Interlude: The Dial Tone
“So, you’re really following up with every meeting, eh?” his brother gestured as he spoke, skeptical of the path Etan has taken for his issues. Etan managed to roll his eyes, cascading a solemn grey glance off into the large window behind his brother. The city was bustling with people, as usual, and the status quo met even as the rain never ceased pouring. Naturally, it was in an older brother’s nature to tick off his younger sibling, but in this case, the roles were reversed. Etan’s younger brother was a couple of years off, just as bossy as Etan once was, but did not share the same sentiments as his older brother did.
“Every meeting, Ethan. Every time,” Etan replied, taking a sip of his coffee.
“Do you also take vitamins with that boring fuckin′ schedule and go to bed at seven, or what old man?” Ethan replied from behind his mug.
“Was there something you wanted to talk about or are we here for a pissing contest? I was twenty-four once, too. Partying doesn’t make you special, kid.” Etan snapped back.
“Yeah, except you weren’t. You were too busy being hung the fuck up over some girl you didn’t even let any of the family meet.” Ethan’s demeanor is just as sour, though, Etan finds this topic sensitive he doesn’t back down.
“She wasn’t Jewish. I didn’t want our mom to know back then.”
“They knew that you were not practicing Judaism anymore before you even met her. We all did. You stopped attending plenty of our Shabbats when you met her at school, but you were already working on weekends as a freakin’ teenager man,” gestured a roll of his wrist, continuing the list of signs, “Ate shrimp, non-kosher cuts of meat, you did a lot with and without her. Really, don’t blame her for renouncing your faith.”
“It wasn’t my faith, I’m not blaming her, and it was your father's faith first. He conditioned it to the rest of us and I never questioned it because it would mean I questioned my mother's choices. Besides, stepping out of line doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my faith. Or faith in general. I was born in America, and I want an American lifestyle and to believe in what I do at my own leisure. My dad did.” Etan was tired of this conversation, it seemed Ethan brought it up every time they visited. Ethan’s lips creased, but he merely nodded. They always spun circles around each other and that wasn’t why he was there, especially since Etan's dad was a moot point for the younger brother.
“I’m not knocking you, bro. I’m just saying that... I mean, you haven’t even called mom in over a year. It’s the holidays and she still likes to merge Christmas and Hanukkah up.” he reached out, grabbing Etan’s hand. “You don’t have to stay with her and dad, you can crash at my place for a few months--”
“You came all this way, from Montana, to New York, to tell me to come home?” Etan moved his hand away from his younger brother’s. Ethan, of course, looked hurt by the notion but the visibility of the emotion drained from his face.
“No. You wouldn’t even if I tied you up and threw you in the back of the plane. I’m saying to come home for the holidays. Come for Purim, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and the New Year... then come back. I know losing your job was hard for you but you have plenty of savings to cover rent. I'll even pitch,” Etan broke his gaze with his brother, and stared off outside again. It was nearly impossible to imagine he’d abandon the city to go back home, especially since it was there that he last saw her. “You need a fresh look at life right now. You look fuckin' terrible and this place smells like shit, honestly. I know it, you know it. Come to some parties, meet up with old faces. It doesn’t have to be all about our family, but it needs to be something about it. Mom misses you, dude. I--” he hesitated, “I miss you.” Etan looked back at Ethan, who reclused back towards his mug.
Ethan looked nothing like Etan, except for their olive skin. He possessed light brown hair, like his mother, and brown eyes like his stepfather. Etan had his father’s dark hair, and grey eyes, like their mother. It was difficult to read into his brother’s intentions, though on the outside, it seemed like the good ones persevered.
“If I come,” Etan began, making Ethan perk up with a bright, gummed smile. “If--and I fucking mean if--I don’t want to hear anything about my medications, my routine, how I handle things, or the picture.”
“Oh, God, you still have it?”
“Yes. I still fucking have it.”
“Fine, I won’t get all worked up over the fact you have a picture of your dead ex-girlfriend chillin’ in your wallet.” Etan winced, optics burning with both love and hatred for his younger sibling. “Even though it’s been five years,” he mumbled, forcing hot air to come from Etan’s nose. “And you haven’t even tried to meet someone new. Yep. Total panty-dropper.”
His younger brother smiled again, mixing what was left in his hot chocolate by swirling his wrist around. “Chill out, no one heard me. Get packed, okay? Call your therapist dude or whatever and tell him you’re taking three or so months off, family orders.”
“I said if, Ethan! If!”
Etan waited with his phone in his hand for what seemed like a millennium hoping that Dr. McCoy, either of them, would get back to him. He was uncertain about Ethan’s agenda, and being forced to make a decision oftentimes made Etan uncomfortable. He’d left a voicemail some hours after his meeting with Ethan ended, the deadline to pack being they had to leave by Thursday if he wanted a free plane ticket. Etan had nothing keeping him here for the time being, but still, a council of some perfect or right path to take would help ease his nerves.
Time passed slower once he started waiting for something, as all do, though luckily his phone vibrated before the slip of midnight was upon him. He gazes at the registry. Unknown number. Typically, he didn’t answer these kinds of calls, but he thought perhaps it was Mrs. McCoy calling from her personal cell or David from a number across the sea.
“Hello, Dr. McCoy?”
“Don’t come.” the voice on the other end warned, static filling the spaces between every word. Etan was in such shock, he could barely reply.
“Don’t come.” the effeminate voice warned once more before he heard a dial tone on the other end, then it clicked. Etan stared at his smartphone once silence filled his living room, blinking away the dryness in his oculars. Did he imagine that? Frantic, he tapped away at the caller list, screenshotting the unknown dialer, and stored it in his cloud to look at again. No, he wasn’t losing it. That happened, it was absolutely real.
The phone rang again. Unknown caller. He was frozen, unable to process what it was that was happening. A stroke of courage filled him, exhaling out of his chest just seconds after he tapped the key.
“Do not come here.” the voice said again, mocking him. The static had increased, and a shrill pain shot through his head, causing him to drop his phone. He was exasperated, grabbing both edges of his skull, where he’d claw and hit until the pain subsided. In that time of delusion, he stepped on his case, cracking it and the screen in the process. The call ended, sure, but the pain throbbed like a dull ache in the back of his head, subsiding slowly. When his phone rang again, he knelt on his wooden floor, answered it, and grit his teeth together.
“Whoever this is, stop calling me!” he seethed, only for the other line to stay quiet for a second.
“Etan...? Are you alright? I’ve been trying to call you back for almost an hour.” Mrs. McCoy said, concern clear in her voice. Through the shattered screen, he couldn’t see the number, or anything on the phone really.
“Oh.. ah.. yes, I’m okay. I just woke up from a bad dream. I was disoriented.” an excuse, but, maybe that’s what happened? He was originally sitting on his loveseat, after all. Perhaps it was a dream and he couldn’t tell because he wasn’t dreaming about her for the first time in years. Still, Mrs. McCoy seemed suspicious as she replied to him.
“I suppose. That certainly explains why you didn’t answer the first time. Anyway, what is it that you needed? Maria said you’ve called the office several times.”
“I uh, I saw my brother today,” he spoke slowly, plopping back on the couch, after rising from his knees and resituating into reality with a rub of his temple.
“Oh? Did it go over well? Does he live in the city?” she knew little of his family, unlike her husband, but knew Etan did not contact them often.
“He lives back home. It went alright, but they want me to come back. Just for a little while.” he hesitated, the voice ringing in his head. Don’t come.
“Do you think that’s a good idea? You sound--”
“My mother misses me. I’m twenty-eight and we're not getting any younger, you know?” The lingering guilt of not speaking to her at all had grown like a tumor in his conscience. Mrs. McCoy was silent. “... I wanted to let you know that I’m going, and I uh... stepped on my phone by accident so it’s busted. I’ll relay the pharmacy to send my medication to one there when I land and get another place to deposit it. I haven’t been there in a long time and don’t know if any of the old pharmacies are still open.”
“If you think you’re ready to go back, Etan, then I support your choices. Please keep in contact with us and let us know how you’re doing, and for how long you’re staying.”
“Of course. I will Mrs. McCoy.”
“Call me Audrey.” her voice chimed back, though, Etan was unsure why she’d want him to do that.
“Oh, uh, okay Audrey. I’ll contact you the second I land.”
“Perfect. Have a good flight. And Etan? You can always call this number if you need to talk,”
“Yeah, thanks... Goodbye.” he hung up the phone, staring at the whitespace of the cracked features within. Speaking with Audrey made him feel safer than he did before as if reality had returned to him. He guessed that he really was going home.
That caller was just a bad dream, after all.