“Hi, um, I guess you’re not home, huh?”
The expulsion of breath scraped our ears like a tinfoil tambourine.
“Well, I guess you know this is Rocky. Ain’t likely you’d forget my voice after all these years.”
A pause followed. We could hear voices in the background and consistent bass in the pounding rhythms of rap music.
“I called you because I didn’t know what else to do, and because you always tried to help me out before when I was in trouble, even though I didn’t never take your advice.”
Pause, then quickly, “I know it was good advice, I just ain’t never taken it. But, thing is, I’m in trouble now, big trouble, like the kind of trouble that’ll get me killed ’f I don’t watch my ass.”
The voice faded a little, drowned out by loud laughter in the background.
“— Out, now, I’ve been out a week, and I’m clean, but in some heavy shit, like I said, and I don’t know what I should do. In the old days, you know I never let nothin’ bother me, but now I got kids to worry about.”
The rap music came closer and we heard a syncopated pounding.
“Can’t you see I’m usin’ this phone, mothafucker? My time ain’t up yet!” The voice shouted, making us jump. “Mo’fucker made me forget what I was sayin’,” the voice continued petulantly.
“So, they told me you was retired, but I found this number in the phone book and I hope it’s the right one. Only you ain’t home anyway, ’f it is, so I don’t know why I’m sayin’ all this, talkin’ to a machine.”
She paused again.
“Maybe I’ll try to call you again. I don’t know. You was always good to me. So anyway, maybe if something happens to me, and you hear about it, maybe you’ll talk to Arletta.”
There was a click and then a shrill tone, and then just the soft whir of the tape playing out on the answering machine.
“Shit,” I said quietly. I looked up at Moses. “Is that it? Did you play back the whole tape?”
“That’s it,” he said, frowning at it. “I guess her time was up.”