Neil answers anyway.
“Hey, you.” It takes a moment to register, though who else would it be? Jessie calls daily.
“I’m stuck at the airport. Thought of you.”
He actually spotted the sound of her connection first. Words emerge suddenly, the first fragment of sound shaved off. When she stops there’s a moment of buzz, then perfect silence. Little gates opening and closing on each side of her utterances. He listens to this, not to her tales of clueless students, of some pompous ass at faculty senate.
He remembers old long distance, the kind with constant static, like snow underfoot. It cost 25¢ a minute. That was the long distance Dixie used 25 years ago.
Jessie describes an article she’s writing. She’s young, really energetic about scholarship. Smart, bold, applying for tenure early. She’s beautiful. The article is boring – theory driven – while Neil’s an old-time reader-response guy. They met at a conference. Amazing sex. Should she keep something or other in a footnote…? They’ve got a semi-casual long-distance relationship going.
Dixie only rarely called. Said, “I love you, I miss you, it’s cold, I’m wearing your shirt.” Three expensive minutes.
“Marry me,” he told her once through that snow-static.
“I need to do the Peace Corps.”
“I’ll wait,” he said, and tried, but the distance killed them.
“I might not have cell coverage where I’m going,” Jessie explains.
“Okay. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.”
Dixie would say, “Isn’t it ‘absence’.” But Jessie moved on, talking about currency exchange.