It’s all happening here

I called her in the middle of the night and waited for her to answer with no voice at all, with a voice that I didn’t know and hadn’t heard in years, with a voice from a phone book or a gentle collision in the street, and the dark inside was strong and the grass outside was weeping with dew while a light frost had honed its edge on the corners of the lawn in the shadow of the night now night, and there in my hand was an old-fangled phone with its dirt-cream body like a shack-town sink and its dial all hurried and laboured. She was propping up a gaggle of galleries in Berlin with her paint-smeared hands and her firm euros and I remembered how she had wanted to be a geologist, to stir up stones and bake her hands on golden sand, to measure the tension in loping hills; but there she was framing the souls of young fools. And could it be that she had sunk to the pits of creativity herself, mining pigments that swirled with new currents and shades, directing her scans to sculpt marble in lines of limestone-light? No, just a clipboard refuge for her parade of blond artists with their t-shirts and tagged chests. There was a photograph of her on the gallery’s website at an opening with a glass of wine, looking uncertain and committed like nobody’s portrait in any collection; a pair of scissors in her other hand, as though she was going to cut a ribbon – a ribbon – or trim the meadows of unruly hair that topped the hills around her. When she looked at me from this photograph, she did not know who I was. She shrugged and stared from the screen. She snatched at her primary school photographs, at forgotten badminton tournaments. ‘Errol,’ she ventured silently, and then, more hesitantly, ‘Or is it Flynn?’ And the frost was creeping up and catching and assuming and assimilating the dew, and I watched from the chilled window as it slid across the lawn like a tide of aching, and I tapped on the window and tapped at the screen and she was puzzled and the smile creeping through her sealed face hinted at a tactful attempt to laugh me off, to pummel and return my grasping eyes to the backwaters and the colonies, expel me from reaching out for whatever it was I had lost. I rapped harder on the screen to wake her up, called her name and scratched notes into sandstone cliffs, but in the end I had to call her, taking firm hold of the gallery’s number and waiting till the middle of the night – a slow time in her northern afternoon with the sun lolling by the windows and lunch stretching out in her system and the artful bell on the door signalling breaks in the hours’ trudge. She would answer the phone in German, and I did not speak German.

There was a click in the earpiece. There was a whirring.

And then the voice of Tony Greig was at the end of the line. And it seemed so confusing and wrong, for instead of exclaiming, ‘he’s blazed that one through the off-side field … go and fetch that!’, well: ‘good afternoon,’ he said quietly in his accented English, ‘this is the Kottbusser Gallery, Tony Greig speaking,’ and it felt as though his voice had been drastically tamed, as though all the energy and exuberance had been drained from his throat, and at first I didn’t know what to say. I wondered what had happened to his heart attack and death and I stared out the window with the phone in my hand as the frost crept up and sent the stairs slipping all over one another so they fell in a jumble at the bottom of the deck, and the ice slinked on as the deck tried to keep its own feet, and ‘hello?’ said Tony Greig once more, ‘who’s there?’ And all the while he should have been bursting with, ‘it’s miles in the air … it’s a wonderful catch! What a catch!’ And so the silence stretched out, clasping its hands and shaking its head. But before he could tuck the phone back in its bed I offered, wary and uneasy, my own version of ‘hello,’ and even though I knew that with all the focus and attention I had poured into my dialling that it had to be the Kottbusser Gallery, and that Tony Greig himself, when he answered the phone, had directly confirmed it, I asked him, ‘is this the Kottbusser Gallery?’ And Tony Greig informed me politely that yes, it was indeed the Kottbusser Gallery, was there any way in which he could be of assistance? Did I wish to enquire about a slab of scribbled wall or a new unstable bridge? Was I hoping to speak to someone in particular? And so I stared at that lonely photograph and thought to offer up her name, and then began to second and third and fourth guess myself, until my mind was as spiralled and confused as the ancient phone’s cord, until the only fact that was clear to me was that while I had a species of longing for her, I could not be certain that I longed for her voice, as such, but how much I missed the voice of Tony Greig! And so even though he was offering simple, everyday conversation, the mere presence of his voice comforted me more than I could say, even as the frost was sneaking and gliding under the front door, peering left and right, locking its gaze on my bare feet and up along my shins and my thighs, all the way up across my shivering chest to my wan face pale in the night’s lost light, and ‘well,’ I said, ‘Tony Greig, I was actually hoping to talk to you.’


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Ben Walter

Ben Walter’s stories, essays and poems have appeared in Lithub, Meanjin, The Lifted Brow and many other publications. He is the fiction editor of Island.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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