A PRESENT PAST • by Patrice Horwitz

In the early part of the night, I woke up from a restless sleep and tiptoed to my computer to turn it on. The familiar whir of the machine settled me, and I knew that I would soon be much closer to  finding my husband’s ex-girlfriend’s phone number. I wanted to call her office after-hours and listen to her voicemail greeting just to hear what she sounded like. The pitch of her voice might give me clues. The intonation, the resonance, the tone he had listened to for four years. What must she have sounded like in bed with him? I wanted to know. A part of me had an incessant need to know.

I Googled her name as soon as the internet was up and running. Carla Rivera. A number of links to articles with her name in it were listed, and I looked through them until I found a website that offered up her phone number. She worked at an elite law firm out in Arizona, and her phone number was written right underneath her name. I dialed it. While it rang I seized the mouse and scanned other websites for any photo of her I could find.

Ringing, ringing, ringing.

Ah, there it was–a far away photo of her with a group of her colleagues. She was hardly visible, but I would have recognized her in an instant had she been a speck in the middle of a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ comic book. I had snuck into my husband’s old photos stored on his computer to memorize every flaw, every freckle, every eyelash she had. Her image was burned in my mind, and I focused on it far more than I focused on anything else going on in my own life. I was bored going through the photos I’d already seen. I wanted to see a new picture of her.

The photo on the Internet was slightly fuzzy, but she appeared clear and sharp to me. A light shone down on her, casting an odd shadow across her face, accentuating her prominent nose and high cheekbones. Even in her business attire that matched the rest of the attorneys, she stood out with broad shoulders and straight posture. She stared at the camera with the quintessential smile that all work colleagues give when they’re being photographed at a function. But I knew her. I thought about her more than I thought of myself. I squinted to see if I could see something that I hadn’t noticed before. She leaned over slightly, as if she was caught reaching down to pick her drink up off the table, so her eyebrows were arched in surprise. Her dark hair was worn loosely at her shoulders, and it curled like mine does on hot, humid days.

Her answering machine picked up the phone, and my heart skipped a beat as I listened to her voice for the first time. My eyes stayed glued to her photo while her voice filled my ear. “This is Carla Rivera,” it said, “and I’m either on the phone or away from my desk right now.”

Nothing more unusual than any other voicemail. Only I couldn’t breathe. I listened and stared at her photo, and I couldn’t breathe.   I imagined that soft voice moaning near my husband’s neck, the two intertwined with each other, skin gliding against skin, and the soft aroma of her perfume making him desire her more. What perfume must she have worn? I listened to the intonation in her voice and wondered which note she would have held onto when he brought her to climax. I listened to her voice and heard what he heard for all those years. Her soft yet authoritative voice captivated him, and now I listened to it as he had, loving it as he had, and wishing it was mine. I was getting a taste of it now, in the middle of the night, on another sleepless occasion where thoughts of the two of them kept me awake.

“If you need someone immediately, please contact…” I hung up the phone and stared at the receiver for a moment. My eyes watered, and I couldn”t tell whether it was from sleep deprivation or a reaction to another moment of weakness.

The photo of her and her work friends drew me back in, only now I glared at it. I wished I were sleeping soundly, dreaming and thinking of other things. She wasn’t so pretty, I realized. But it didn’t matter what I thought. It mattered what he thought all those years ago when he loved her.

I turned off the computer and slid underneath the covers with my husband who slept. He looked peaceful, as all people sleeping do. I wondered whether he still dreamed of her. His hand moved to touch me, and he mumbled something.   I waited to see if he’d call out Carla’s name. He might have temporarily forgotten about me and thought that he reached out to her instead. But his voice was muffled, and I couldn’t understand what he said. He squeezed his fingers softly around my arm, and I imagined I was her. What must it have been like to be that loved by someone?

Sleep came to me eventually. My husband woke up the next day not knowing about my calling Carla’s phone number after-hours just so I could hear her voicemail greeting. “Did you sleep well, my love?” he asked, stretching his long limbs, and folding me back into his arms.

“Yes,” I said.


I tried relaxing in his arms, but I couldn’t lie still. I pushed his arms away with my elbows and went to brush my teeth.

Patrice Horwitz is a writer at heart with stories–so many–still unpublished. This is the first of them, and Patrice is eager to share more. Patrice has a background  in Composition and Rhetoric, and lives in Chicago.

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