When I walked into the living room, the new phone machine seemed to be suffering from epilepsy of the LED. The new machine is supposed to blink once for each message recorded, but I found it hard to believe that there could have been so many calls in just a few hours.

“Hello. You have 12 messages,” droned the machine’s synthesized baritone. Deedeldeedeldeet. “Hi, Bryan babe, this is D——. [I’m not sure why, but I feel a need to protect her identity.] I’m here at [a downtown hotel], and I was just, uh, wondering if you, uh, got confused about where we were meeting this morning. I’m here in the lobby, and, uh, it’s, uh, about 9:15. I hope you don’t mind me calling you at home, but your, uh, office said you weren’t going to be in today, so I got your number from Directory Assistance. Well, see you soon, huh, dude?”

“9:18 AM, line one,” intoned the machine.

D——? A meeting at a hotel? This morning? Babe? Dude? A wave of panic swept over me: Had I forgotten an appointment? Did I even know a D——? And why was she calling me “dude,” anyway? My name may sound masculine, but I am in fact a female. It says so right on my driver’s license. In a moment, I was reassured: this was a simple case of mistaken identity. She was looking for someone else, a male Bryan (or Brian?) Miller.

Deedeldeedeldeet. “H’lo. Talk to you later,” said my husband’s voice.

“9:25 AM, line two,” said the machine.

Deedeldeedeldeet. “Hi, Bryan. It’s D—— again.” The voice sounded slightly irritated this time, somewhat higher in pitch. “I’m still waiting in the lobby.” She gave an address and telephone number. “Listen, I gave my name to the clerk at the front desk, so you can call me, OK? I’ll still wait for a while. Uh, bye.”

“9:43 AM, line one,” noted the machine.

Deedeldeedeldeet. “Hi, Bryan, it’s Margee. Give me a call when you get a chance, OK?”

“10:05 AM, line one.”

Deedeldeedeldeet. “Bryan. D——. Just wondering where you are.” The voice was definitely irritated this time, and still higher in pitch. “It’s 20 after 10, and I’ve been sitting here for more than two hours. Please call or something.”

“10:22 AM, line one.” Just where was the other Bryan? I was getting a little irritated with him myself.

Deedeldeedeldeet. A business call; good news. I made a note. “10:33 AM, line one.”

Deedeldeedeldeet. More business. Someone I’d been having trouble reaching, finally returning my several calls, naturally, when I was out.

“10:40 AM, line one.”

Deedeldeedeldeet. “Look, Bryan, I’m going out to get something to eat, because they only gave us a snack on the plane, and I’m really starving. I’ll be back as fast as I can, so please–please–leave a message for me, OK? Or come and wait for me in the lobby–I promise I’ll be right back. OK? It’s, uh, just 11. Talk to you, babe.”

“11:02 AM, line one,” corrected the machine.

Deedeldeedeldeet. The travel agent, with seat assignments. I made another note. “11:13 AM, line one,” observed the machine. I was getting rather tired of that voice, and of the silly ululating signal.

Deedeldeedeldeet. “Hi, Bryan. It’s D——. I’m back in the lobby–just wanted to let you know. It’s, oh, 11:20.”

“11:20 AM, line one,” agreed the machine.

Deedeldeedeldeet. “Listen, you shit, how can you do this to me? I thought we meant something to each other. I thought it was more than just a one-night stand! Who’s that bitch on your answering machine? You shit! I lie to my boss, I take an early plane out, I cancel three calls–so I can sit in this fucking lobby and get stared at by the fucking bellboys! You prick! You promised, you son of a bitch! You made me look like a fucking idiot! You’re probably sitting there listening to me and laughing! Well, fuck you!” The crash of the receiver was followed by the robot voice:

“12:03 PM, line one.”

Part of me felt uncomfortable at her hostility toward the unknown Bryan–the same kind of discomfort I feel when Spy magazine snipes at the Bryan Miller who works for the New York Times and his use of the dubious plural noun “nubbins.”

On the other hand, part of me was glad she’d finally told the jerk off.

Deedeldeedeldeet. I sighed. Was this message number 12, finally, please? “Uh, hi, Bryan. It’s D——.” No. Really. “Look, uh, I–I’m sorry about the things I said just now. I, I didn’t mean them–I mean, you could have been in a car accident, or your mother could have gotten sick, or something, I know, OK?… Look, call me, OK? I have to make these other calls or I could lose my job, and then I have to go straight to the airport and I won’t get home till real late. I’ll be home tomorrow night–maybe you lost the number”–she gave a number with an east coast area code–“so call, please? You can leave a message on my machine. I really think you’re, you know, special.” She paused. “Well, bye, I guess. Bye.”

“12:15 PM, line one.” There was an electronic burp, then, “That was your last message.”

I hit the save button and stared at the machine. I thought about calling her and leaving a message on her machine. I thought of all the things I could say. I thought of giving her advice. I reached for the receiver, changed my mind, and instead reached for the erase button.