I called a man today. After he said hello and I said hello came a pause during which it would have been confusing to say hello again so I said how are you doing and guess what, he said fine and wondered aloud how I was and it turns out I’m OK. He was on the couch watching cars painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars painted with ads for Tide around an oval that’s a metaphor for life because most of us run out of gas and settle for getting drunk in the stands and shouting at someone in a T-shirt we want kraut on our dog. I said he could have his job back and during the pause that followed his whiskers scrubbed the mouthpiece clean and his breath passed in and out in the tidal fashion popular with mammals until he broke through with the words how soon thank you ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove through the wires on the backs of ions as one long word as one hard prayer of relief meant to be heard by the sky. When he began to cry I tried with the shape of my silence to say I understood but each confession of fear and poverty was more awkward than what you learn in the shower. After he hung up I went outside and sat with one hand in the bower of the other and thought if I turn my head to the left it changes the song of the oriole and if I give a job to one stomach other forks are naked and if tonight a steak sizzles in his kitchen do the seven other people staring at their phones hear?
“Calling him back from layoff” is from Insomnia Diary, by Bob Hicok. Copyright © 2004 by Bob Hicok. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.