Questions of Culpability — Madelyn Kittle

People miss phone calls all the time. Most are unimportant: a telemarketer bothering you about the best deals on auto insurance in your area, or the weird automated call that’s just a long pause before a beep and a robot voice intoning, “Hello. This call is for—” which is as far as you get before hanging up in annoyance, rolling your eyes.

But sometimes we miss important phone calls, one that could have made the difference between right and wrong, jail and freedom, life and death.

I didn’t know that before I checked my phone this morning. But I know it now.

I can hear vibrations coming from somewhere. Standing, I turn and face the brown corduroy couch. The sound shrinks from my ears. It must be in there. Frantically, I tear off the left cushion and toss it aside. Sliding my hand between the upholstered arm and the frame of the fold-out, my fingers grasp for the slim outline of my phone.

Finding no purchase, I remove my hand. Crumbs have filled the half moons of my fingernails. As I stare, my fingertips turn to dust and crumble away. I wrinkle my nose as the vibrations cease.

I wake up to the barrelling howl of my dachshund.

“Trixie, hush!” I whisper, my eyes still closed.

“Baaaaarooooooroooorooo!” she replies.

As I turn over, the first soft rays of daylight peek through my cracked curtains and greet my tired eyes. I can hear my neighbor walking around upstairs, which was probably the cause of Trixie’s alarm. Aptly named Trixie Barker after the drummer of my favorite band, Trixie is a twenty-five-pound doxie mixed-breed, and the light of my life. Even at the crack of dawn. “Come here, Trik,” I say, patting the bed and lifting the covers.

She jumps up beside me and sits down. I lay the covers on her back and close my eyes.

“Good girl,” I mumble sleepily.

I feel a tiny paw gently press my shoulder, echoed by a soft whine, as if to say, “Take me out, please.”

“Trixie, it’s so early,” I moan as I push myself to a sitting position.

Always a ball of energy, Trixie wags her entire body in anticipation. I shuffle to the bathroom and sit down. Trixie pushes the door open to come check on me, her cold nose brushing my naked leg.

When I finish in the bathroom, I put on my winter clothes. Trixie does circles around me, waiting for me to tie my boots and zip several jackets. I hate the cold and everything that comes with it, as evident by my thermostat, set to seventy. I dream of the day I finish college and can move somewhere where the wind doesn’t chap my skin.

I pull Trixie’s purple sweater over her head and front legs and snap her collar into place. Holding the exterior door open, I allow Trixie to pass through, into the freezing mountain weather. Great, it snowed. Ugh. I shake my head, remembering the guy in my creative writing class who doesn’t wear shoes, ever, and pull my hoods closer to my face and neck.

After a brisk and torturous walk, involving much cajoling from my side for Trixie to just “please be a good girl and go potty so we can go back inside,” we finally return to the apartment, which I affectionately call “Florida” and I begin the process of removing my wet layers. I search for my phone so I can begin my morning yoga routine. Unable to find it, I cast the video from my laptop and zone into zen. The gentle, strumming intro fills the room and I lay out my mat.

After Savasana, during which I can hear my stomach gurgling with hunger, I make myself a smoothie bowl. Topping it with a fresh banana, kiwi, and almond granola, I sit at my kitchen table and tuck in. Trixie sits patiently at my feet, waiting for something to drop, never realizing that there is a pane of tempered glass between her and sweet reward.

I pull up Facebook on my laptop and message my best friend, Aisling. We split after graduation. I came to the mountains for college and she went to school at the beach. She’s all the way across the state and I am really starting to feel the distance. Especially these last few months. We have barely spoken, and it makes me sad to think of growing apart from my childhood best friend.

Cora_716: Hey Ash, how’s life? Beach/bitch? Quick, answer now, gut reaction

Cora_716: Srsly, I misssss you

Cora_716: Dude. WYA

I check the clock and see that I only have about 15 minutes to get on the bus for class. I run to brush my teeth and gather my homework. I finally find my phone under my pillow and shove it into my pocket, ignoring the missed call vibration as I begin the layering process once again.

I’m sitting on the bus, surrounded by tired, overworked college kids, thinking, Same, y’all, when I am finally able to check my phone.

1 Missed Call – Aisling

1 New Text Message – Aisling

I’m sorry. Don’t be mad, or feel guilty, okay? This isn’t your fault. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s my time to go. I love you, Corrie >>> https://youtu.be/m2yStD2GWhU

The breath catches in my throat as I click on the link: it’s a lyric video of Blink-182’s “I Miss You,” and my hands shake as I call Aisling once, twice, six times in a row. My legs are flooded with adrenaline; my forehead prickles with fear. The bus pulls up to my stop on campus and I barely see the rest of the kids get off as I search my contacts for the number to her parents’ house.

Aisling’s Aunt Siobhan answers the phone, tears tainting her melodic Irish lilt.

“Is Aisling okay?” I blurt before she can finish the greeting.

My question is met with a fresh, sobbing, gut-wrenching, “Oh, dear Cora!” and I scream and throw my phone across the empty bus.

It’s all my fault, I should have answered her call, I should have been there for her, now she’s gone and it’s all my fault, plays over flashes of Aisling at seven, with her two front teeth missing, at twelve, showing me how to put on a training bra, at sixteen, cannonballing into a hot tub… all on a loop inside my head as I sink to my knees in the middle of the filthy, wet floor of the bus.