My Nephew is Learning the Telephone

My nephew Ian loves calling his Mum-Mum,
my mother, on the telephone, although
he doesn’t say very much. He’ll call out
her name, which is Mum-Mum, and then
a few minutes later, call out Mum-Mum again.
He’s taken to walking around the living room
with the phone held to his ear, sometimes
my mother can hear him breathing, knocking
over his toys, almost getting into trouble,
kissing his nearly one year old sister on the cheek.
Sometimes he’ll sing a song, happy birthday
or Winnie-the-Pooh, and when someone else
takes the phone, he’ll cry out for Mum-Mum again.
One time my brother called and no one was home,
and Ian left a message, crying Mum-Mum plaintively
over and over into the silent air. Whenever he talks
just to me, he’ll ask for Mum-Mum and hand the phone
back to my brother when he discovers she isn’t there.
But I don’t mind, because I realize I have grown
far too accustomed to walking around without a phone
to my ear. Ian reminds me I am always calling out
Mum-Mum, which is my mother’s name, now,
to myself, walking through empty rooms,
knocking over the toys that are never there.
Ian is also getting used to ending the conversation
by saying goodbye. Before my brother would simply
take the phone away without a sense of decision.
He knows a farewell is a way of walking around without
the phone to his ear, calling out his own name, which is
also my name, without having to find the words to know
he is alone. That will come later, I hope it never does.
I hope I’ll learn to walk with the phone to my ear,
calling out to the empty silence, knowing she’s there,
knowing my nephew and brother and mother
and everyone I’ve ever spoken with, which is my name,
are still there on the other end of the receiver.

By Joshua Keiter

reader, writer, actor, singer, teacher