Moving into a new house would usually trigger her anxiety, but Rosie has found genuine comfort and peace here. Her therapist suggested that she try keeping a journal — as if writing about what she had for breakfast would make the recovery easier. It wouldn’t. Only time can fix her, to an extent. There is only so much to heal after Nathan’s abuse.
At least she’s free of him, now. She hasn’t checked his Facebook profile in three months. If that’s not progress, what is?
This townhouse keeps her busy and quite happy, even. She got this place for a ridiculously small price. Then again, she did invest in its refurbishment — more than half of her life savings, and worth every penny.
Rosie does most of it herself. A lick of paint here, a reconditioned vintage futon there… She loves it. The entire operation, carefully spread out over the course of two weeks she’s taken off from work, makes her feel like she’s in control. “Better than any goddamn diary,” Rosie mutters to herself while refilling her coffee mug.
The living room is almost done, and she’s already tested the couch. Just the right amount of plumpness. She loves the kitchen the most, though, especially at this hour in the morning, when the sun bathes it in a soft amber light. It fills her with the kind of positive energy Nathan never gave her.
Checking her smartphone, there’s a plethora of emails from family and friends, many unopened. They know she’s got time off, but they’re all still a little worried about her. It’s like they can’t believe she’s not that version of herself anymore — the tolerant fool with good foundation always handy to cover the bruises.
“Oh, no…” Rosie murmurs, noticing his name in the inbox. Nathan sent her an email. Her fingers tremble over the screen. He hasn’t said a word since she left him. She skims it briefly. He’s sorry. He’s going to AA meetings. He wants to see her, so he can apologize and make amends.
She’s not ready to address this yet. Maybe tomorrow. Setting her coffee down, she decides to take on the attic next. With slow but determined steps, she makes her way up the creaky stairs — ah, that old house charm…
Rosie reaches the pull-down attic ladder and flips the light switch on. The real estate agent said former owners might’ve left some personal stuff up there, but that it should be thrown out. She climbs up, praying to all the gods that she doesn’t come across a raccoon, or a rat, or — worse, a spider.
“I will burn this house down if I find a spider.”
She stops at the top of the stairs and holds her breath for a moment, looking around, searching for movement. No critters, but, exhaling sharply, she laughs. The real estate agent has seriously underplayed the amount of stuff the previous owners left behind. There are at least a dozen boxes in here, each covered in a thick layer of dust.
She goes through them like Christmas has come early, allergies be damned. Her enthusiasm fizzles away — it’s mostly clothes, along with some of the ugliest shoes she’s ever seen.
There is a particular box that does get her attention. OBSOLETE is written on the side in black Sharpie. She pulls the duct tape off the cardboard top and opens it. “Oh…” Rosie hears herself say, her voice merely a whisper. It’s filled with old timey hardware, mostly objects that qualify as vintage or retro. A small ham radio from the ’50s, a pale green rotary phone that’s probably older than that… A bunch of 8mm film rolls and a Keystone projector to go with them… but no cables or plugs. Just a bunch of remote controls and various electronic parts that make little to no sense to her.
Not willing to go back down without something to use from this box before throwing it out, she decides the rotary phone might look good as home decor. It doesn’t have wires, and she obviously can’t use it, but, with a little bit of care and polish, she can make it look pretty enough to occupy that cherry-wood side table in the foyer.
“Those Fixer Upper peeps got nothing on me!” Rosie declares victoriously and takes the rotary phone downstairs. She loves the DIY stuff. Ever since she left Nathan, she has consistently found joy in revamping old objects, breathing new life and purpose into them. Hell, half of what she’s already put in the house was salvaged from yard sales and eBay.
Two days later, the rotary phone sits proudly atop the foyer table. It looks like something Lauren Bacall might’ve used to sweet talk Mr. Bogart into coming over one hot, Friday evening, with elegant pale green curves and beautiful brass details. Rosie could make “Retro” the theme of an upcoming housewarming party.
That evening, she kicks back with a suspense TV series, eating ice cream straight out of the bucket with zero guilt. Her phone is on silent. Unsure whether to thank the therapy sessions or the delicious combination of sugar and dairy, Rosie can finally relax.
The phone rings. Not hers, though. It’s coming from the foyer. She freezes, spoon in her mouth, her tongue numb and drowning in cookie dough ice cream. Another ring. “Wha’hell?” she blurts out. A third ring.
Carefully, she gets up and pads into the foyer. She stares at the rotary phone, still on the side table, still without any wires or reason to make a single sound. It had to come from here, though. Her smartphone has the “Coconut” song by Harry Nilsson set to play for incoming calls, and she’s had it on DND, anyway.
The dead silence creeps up on her, raising goose-bumps all over. Maybe she imagined it. Or maybe she’s been deceiving herself into thinking she was okay? As the minutes pass heavily across the wall clock, Rosie begins to find comfort in thinking it didn’t happen. She definitely imagined it, and she will not be saying a word about this to her therapist.
She wakes up the next day feeling like everything is normal again. Last night was just a blip in the Matrix. Downstairs, the rotary phone is quiet and pretty-looking.
A couple of coffees later, Rosie goes about painting two of the guest room walls and sanding down an old chest of drawers.
By nightfall, she’s back in front of the TV, her feet up on the coffee table, toes wiggling beneath the white cotton socks. Last night was weird but —
The rotary phone rings. This time, it makes her jump up, blood already boiling. A second ring follows, and she rushes into the foyer to make sure she’s actually hearing it. At the third ring — which she can totally hear — Rosie picks up.
Heavy breathing comes on the line. Her blood goes from hot to stone-cold in a split-second. She cannot move. She can only listen, once again wondering if she’s lost her mind. Then again, crazy people don’t realize they’re crazy, or so the saying goes. The damn thing isn’t even plugged in!
Her lips part as she’s about to ask who’s there, when a click startles her and the breathing sound vanishes.
Nothing. Silence. The kind of silence you get from a rotary phone that’s very much dead. Tears glaze her eyes. She catches a glimpse of herself, looking haunted in the wall mirror above the table.
Putting the receiver down, she shakes like a leaf. “Nope. Nope. No, no, no. This isn’t happening. It’s not. It’s just anxiety. Auditory illusion, that’s all.”
Some wine might help. For a few seconds, she ponders between red and white, until she remembers her medication. There’s a clear memory in the back of her head where someone is telling her she shouldn’t combine Prozac with alcohol.
“Screw that,” Rosie says, walking into the kitchen. She pours herself a glass of Pinot Grigio. It shouldn’t do much damage. At least she didn’t go for the Malbec. Before midnight, she’s already in bed, sprawled across the duvet, sawing logs.
It’s noon, and Rosie finally gets out of bed. Her mouth is made of cotton, and someone dropped a dumbbell on her head. The rotary phone springs back into her mind, prompting a string of curses. She spends the rest of the day keeping herself as busy as humanly possible.
By nine in the evening, she sinks into the couch — notebook computer humming softly on her lap. She Googles her address, looking for the first owners. There’s nothing, just a few names in phone listings, dating from the early ‘30s.
All she can do is hope her sanity is still present.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
Suddenly filled with newfound determination — likely acting as a replacement for panic, Rosie slaps the notebook shut, leaves it on the couch and darts out of the living room. She reaches the foyer before the third ring and picks up the receiver: “Hello?”
Surprised by how calm her voice sounded, she takes a deep breath. If she’s gone crazy, she might as well go all the way down the rabbit hole. Someone’s on the other end. Heavy breathing again.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Rosie asks, her voice trembling.
A man sings softly into the phone. “Brother bought a coconut, he bought it for a dime… His sister had another one she paid it for the lime…”
Rosie can’t move. Her body won’t respond. The man doesn’t stop, though. He’s got a song to sing. “She put the lime in the coconut, she drank ’em bot’ up… She put the lime in the coconut, she drank ’em bot’ up…”
She slams the receiver back into its cradle, then grabs the rotary phone and practically flies up the stairs. She doesn’t even register climbing into the attic and dropping the phone back in its box. The whole thing is going to the nearest recycling center in the morning.
Back on the ground floor, Rosie realizes she’s seconds away from hyperventilating into unconsciousness. She couldn’t have imagined that. No, she’s not going crazy. Crazy isn’t that elaborate in its pranks. That really happened. And why that song?
“Who the hell is he? Or what is he?” Rosie whispered.
There’s still wine in an open bottle in the fridge. Maybe she can numb herself down and sleep on it. Or she could call a friend to come over. Wine first. She heads for the kitchen, when a knock on the door startles her. A ring echoes from above. A single, muffled ring.
“This can’t be…”
Turning around slowly, she stares at the entrance. A shadow looms in the frosted glass panel mounted on the wooden door. There’s someone there. A second knock, abruptly followed by the ringing from the attic. It’s like they’re connected.
Rosie breaks into a cold sweat. She rubs her eyes, trying to make sense of this insanity, but no reasonable explanation comes to mind.
At the third knock, she finds one last sliver of courage. Ignoring the accompanying ring, she reaches the door. Opening it slowly, Rosie breathes a sigh of relief before a different kind of tension gathers between her shoulders.
Nathan stands in the doorway. He looks a lot better than the last time she saw him. A new haircut, clean shave… He gives her a warm smile. “Rosie… Sorry to show up like this, I’ve been trying to call you.”
She frowns. “How’d you know where I live?”
“You left a forwarding address at our old place, remember?”
Right. She did. She shouldn’t have. “What are you doing here?”
“Did you get my email?”
“I… I haven’t had a chance to read it,” she says.
“I’m not here to cause trouble, Rosie, I just want to make amends, to ask you to forgive me. I’ve been a jackass…”
Nathan sounds genuine. Hell, he sounds like the Nathan she once fell in love with. Part of her would like to exhibit more reservation, but she’s been alone in this new house for over a week, now, and she could really use the company. Anything — or anyone — to get over the… thing she will not speak of, currently not ringing.
“Do you want to come in and talk?” Rosie asks, wondering if she’ll regret this decision. Nathan nods. She didn’t file a restraining order against him, and he didn’t go into creepy stalker mode after the breakup, despite his aggressive behavior. Well, aggressive barely skims the surface, but perhaps Nathan has evolved.
They go into the kitchen. He sits at the table, while she briefly checks her smartphone on the counter.
“I’m six months clean, now. After you left… it was like a light went on in my head,” Nathan says, watching her as she turns around to face him. Rosie has no idea how to deal with this. Still better than the ringing. “I’m a different man. I barely recognize the person I was, the person who hurt you…”
She doesn’t say a word as he drones on about forgiveness and moving on. For a moment or two, she actually tunes out, until he brings up reconciliation. “Would you give me another chance?”
Her smartphone rings.
She put the lime in the coconut, she drank ’em bot’ up…
“Sorry, I really need to change that ringtone…” her voice trails off as she checks the screen. Unknown caller. She glances up at Nathan, who has yet to take his eyes off her. It’s a tad persistent for her comfort. Creepy, even.
“I deserve a second chance,” he says, oblivious to the air thickening between them. “I miss you, Rosie…”
She sucks in a breath, waiting for the incoming call to end. It finally stops, and she gives Nathan a flat smile. “I’m sorry, but that ship has long sailed. I mean, I appreciate the effort you’re making, and I’m glad you’re getting your life on track… but you and me… it’s over, Nathan.”
“But I’ve changed.” He says it in a way that makes her doubt him. Like he rehearsed the whole speech on the way to her house, and now, he’s out of lines and rehashing the old ones. As if it’s some kind of act.
Rosie tries hard to offer a compassionate smile, at least. Her instincts are flaring up. “You hurt me, Nathan. You beat me. You… No, I can’t. The best I can do is forgive you and congratulate you on your sobriety but… there’s nothing more left for us, and…” She forgets what she wanted to say, as her phone rings again. Unknown caller.
She put the lime in the coconut, she drank ’em bot’ up…
Before she can register what’s happening, Nathan is out of his chair and inches away from her. He’s getting too close, too fast. “I miss you, Rosie. Don’t you remember how good we were together?”
His hands slip around her waist, as he pulls her close. There’s a bluntness in his demeanor that speaks of a predator, not a loving, repentant man.
Rosie is paralyzed. Dread closes her throat up. Nathan goes in for a kiss, but she moves her head back. The Coconut ringtone continues to play, persistently.
“Please, don’t,” she manages, but Nathan can’t hear her. He sniffs her neck and bites into her skin. Rosie tries to get away. He’s got her pinned against the counter. She can’t escape. Fire burns through her. Bile threatens to come up. He rubs himself against her, and she can feel he’s aroused, but it just makes her want to regurgitate the little she’s had for lunch today. She can’t stand him being so close to her anymore.
“Rosie, come on… We belong together,” he says, turning into a mindless animal, breathing heavily — like the man on the rotary phone. Hers continues to ring. “That was our favorite song, remember? She put the lime in the coconut…”
“Stop it!” Rosie screams, but to no avail.
He’s going to rape her. His belt is already unbuckled as he tries to get Rosie out of her jeans. Completely ignorant of her pleas and physical struggle, Nathan is determined to take her tonight.
A white flash darts through her head — akin to an idea, her hand blindly fumbling behind on the counter… looking for something to hit him with. Something to make him get back and realize that she’s not the Rosie he used to beat into submission anymore.
She finds the electric kettle. It’s sturdy metal. It’ll do.
His hand slips beneath her panties and between her thighs. She groans with disgust and swings the kettle out with all her strength. She hears Nathan’s skull crack in the impact. A second later, he’s down, blood pooling on the floor and soaking into her white cotton socks. She might’ve hit him too hard.
The phone has stopped ringing.
She’s in shock, but it only lasts a minute. An epiphany emerges, and Rosie manages to steer clear of a panic attack. How… She’s not sure . But she’s awake, and Nathan is dead on her kitchen floor. She should be more agitated, however…
The phone has stopped ringing. “She put the lime in the coconut,” she whispers, understanding how the most peculiar and unknown forces of the universe came together to warn her. She should’ve seen this coming. That song had a different meaning tonight. She should’ve never answered the fucking door.
It’s quiet now. Rosie knows what comes next. She dials 911 and tells the dispatcher what happened.
After she’s done, she calmly goes back into the attic and retrieves the rotary phone. It’ll stay on the cherry side table in the foyer, just like before. It’s not going anywhere, anymore.
© Jules R. Simon 2019
First posted on Medium.