So many hellos.
Ben tried to count them through the day.
The first one he whispered when he woke up, startled to hear a noise in the kitchen. He heard noises he’d never noticed before, rattling around that big empty house by himself.
The professional one, hand extended, greeting his lawyer in the courtroom.
The one he sighed when his ex-wife called, tears clotting her voice.
And so on.
Day after day after day.
Ben lost count.
He got tired of hearing the word. Hello? Hello? His inner self hollering, blind in the dark, seeking reassurance.
To the universe, that great nothing and everything. A letter that never seemed to arrive.
The first word uttered when answering the phone. What if he just picked up the receiver and listened?
He knows the first word he’ll hear.
It drove him mad, this obsession with the word. He started drinking at night, bourbon in a shot glass, the only wedding present he kept. He started jogging at four a.m. because he couldn’t sleep, his lungs bursting with the cold. He started humming random notes under his breath and turning the radio up loud, and still, always, in his head, the one word…
So he stopped. He slowed. He sat on the top bleacher at the track as the sun lifted its eye and he answered.