The phone calls were always in the middle of the night. I’d hear my mother’s cry, and carefully in the dark, I’d make my way to her bedroom. “I miss you,” she was saying into the receiver. “Over.”
The tip of her cigarette glowed in the dark. She could even smoke, half-asleep. “Where are you stationed?” she asked. “Over.”
Then she’d push the phone on me, and I heard the voice, clogged with static, warbling all the way from Vietnam. “So damn hot here,” he said. “Over.”
I told him, “It’s barely spring in Chicago. The forsythias haven’t bloomed. Over.”
“Don’t tell Mom yet,” he said. “But I’m signing up for another tour. Over.”
I only half-believed him. “Why?” I asked. “That will make three. Why? Over.”
They must have been in a clearing of a forest, soldiers lined up to talk into a radio that was patched into the phone line. Then I heard a beep and knew we’d been cut off. “When’s he coming home?” my mother asked.
I hung up, watching my mother in the shadows of her room, the cigarette alive between her fingers. The glow-in-the-dark hands of the wind-up clock ticking on her dresser pointed to 3:00 a.m. I wondered how long I could keep the re-up secret, if she would guess it, if she would blame me, and why I had to be the one to tell her. I wondered if my brother would finally let me ride in his VW sedan that sat in our garage like a museum display, or if he’d give me driving lessons, or when or if he’d even come home. Over.