I fudged this a little bit, but this story is a response to a Daily Post prompt entitled Bad Signal.
There’s a voicemail? Usually, if I don’t pick up, the next route it to hang up and send a text. So why did he leave one? I ran a couple of reasons through my head: he wanted to get food, he found that movie for which I’ve been searching for weeks, there’s a concert tonight, his car got dinged again…something that required urgent attention. For Andrew, though, there are actually many things that could be accompanied by a sense of immediacy. That’s ok, I thought. I’ll check that when I get off the train. He’s probably fine. I was riding the train to get back home from class, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hear the voicemail very well until I got to the quiet of my apartment. I also wanted a moment not to think about something else. For a the next ten or fifteen minutes, I could keep life a bit more uncomplicated. Then I’d see what shenanigan Andy was up to. I texted him: I’ll check your voicemail in a bit
As I began to ponder the possible items I might also like for dinner (so I could argue with Andy a little and have a little say in what we did that night), all of us riders in the car flew forward with leftover velocity as the train stopped short. The top of my body had turned a bit over the bar at the edge of my seat. The train slowed for a few more seconds before stopping to a full halt. I sat up and rubbed the spot that would be a bruise, looking around. People who had been standing were wide-eyed and gripping the ceiling handles hard, and some of them had lost their footing and were either hanging by their handles or had landed on someone’s lap. An announcement came on over the loud speakers to tell us that, although we were only meters away from the platform, it was highly requested that passengers should stay seated because there was no way for us to get off anyway. Although my fellow commuters and I were mostly shell-shocked, but some of them rolled their eyes and clicked their tongues in irritation. For others, the delay made no difference. For the rest of us, concern colored our faces: the train only does this in an emergency. It does have a time schedule to keep, after all. The voicemail crossed my mind, and I shelved it again, thinking that it could still wait until I got home…I couldn’t call back, besides, because my phone had lost its signal in the tunnel.
The wait grew longer and longer. Twenty minutes, half an hour, forty-five minutes…I hoped that Andy would be able to wait this long to get a reply from me. He’d have to, even if I checked: I had no phone reception down there. The voicemail. I guessed that it didn’t have to wait anymore…everyone had pretty much quieted down again, and there was no outside noise from the train because we weren’t moving. I tried to squeeze my face against the window to try to see the front of the train, but I was too far back, and there was a curve in the tracks that kept me from seeing the conductor. I nestled back into my seat.
Just as I finally made the decision to go ahead and check my messages, the train started to roll up to the platform. I put my phone away and prepared to get off. Even that took a little longer than I expected…the train seemed to drag itself in. The doors opened up to a grey platform of somber travelers. Usually, people are bustling around or on their phones waiting. Here, though, each pair of eyes was on the train, on us. They looked tense, a little on the edge. Maybe they saw what happened and were concerned about their own ride. I didn’t pay much more attention to them because I had to get home and to see what Andy had left on my phone.
My apartment’s not far from where I leave the station, so it was only a five-minute trot to my place. Once inside, I tossed my stuff on the couch, glad to be home at last. I opened my phone to see if he had at least answered my text. Nope. So I listened to the voicemail to see what he wanted before calling him back.
The message was started out alright, with only a little bit of background noise—he must have been out on the sidewalk. Something else was weird about it: he didn’t really have a point to talk about. He said, “Hey. I just want to talk. I wish you could pick up… I really need someone to talk to right now. I thought I was fine for a while, but…” the rest of the message was torn up with static and a poor signal. He must have still been in a crowd, because I could hear voices and outside noises. Over some of the static, I heard announcements being made. Train station? I thought perhaps so. That would explain the bad signal he must have been getting. I waited through it, trying to pick up some more of the words where they were clear. Some other things I thought I heard were, “I didn’t wan…worry you,” and “I’ve…feeling…couldn’t come out of it anym…ired of trying.” Then, after a couple more minutes of unintelligible static, something clear: “I’m sorry. I should have told you months ago. Bye.”
I called him back before even deleting the voicemail, and I got an automated “number disconnected” message. But…he had left me a voicemail from that number just before I boarded the train to get home. I felt a chill wrapping up my heart. I called and called and called, no answer, no answer, no answer. No answer. Just as I was about to call another friend who might know what he was up to, an incoming call came from yet another friend.
“Where are you?”
“I’m home, Why?”
“Are you ok?”
“Well, I think so. Why are you asking that? Wait, actually, do you know where Andy is? I got a weird voicemail from him and when I tried to call back, I got a disconnected message.”
Silence. “You got home a little while ago, so…weren’t you just on the train?”
“…Yes, but why does that matter? There was a delay while I was on it, so I didn’t get to check the voicemail he left on my phone until now. Why’d you ask that?” The line went quiet again. “Hello?”
“Yeah. I’m here,” Her voice cracked, “but I can’t believe you don’t know,” she gasped. “I can’t believe you were on that train, but you still don’t know…”
“Fucking know what?!” Exasperation made me blunt, but my anxiety and her sudden mournful mood sped my blood up.
“He’s gone,” she sobbed. “Andy jumped in front of a train today, really close to here…right were we usually get on the train to get to school. He’s…he’s dead now.”
My blood went from full speed to full stop, and I fell with my phone to the floor. “What?” My voice cracked.
“I’m so sorry. I thought you knew…none of us got it until we saw him on the news. We couldn’t hear him over the bad signal he had on his phone.” She stopped to catch her breath. “But I thought he was so happy.”
I was numb and dumbstruck, but something made me talk. “Some of the happiest people may also be the saddest.” Tears started to roll down my cheeks. “I guess he had some sort of trouble telling us that.”