I was working late in a dark office when I received the call announcing my impending death. The sudden vibration of the phone on my desk woke me from my work induced trance. I became instantly aware of the fact that I was floating in space in the vacuum of a dark room left behind by the setting sun. I had been forsaken by all light. While I had been battling reports and constructing walls of numbers on a white screen, my room had slowly sunk into the murky depths. My only remaining companion, a small desk lamp nearby, cast long harsh shadows on the walls as I reached for the growling phone.
The call was coming from my wife. She no doubt was upset that I was still at work at 9:00 in the evening and was eager to find out how I was. Had I eaten? Was I leaving soon? I prepared myself to say no to both of these questions, and ran a weary hand through my hair as I brought the phone to my ear.
But the voice on the other end of the line was not my loving and concerned wife. In fact, it wasn’t a voice at all. The noise that greeted me when I answered the phone was a blank wall of silence. “Hello?” There was no response. I grew quiet and as I listened closely I could sense something deeper. Something hiding in the foggy distance behind the silence. A soft wet breathing sound.
“Hello?” I said several times more.
I was about to hang up and call back when the thing on the bottom of the silent lake slowly surfaced to speak into my ear.
“where. are you?” it asked quietly.
It was clearly one of my children.
“Clara?” I asked, hesitantly.
There was another uncomfortable silence as the thing dipped back into the dark pool and then once more surfaced.
“where. are you?” it repeated.
“Lydia?” it was clearly her at this point. Her broken slurred sentences and disembodied inflection was telltale. My heart settled slightly with the realization. “Lydia, sweetie. I’m at work. I’m working on something and I’ll be home soon.”
She was quiet once more. Teasing me in the distance. “Lydia, I’m going to have to go so I can-”
“when. are you going to die?” the question came abruptly and in an even tone.
“What?” Surely I had misheard her delicately lisped 3-year old question.
“when. are you going to die?” she repeated.
I took a deep breath trying to understand where her question might be coming from. “Lydia, sweetie. I don’t know when I’m going to die. No one knows.”
She slithered back into my ear once more and tauntingly responded. “i know.”
“i know. when. you are going to die.”
I stared at my reflection in my office window. I saw a tired man standing in an intricately mirrored reproduction of my office. I saw the warped reflection of his lamp burning on the far side of the room, and the deep shadows that surrounded his eyes as they stared back into mine. We stared back and forth into each other for several heart beats. He looked stricken, and baffled. He held a phone up to his head with a slightly trembling hand. He opened his mouth to speak but before the words could escape his lungs he exploded into a cloud of leaves as a tree superimposed inside of his office shivered violently with a passing gust of wind. I decided to sit down.
“Lydia. When is Daddy going to die?” I asked her gently.
The child’s response was simple. “tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” I asked. “Are you sure?”
“yes.” she said. “i know. because mom told me.”
I rested my forehead in my hand as I leaned onto my desk. The phone line had returned to soft static. My refrigerator grumbled to life in the other room.
“Lydia, I’m going to hang up now, okay? I’ll talk to you when I get home.”
There was no response. After a few moments I hung up the phone. A few moments after that, I walked across the room and turned the light on. Although I had planned to work for several more hours, I decided I should maybe go and enjoy what might be my last evening on Earth.
I burst through the door a few minutes later and was greeted by a parade of happy children, the last carried in the arms of a smiling wife. I kissed them each on the forehead and tucked them into bed. Especially Lydia, who seemed more appreciative than ever for my attention. I read both my girls a story and turned off the lights. As I climbed into bed I told Andrea what had happened that night in the office. She stuck her head out of the bathroom door with a toothbrush in her mouth. “She said that? Huh…” She returned to showing her teeth to herself in the bathroom mirror. I imagined the bared teeth hidden from my view. “I wonder what she could have been talking about.” she said a few moments later.
I narrowed my eyes. I wonder as well. The deadline has since passed, and I’m still here. But yet again, I’m working a late evening in my office as the sun slowly sneaks away behind the mountain. And as the darkness invades I am suddenly aware of my silhouette reflection sitting at a computer outside the window. His face glows white with a wall of numbers on his screen. Diverting my eyes I soundlessly shut off my computer and head for the door.