Ethan, Ethan

Mitchell Hagerstrom

The man moved the rocker to in front of the breakfast room window and sat down. The room’s table and chairs were still out on the sun porch where Grace had put them last spring when the weather had warmed. Outside, the trees were beginning to turn.

Just as he sat down, the old wall phone rang. He merely half stood to lift the receiver, and sat back down.

Hey, his brother said, from another city, another state, another time-zone. I tried your cell. You got it turned off?

Yeah, well …, the man answered.

So, his brother said, how’s the weather?

Fine, the man said. I happen to be looking out the window and the weather looks fine.

That’s not what I meant. I mean, how’re you feeling. How’s Grace and the baby? You know.

They’re fine, the man said.

Well, I got the blue on your car and been waiting for you to call. You said you’d call back.

Yeah? Well, I’ve been really busy. As a matter of fact, I’m busy right now. I’m holding Ethan and he’s being a bit fussy. I’ll call you back.

The man rested his elbow on the arm of the rocker, actually curved his arm as if he were holding a baby.

Put him on, his brother said. Let me talk to him.

Not right now, Frank. I’ll call you back. I promise.

Oh, come on. I’m the kid’s uncle and I wanna to talk to him.

OK, OK. The man took the receiver and held it in the air before putting it back to his ear.

Ethan, Ethan. Hey, kiddo, this is your Uncle Frank. Say hi to your Uncle Frank. Come on. Goo-goo. Say goo-goo to Uncle Frank. Hey, Marty, he yelled, what’s he doing? Is he listening?

Yeah, the man said, he’s listening.

Why doesn’t he say something?

God, Frank. He doesn’t talk yet.

Pinch him, Marty. Make him make a noise.

Forget it. I’m not going to pitch my own kid.

Come one. Just a little one. I want to hear him make a noise.

Listen, Frank, I’m busy. I’ll call you back.

Hold on. I just called with the blue.

OK. What is it?

Sixteen. The blue says sixteen. Wha’d you tell me you paid?

Twenty-something. I don’t remember.

Ask Grace.

I can’t. She’s not here.

When she gets home, for christsakes. What’s the matter with you?

Nothing. There’s nothing the matter. Anyway, we decided not to sell the car. Grace doesn’t want to sell the car.

She still giving you a bad time?

The man stood up. She’s not giving me a bad time, he said, pressing his forehead against the window pane. It was icy cold. The sun was bright outside; he was surprised at how cold the glass was. Just drop it, Frank, he said.

I thought you two had worked things out, Frank said.

The man moved toward the kitchen. Just drop it, he said, trying to make the phone cord reach the liquor cabinet.

You know, Martha may lock herself in the bathroom once in a while, but you CAN talk through a bathroom door.

Frank, the baby. The baby fell asleep. I have to put him down. I’ll call you back.

I’ll wait, Frank said. Go ahead, go put him down.

The man balanced the receiver on the window sill and went to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a generous amount of scotch. Then he sat back down in the rocker. The dogwood was beginning to show color along the edges of the leaves, and birds were a flurry around the feeder. It was probably time to move the breakfast furniture off the sun porch.

Hey, he heard Frank yell.

The man set his drink down on the windowsill next to the receiver. Hey, Frank yelled, again.

The man stood up, cradled the receiver, then lifted it off and let it dangle against the wall. He sat back down and began slowly to rock. The birds were still a flurry around the feeder, the dogwood still turning, and his drink, as yet, untouched.

-Mitchell Hagerstrom

July 20, 2011 4:48 pm

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