But I do not hang up, nor does he. 

He waits for the storm door’s creak, then the door behind me latching shut, to tell him I’ve returned, and I am home.