I listened to the dial tone until it flat-lined into a single note. Please hang up and try again. The receiver was heavy in my hand. Please hang up and try again. I pressed the red button to reset the phone, vaguely remembering the days when hanging up was more literal. The world was more physical then. We were more physical then.
Perhaps I should have seen it at the time but I always thought I was content in the moment. Now I think I was slow. What was it you used to say ? The appearance of things depends on how quickly you’re moving: that was it. That was typical of you. Making a joke about relativity when I was telling you how much I loved you. Still love you. You were always moving faster than me. I guess love must have looked different to you.
I knew what had prompted it. The reason I was holding the phone. The urge to make contact. On the radio this morning they’d babbled excitedly about gravitational waves, about detecting the ripples from broken stars across the furthest reaches of space. We can even hear it. God’s pulse. The universe’s heartbeat. But I needed to hear you, laughing at my ignorant wonder and explaining it all; rational, precise, sure. God’s pulse ? I could almost see you shaking your head, that mocking half smile. Signals converted to sound waves and frequencies pitched for human ears. You might as well let a child press random notes on a synthesiser. People will still claim they hear God. That’s what you would say, that or something like it. You were never cold though. Just different. I knew you’d hear the beauty in the sound of dying, ancient black holes, even if it was us that had given them artificial voice. You marveled at the ineffable but saw no guiding hand, no designer. Love had been the great unknown for you once. Something you felt but could not explain. The only thing I could ever express better than you.
There was something else I’d heard listening to that gravitational surge, something magical amid the traffic news and weather and stories of strikes and crime and footballers and missiles and award shows. I also heard hope. Or more accurately I remembered hope. I remembered us. To me it was like a distress beacon from the past; my distant collapsing heart, folding in on itself all that time ago, still yearning, still beating, only for its absent twin.
I dialled the number again, each digit echoing down the line and back across the years. You pick up.