Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Call

excerpt from Fumbling Toward Divinity continued from here

Craig wrestled with his angels. He knew there were other ways to locate Jennifer, avenues that didn’t require him talking to the woman in Dalton, Georgia. But those paths were more complicated, more time-consuming, more frustrating.

Later that evening, alone in the kitchen, Craig pondered these things. Hazelle had just closed the swing door between the kitchen and the living room. Hazelle knew that his son needed a brief and quiet separation from the family sitting on the other side.

Alone in the kitchen, Craig told himself to keep it simple. You can do this. If she won’t give you the information you need, you will be in the exact same place you are now and you can try another route.

And so it was that on Monday, April 16, 2001, at 5:25 p.m., Central Daylight Time, alone in the kitchen, he called the woman in Dalton, Georgia.

His heart begins to palpitate. She answers the phone on the second ring.

“Hello, ma’am. My name is Melvin Dixon, a friend of James from Oakwood College. I promised to keep in touch with him after I left Oak-wood, but I’m afraid I haven’t done so. It’s been twenty years since we last spoke, and I’ve no idea where he is. I hope you can help.”

“When were you at Oakwood College?”

While talking, Craig tries to visualize the woman who possesses the smoky voice he hears on the other end of the phone. How weary she sounds. He already knows that England is virtually the same age as Mary, but England sounds twenty years older than his mother.

It is hard to visualize this woman with that voice. This woman who has put darkness in places where there ought to be light.

Craig thinks about the Documents of His Genesis and his heart palpitates faster. He thinks about the Documents of His Genesis and he remembers how he and his friends Gail the Writer and Darlin the Musician tried to visualize this woman in the living room of their apartment back in 1997. How Darlin sat down and played gospel riffs on the piano. How Gail mimed donning a big hat and sat down on the couch, testifying from the congregation. How Craig aged his face and his voice, preaching the wages of sin is death to the falling-out-in-the-aisle, caught-up-in-the-Holy-Spirit wo-man in the congregation. He thinks about the Documents of His Genesis and he remembers that, within five minutes of reading them, he came to hate this woman.

And now, four years later, over the phone, he is listening to a hated woman whose voice sounds so weary, so full of woe, it nearly breaks his heart to hear it. He wants to tell her who he really is, how he really feels about her, but he suspects his search will end right here, right now, if he reveals himself, even devoid his hate, to her. With another lie, he answers her question instead.

“Um, I was at Oakwood for just two years, sixty-seven and sixty-eight.”

“Then you must know my daughter Jennifer?”

And his chest is heavy with pain.

He takes a moment before he can continue. Job peeks through the swing door, sees the telephone at Craig’s ear, and quickly disappears back to the other side.

A single moment contains the then, the now, and the hereafter. As though the bottle shatters and time begins to spill everywhere at once. As you sense time spreading uncontrollably around you, you exist with an awareness unmatched by anything you’ve ever known. You might want to run around, frantically, gathering it up, pouring it back, sealing it away. But it’s too late. Or too early. Time will do what time has done when time does it. If you are wise, you allow it.

“I knew James had a younger sister,” he answered at last, “and I’m sure I must have met her once or twice, but, no, I didn’t really know her.”

“Where are you calling from?”


“And how did you get my number?”

“From the Internet.”

“The Internet? I don’t think so. This number wouldn’t be listed on the Internet. Not this number.”

“Well, it was.”

“And where are you calling from again?”

“Boston.” He hears the sound of pages rustling in the background. “I have twelve numbers for a James White and this one is the eighth on the list.”

“This was the eighth number you called?”

“Yes, the eighth number.”

“The eighth number on your list?”

“Yes. The eighth.”

“And how many numbers are on your list?”


“I see. The James White that lived here was my husband, who is now deceased.”

“I know. I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am.”

“How would you know about my husband?”

“From the Internet. Same place I got your number.”

“I see. What did you say your name was again, young man?”

“Essex Hemphill.”

For another spilling moment, England says nothing. Craig still hears the rustling. “Here it is. Here is James’ telephone number.” He writes it down as she reads it. “You can call him directly. He’s out in California. I hope everything is okay.”

“It will be. Thank you for your help, ma’am. And God bless you.”

“God bless you, too.”

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