For seven years, Arthur didn’t answer his phone.
And for seven years, every single morning at about 8 am, the phone would ring, and ring, and ring, until his ears ached from the sound. Arthur would pause while making his tea, dropping the sugar spoon with a clank and a curse to cover his ears and counting the rings under his breath until it stopped. Always, it would trail off after seven and a half rings, cough angrily a few times like a car in pain, and then switch to the voicemail Arthur had recorded years ago when he was drunk in college, and never bothered to change.
“This is his royal dragon-slayer Arthur Pen, Pendragon, rightful king, errhh emperor of the Britons. Please leave a message and I’ll have my lazy slob of a court wizard Merlin sort it out in the morning. If he’s not hungover. Oy, Henry, I need that! Henry!” *beep*
And then the interminable silence as whoever was at the other end contemplated the message they might leave. Arthur always held his breath during this part, though he couldn’t say why. He supposed there was always the chance that they would say something this time and pierce the veil hanging between them; that this time would be different. But, no, the moment passed as it always did, in breathless, heavy non-interaction. Somehow, he felt let down after they hung up, and a little bit lonely. His tea was lukewarm, too, once he’d emerged from the thoughtful state the calls would leave him in.
One day, he picked up the phone, and went to form the words his lips had practiced so many times through the years.
“Hello,” he wanted to say. “Who is this?” But the surprised intake of breath at the other end of the line was enough to drive the words from his mind, and by the time he’d recovered his equilibrium, the caller had fled. There was only the muffled, half-hearted beeping holding the ghosts of conversations they’d never had.
Arthur sat down, thoughtful and a fraction sad. By the time he looked up, his tea was lukewarm and his phone was dark and still.