My eyes shot open and I was greeted with darkness. A thick, coal murkiness meant only to keep one cradled in the bosom of sleep. It was the harsh bleat of the landline begging for attention, over and over, that woke me. Oval-ish and corded, it sat on the nightstand next to Ben’s side of the bed. In theory the placement was perfect, since his parents were the only ones to ever use the number.
The uninterrupted, meditative rise and fall of the lump next to me, fully illustrated the flaw in the plan. I reached over and patted his shoulder with all of the middle of the night strength I could muster.
As I gathered the energy to tap him again, the phone stopped ringing. Relieved, I melted into the comforting silence and grew hypnotized by Ben’s steady breathing. Despite my irritation with his deep sleep, I was appreciative for the rare moment of actually sharing a bed with my husband. Since he started his residency at St. Luke’s, these moments were few and far between.
The shrill tone of the antiquated telephone cut through the silence with the ease of a butter knife cutting an overcooked steak. I let loose a growl as my fists bounced weakly against the mattress.
Expecting Ben to answer at this point was only an exercise in frustration, and leaving it to ring would only lead to another call, so I took a deep breath and rose to my elbows. Reaching over Ben, I patted blindly for the phone.
“Hello?” I said, making sure my voice was extra groggy in hopes that this time the in-laws would remember to mind the time difference.
“Hey, honey. Sorry to wake you but I forgot what you needed me to pick up on the way home.”
Ben’s words fell away as a hot wave of panic crept and weaved its way through every molecule in my body. Fear choked at my vocal chords and I couldn’t respond. My brain, still stuck in the sludge of sleep, fought to understand.
“Nina?” Ben’s voice echoed through the receiver clutched to my ear. “Did you hear me?”
His question was answered by the scream of terror that ripped from my throat as the lump slowly turned toward me.