She hadn’t even missed her train, which was the most frustrating part. It departed three minutes ahead of schedule, even though she showed up exactly two minutes before it was supposed to leave. It was already gone, its rails bare, not a trail of exhaust left. After sitting for forty seconds, rearranging the quarters in her bag and understanding that she could not get a cup of coffee, the idea had popped into her head.
Her phone was dead. She remembered his number because when they first met he had written it down for her in her notebook, which she still carried everywhere with her since it contained all her to-dos. She had enough quarters for five minutes. The inside of the phone booth smelled of bleach and only vaguely of urine. She lifted the phone and hesitated a second, more for the germs, less for what she was doing next.
She put in the quarters, and dialed his number and waited. It wasn’t quiet at all within the phone booth. The bustle of the station behind her was loud enough that she was sure, when he answered, it would all fall apart right away. There was also the following possibilities: he wouldn’t pick up, he would hang up once picking up, his number was different, she would miss him when he spoke.
He was confused as soon as he answered, asking why the area code was so far away, who was calling?
“This is a research center call,” she said, her voice dry, doctor-ly, critical.
“What the fuck? Who is this?” he asked again.
“I’m conducting research based on girlfriends of years past,” she explained. She forced her voice to be more nasal, limited, far from how it actually sounded.
“That’s not a real thing,” he said.
She could tell, and this she could tell from knowing him well, that his curiosity had been irked. He wouldn’t hang up now. He wanted to know who this was, what they had to say.
“How old are you?” she asked, although this was one question she already knew the answer to.
He was quiet on the other side of the line, far from her, removed from her life, scientifically spliced with a scalpel as to not interfere with her existence anymore. “Thirty-seven.”
“How many sexual partners have you had?”
“Seventeen,” he answered, no pause before, having already known the number.
Typical, she thought, that he didn’t have to list. “How many were women?”
“All of them.”
“How many did you love?”
Now he was quiet, finally thinking. “Ten.”
“How many people have you loved in your entire life?”
“Define love for me,” she said, slowly, simply, now her creating the pauses.
“Okay,” he said, “twelve. Twelve people total.”
“Name them,” she said, breathless, “for the research.”
He named them each, little meaning attached to the names. All for research. It sounded like he was reading a packing list of strangers. Her name was not among them.
“Where was the last place you kissed someone?”
“Inside their car, at a stoplight, when she was dropping me off,” he told her.
Ah, there, he had finally mentioned her. It had been over three months ago, and she would have guessed he had been kissing more people since then. It had been a meaningless kiss, an inconsequential date, and a forgettable romance that was never really romantic. He mentioned it with the same indifference they had carried it all on. It was enough, because she had come up, next to women who had been centerpieces for him. She wasn’t forgettable. She had proved it. All of their interactions could be forgettable, but not her. She hung up the phone, two nickels falling down for change. She had only wanted him to mention her. She knew he wouldn’t admit to loving her. He hadn’t, nor had she. She liked to pretend though, late at night, in train stations.