She closed the book, placed it on the coffee table, and walked out the door. At first, the soft sound had been barely distinguishable from the ordinary night noises, enough only to momentarily lift her eyes from the page while she sat on the couch, curled up comfortably. Someone was calling her name from far off, that’s how it sounded.
Not since she’d been a girl had her name sounded like this, even as quiet as its sound was. Her name’s two soft syllables were stretched out and given breath. This was Mother calling her in from play or Father when he bent to kiss her goodnight. Nearly a melody, a bird’s call, or wind caught for a moment in tree branches. It was the sound of a promise. And such a long time had passed since a promise had been made to her, she doubted what she was hearing until she was absolutely certain, till the words on the page were unreadable, till she found herself standing up, feeling impatient.
Who’d be calling, she had no idea, nor why. But when someone calls your name like that, you don’t keep turning pages; you don’t ask questions or wash the dinner dishes. You don’t worry about lipstick or bus fare. You go.
Into the warm night air she went, walked to the end of the driveway, stood listening, leaned into the voice. She set her feet in its direction, as if the sound were a bright ribbon in the air that she could see to follow. Past the Wash-N-Dry Laundry where she worked weekdays, past her old school, beyond the town’s edge and its predictable sidewalks, up the narrow, curvy road that she’d not been on in years, miles past where the streetlights shone, past a single house with a single barking dog. If fireflies blinked on and off that summer evening, she didn't see them. If mosquitoes bit her arms, she felt neither sting nor itch. If she became tired, she didn't notice, nor that the farther she went, the more blistered her feet became.
Most anyone she knew would think she’d lost it. Anyone who loved her would know she hadn’t. But those people been gone nearly beyond missing. And what did it matter what anyone thought? She’d never quite fit in here, since her family packed up when she was a teenager and left the place—the house and the land—her ancestors had called home.
What she had was a life; not the life she’d dreamed of, not the storybook one she’d read about, but a life that most days gave her something to smile about—small celebrations like moonlight through the window, birds at sunrise or the children who ran toward her to say hello when she strolled the neighborhood.
The night air had begun to chill and for an instant she wished for the sweater left on the hook. But the voice kept calling, plaintive like. It was the taste of a spice she couldn’t remember the name of, the feel of warm water. The voice was a rope reeling her in.
She’d come far, cresting hill after hill, and the voice kept getting louder, its sound more distinct she had no idea who was calling. Its persistence claimed her. A man was calling.
Near dawn, she made out a figure coming down the road. He was a little old and a little ragged; his gait was uneven like his feet hurt. He’d come a long way too. Longer. His clothes hung loosely. His hair needed washing. She felt no sense of familiarity at all, only an increase of confusion. As he got closer, she could see he was focused only on her, and though she darted her eyes away, his didn’t veer.
Tiredness was wholly upon her; her feet ached, her back too. She searched her memory but found nothing, remembered the warmth she’d left at home, doubted her sense of reason, felt a low down spark of fear. Who was he, she asked herself, until he spoke her name again.