“I Promise I’m Always Careful” by Alethea Alden
Jess throws her phone across the bed. It’s midnight and her husband’s phone has been going to voicemail for two hours.
Sam texted earlier saying he had to work late, so when he wasn’t home at ten, she wasn’t surprised. When his phone had gone to voicemail, she’d wondered if he took the tube instead of riding his bike since it was raining, but normally he’d text her before leaving work.
He must still be at work. Or he’s biking home, slipped on the wet roads and hit his head. Or got hit by a car and is lying dead by the side of the road…
She texts and emails him, again.
Thinking about Sam dying brings up memories of her mother dying. She tries to stop herself from thinking about it, shaking her head to shake away the memory, but her chest tightens.
“Why is he doing this to me?” Jess wonders out loud.
Jess calls again and hears his voice say, “Sam,” followed by an automated, “can’t take your call right now, leave your message after the tone.” She refreshes the email on her phone, the icon swirls a few times. Nothing.
She goes to the kitchen. Opening the window, Jess screams “Where is he?!” out into the night. Pulling the window closed she leans her forehead against the glass. She’s not going to get a reply from the street. Watching her mother die continues to play on a loop in her head. The clock on the stove says it’s 12:45 AM. Shuffling to the bedroom, she turns on the TV, looking for new images to push out the unwanted ones.
An hour later Jess hears the key in the lock. Sam appears in the bedroom doorway.
“Where were you?!”
Sam peers into the room. The light from the TV hits Jess’s contorted, tear stained face. Confused, he takes a step back, surprised by her anger.
“Whoa. What’s going on?”
“Why didn’t you let me know where you were? Your phone went to voicemail for hours. I thought you were dead in a ditch!”
“I did let you know, I sent you an email around ten that my phone died and I was going to be at work longer than I thought.”
Jess breathes heavily and hiccups. She hits refresh on her email again, the icon swirls and registers a new email from Sam.
“Fuck. My phone. It didn’t show your email, even though I refreshed it… I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
Sam sits down next to her. “I’m sorry you were worried, baby.”
Feeling ashamed of her outburst, Jess allows herself to be pulled down onto the bed.
“If you died…”
“I know baby. I promise I’m always careful,” Sam says drowsily, wrapping his arms around her.
Moments later he’s asleep. Despite the comfort from his arms and steady rhythm of his breathing, she still can’t let go of her fear. She knows Sam can’t promise her what she most wants to hear.
No one can.
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Alethea Alden Artist Statement:
Alethea Alden is a Minnesotan who moved to London for a year, almost six years ago.
Previously she was a foreign correspondent for the women’s travel writing blog Pink Pangea.
She is currently studying for her MA in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths, University of