by Dylan Brie Ducey
At the corner of Dwight and Telegraph, Mitchell stops at a red light. He puts the car in neutral while a person pushing a shopping cart overflowing with garbage bags makes his way laboriously through the crosswalk. To Mitchell’s left is Beth’s building, an old four-story brick apartment. Its lobby features an old-fashioned elevator with a manually operated metal accordion door. Beth’s studio is on the third floor; her windows look out on Dwight Way. Mitchell cranes his neck to see if Beth is looking out her window right now. She is not. The light turns green. Mitchell puts the car in drive and turns left on Telegraph, then left again on Haste. Then there’s another red light at Dana. He could stay on Haste and drive six blocks to downtown Berkeley, maybe see a movie, or go to a bookstore, or get some dinner. But he doesn’t. He turns left on Dana, and at the next light he turns left again. He does not have a choice, by the way. Dwight is a one-way street. It’s not like he could change his mind at this point and turn right. By now it’s inevitable. He will end up next to Beth’s building again. How many times has he circled the block? Two or three. Actually, this might be the sixth time.
Mitchell called Beth an hour ago, on his way to Berkeley. She didn’t pick up the phone, so he waited to hear her soft voice that reminds him of rustling leaves. “Apparently I’m not here, so … after the beep.”
Mitchell left a message. Beth may not have been at home. Or maybe she was. Or maybe she wasn’t home the first time he called, when he was crossing the Richmond/San Rafael bridge but — and he’s just hypothesizing here — she may have arrived home after that and listened to the message. Here is the thing: Mitchell called her a few more times. He left a second message when he got off the freeway at Ashby Avenue, but there was a lot of traffic noise and he thought that the message might be unintelligible, so he left a third message when he crossed Shattuck — it was quiet there, and he was sure that Beth could hear him. If she was home, that is. After that he called a few more times, but hung up before the beep.
Who could say, really, whether Beth was at home to hear the messages? It’s seven fifteen now. It is early fall, it will be dark around seven thirty, and from what Mitchell can see right now, craning his neck while sitting in the car — yes, it’s pretty awkward — there doesn’t seem to be a light on in Beth’s apartment. But technically it’s still daylight outside. Even if there were a light on in, say, Beth’s kitchen, it wouldn’t necessarily be visible from the street. It’s hard to tell.
There is a café around the corner on Telegraph, only one block from Beth’s building. Maybe Mitchell will stop this crazy circling and park the car and go to the café and call Beth again. Maybe he will listen to the rustle of her voice on the answering machine again, and again, and again.
Dylan Brie Ducey has work forthcoming in Sou’wester, The Tishman Review, and The Minola Review. She lives in California. Find her on twitter @dylanbrieducey.