When Ann Calls

By on Dec 7, 2014 in Fiction

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Pregnant woman, old woman and phone

So long ago—she was nearly 41 when Ann was born, and now Ann herself was in her late thirties. She had named her daughter after her husband’s mother, in an attempt to soften the old woman’s attitude toward her son’s wife. Instead, she had unwittingly imbued her daughter with her grandmother’s personality. Cold, severe, distant—those adjectives could just as easily have been applied to the child as to the elder.

From the time she was old enough to express her own individuality, Ann had been stubbornly resistant to affectionate gestures and pet names.

“My name is ‘Ann,’” she would insist, when Sarah made the mistake of calling her Annie, or “Anna” or any one of a dozen endearments like “sweetheart.” She was more forgiving of her father, perhaps because he so rarely spoke to her. But she resisted any show of affection from her mother, leaving the old woman to hold it all inside.

Her husband finished reading the paper, the signal that it was time to shut off the lights and go to bed. For more years than she could count, they had followed the same routine, but tonight, she was reluctant to put away the book of baby names.

“I might stay up a bit longer,” she said, half-hoping he would stay with her, read through the book, and find a name that he liked. “Besides, Ann might call. Did you check the machine when we came back from the grocer’s?”

It was a new answering machine, bought at Sarah’s insistence. Although they spent most of each day in the house, she wanted to be absolutely sure that if Ann called while they were out, they would know it. Each time they returned home, she eagerly scanned the face of the small black box, hoping that the red light would be pulsing, signaling a call from their child. Each time, she was disappointed.

“I checked it. You checked it. There was no call,” he said impatiently, then softened his tone when he saw her face, so transparent in its pain. “Ann is busy, Sarah. She works long hours. We’ll hear from her, I’m sure.”

“But you think she would call by now. You think she would answer me, tell me what names she liked, or if there was another name she had decided upon—” her voice broke, as she thought of the messages she had been leaving for her daughter: Ann, this is your mother. What do you think of Susan for a name? Or maybe Megan? Ann, how are you feeling? Is the baby kicking yet?

She couldn’t understand why Ann never returned the phone calls. She couldn’t be that busy. Or could it be that something was wrong, that the pregnancy was in danger and she didn’t want to worry her parents…

“That’s it,” she told her husband, still standing there, waiting for her to rise from her chair. “There is something wrong, and she won’t tell me. She doesn’t want me to worry. But if she would call, I could comfort her. I could tell her that it will all be all right. I could pray for her at church on Sunday. If she would only call…”

“There is nothing wrong,” he said. “Ann is busy. Besides, you know she doesn’t call us often. She never did. Why would you expect things to be different now?”

Because they are different, she said to herself, as she rose with difficulty from her seat. Her knees ached more in this cold damp weather. She wondered if she would be able to push the baby’s stroller in the spring or if the ache would be too much to bear. At least she would be able to rock the child, hold the small body close to her heart and feel its own heartbeat, an echo of hers but stronger, faster.

Ann would surely come to visit once the baby was born, she thought, changing into her cotton nightgown and running a brush through her short white hair. She would at least want her parents to see their only grandchild—“Wouldn’t she?” she asked, turning to her husband, but he had drawn the covers up over his shoulders and was already gently snoring.

Of course, her daughter would come, she decided, turning back to the mirror. She set the brush down. Perhaps Ann didn’t want her to suggest baby names. Perhaps Ann thought she was interfering. Pregnant women get such strange ideas.

“I won’t call her with any more names,” she decided. “After all, naming a baby is something the mother should do on her own. Instead, I’ll make a quilt for the baby’s crib. Yellow or pink or green or blue. Or maybe a patchwork quilt in case the baby is a boy” although Sarah was certain it would be a girl—a delicate, blue-eyed, golden-haired child.

“I’ll call Ann tomorrow and ask her if she had chosen the colors for the baby’s room,” she said to herself, as she climbed into bed to lie next to her husband. “I won’t tell her about the quilt, though. I want it to be a surprise” and she tried to picture Ann’s face when she opened the box holding the soft colorful comforter.

But the image wouldn’t come. So Sarah focused instead on the quilt itself—the fine, straight stitches that bordered the blocks of color, the satin ribbon trimming the edges.

I’ll choose the pattern tomorrow, she thought to herself sleepily. And when Ann calls, she can tell me what colors to use. I won’t buy the material until she calls. I’ll wait until then—when Ann calls.

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An Ohio native, Nancy Christie is the author of the fiction collection, Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories, and two short story e-books, Annabelle and Alice in Wonderland (all published by Pixel Hall Press). Her fiction can also be found in literary publications such as EWR: Short Stories, Hypertext, Full of Crow, Fiction365, Red Fez, Wanderings, The Chaffin Journal and Xtreme. Hard at work on several other book projects—including a second collection, a novel and a book for writers—Christie is also a professional copywriter and editorial consultant by trade, which is how she supports her fiction writing habit.