Each step creaks in complaint as I climb the stairs. I have not been here in so long, I’ve forgotten how short the steps are, how narrow and restrictive the stairwell feels. Reaching the landing, I find a door that opens onto a small room, made all the smaller for the random items stuffed within it — half-open cardboard boxes stacked on floor and bed; a worn upholstered chair piled with an avalanche of rumpled laundry; scuffed books and used dishes strewn about.
Two young girls sit amidst this tumult — one kneels in an empty space she has excavated from the floor; the second sits cross-legged on the bed between boxes that shift and lean toward her.
A phone rings — a muffled trilling. Neither of the girls moves in response — not a twitch, nor a blink of eye. Although there is little room to hold me, I push myself into that cramped and crowded space, maneuver carefully toward the insistent ringing. To the left, a small, curtained window sheds dim light on two phones — one is sleek and modern, sitting upright in its charging station and blinking a single red cyclopian light; the other is old and heavy, with a tight-spiraled cord. A flat, circular disk sits on the antique phone’s face where a rotary dial should be. It is a faded, institutional blue.
The ringing persists. I lift the antique phone’s handle to answer; it’s heavy in my hand, cool and smooth against my skin. Pressing the receiver to my ear, I answer: “Hello?”
The line crackles, and I hear, as if across a great distance of time and space, my father’s voice. He tells me we must discover “the murderers”, and he next begins to dictate a series of complex math problems. In all this crowded mess, I can’t find a single piece of paper to write on, nor a pen to write with. This hardly matters, for the problems are far too complicated for me to retain, much less solve.