Cleaning out someone’s house after they pass is filled with memories, regrets and sometimes surprises. After their mother’s passing at the ripe old age of 99, Carolyn and Mike agreed to stay in his childhood house and help his sister Erin and her husband Steve sort through the house before the sale closing.
“It’s really sad to reduce a person’s lifetime into piles of yours, mine, sell and donate,” Carolyn said as they sifted through the kitchen cabinets.
“Yeah. I’m just hoping to avoid as much drama as possible, so whatever Erin wants, just let her have it. I don’t want this to devolve into squabbles over who gets this momento, the good china or the silver. She’s so emotional, I get the feeling she’s teetering on the edge,” Mike whispered.
Erin was the baby of the family and the only girl. But even at 65, she was still prone to passive aggressive huffs and sighs, sprinkled with sniffles and tsunami bursts of tears without warning, dampening the air with disagreement and disappointment. It made the daunting task even more difficult.
“What pile does the around the world spoon collection go in?” Carolyn asked.
“As far as I’m concerned, it can go in the junk pile with my dad’s Roy Rogers wagon wheel coffee table in the den. But I think we’re going to have to sneak some things out. She doesn’t wanna put anything in the donate or throw away piles. Every time I ask her, she cries,” Mike muttered in frustration.
“I don’t know if even charity will take some of these things,” Carolyn laughs just as Erin enters the room and hearing the joke, immediately cries and hastily runs out. Steve shrugs at them with his hands up and follows her.
“I feel bad for her, but between her outbursts and stubbornness, nothing’s getting done,” Carolyn said in a soft voice and Mike nodded.
“I know I feel like we’re walking on eggshells all the time. I don’t think she believed the house would sell so fast. She probably thought she had more time,” Mike whispered.
“I even took Steve aside to see if he wanted to just rent a storage unit so she can have as much time as she wants, but he looked at me with dagger eyes. So I guess that’s out,” Carolyn said.
“She already has two storage units full of stuff. She has a real hard time letting go of things. Let’s go into the den and go through the desk and file cabinet. We should be OK with a bunch of old papers,” Mike answered and moved to the other room.
They started stacking papers from the file cabinet on the wagon wheel coffee table, looking for important papers.
“Looks like Erin may have learned keeping things from your mom. Here’s a receipt for a dinner from 50 years ago. All it has is a phone number on it,” Carolyn chuckled.
“A phone number? Let me see that.” Mike reached for the faded receipt, looked at it with disbelief and laughed.
“I thought she was making this up the whole time,” Mike shook his head and Carolyn gazed at him confused. “When we were little, my mother always told us that she had the number of a hitman in her drawer. Anytime anybody crossed her, she threatened to make one phone call and that would be it. I always thought she was kidding,”
“Where do you think she got it?” Caroline asked curiously.
“I don’t know, she said it was given to her by someone in the mafia who she did a favor for,” he answered.
“Wow what was the favor?” Carolyn leaned forward with interest.
“It’s so ridiculous. She said that she gave a ganster the last piece of apple pie in a diner one day and he gave her the number. I never believed it. It’s like something from the Godfather. One day I will call on you for a favor,” he stood up with his lip over his top teeth mimicking Marlon Brando.
“I thought she made it up so if we were bad, we’d be scared she would use it.” He laughed and put the paper down.
Caroline smiled with a Cheshire grin. “Let’s call the number.”
“That’s silly. She made it up. It’s probably the number for her butcher,” Mike laughed and started sorting through the papers again.
Carolyn shrugged and put the receipt in the middle of the wagon wheel and picked up another pile of papers. But every time she looked down, her eyes darted to the number. It was like it was calling to her.
“This is crazy,” she shouted and then chuckled. “Can’t we just call it? I have to know.”
“What? That’s crazy. Even if someone was there 50 years ago, no one’s there now. What do you think a hitman has an answering service? Dial one for assassinations, dial two for breaking body parts. I’m getting some water,” he snickered and left the room. Carolyn picked up the receipt and went to the chair to get her phone out of her purse.
“I know this is stupid, but I can’t help myself.” She said aloud to herself and dialed the number just as Mike came in the door.
“Are you seriously calling that number?” Mike rolled his eyes.
“Yes, now shush, it’s ringing.”
Carolyn put the phone on speaker and the two stood over the phone in anticipation, while the phone kept ringing. Five rings. seven rings.
“See nobody’s there. It’s just gonna keep ringing,” Mike sighed.
“If it wasn’t a real number anymore, it would’ve gone directly to an error message from the phone company. It’s ringing. This is still someone’s number!” she said excited.
After 10 rings, Carolyn looked disappointed, but just as she was about to press the end button, someone answered.
“Hello?” a man’s voice said.
“Oh, my God!” Carolyn giggled and quickly hit the end button, hanging up.
“Why did you do that?” Mike asked frustrated.
“I don’t know,” she grinned. “I wanted to see if it was real, but I guess I didn’t want to know whose on the other end of the phone. But just in case, I’m keeping it,” she said and stuffed the receipt in her purse.
“Oh great. Now I have this number hanging over my head, again,” Mike said.
“Well, just so you know I have it. And you better behave yourself,” Carolyn laughed.
“Hey let’s tell my sister the number is real and they told us we need to donate everything… or else,” Mike said and they both laughed.
(c) Suzanne Rudd Hamilton 2023
One thought on “The Phone Number”
I liked that you had multiple characters all wondering aloud what the number could be. And your setting and circumstances were quite believable.
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