Mark wasn’t ready to go to sleep just yet, but he decided he wanted to read in the comfort of his bed, so he locked all the doors up and turned out the lights and made his way down the dark hall to the bedroom.
Ella had called him at work earlier in the afternoon. “The time-zone is different here,” she explained when he asked. “It’s already dark here.” She had gone to Nova Scotia to help her sister and brother move their mother into an assisted-living facility; Mark had wanted to go, but the Bettworth case was at a critical point, and he hadn’t been able to leave work.
“I forgot about that,” he said. “I’ll miss you tonight.” He and Ella had hardly ever slept apart – maybe ten times in their whole thirty-four-year marriage. It was always hard for him to get to sleep when she wasn’t there.
He came into the bedroom and turned on the bedside lamp. The bed looked so empty without Ella in it, and his thoughts had turned – of course – to their own eventual old age, when their children might have to come to California and move them into a “facility”. He didn’t like thinking about that kind of thing, especially at night. Especially when Ella wasn’t there.
He climbed into bed and made himself comfortable, his book in his lap.
The wind outside was picking up; tree branches whipped against the window panes and the sides of the house. “That sounds ominous,” he noted. He gazed at the dark windows for a moment, then turned his attention to his book.
A few moments later, the phone rang, startling him.
It was Ella.
“Hey, sweetheart!” he said. “Isn’t it really late there?”
The connection was faint, but he heard her familiar laughter. “It is,” she said. “But I really needed to call you. I need you to go to the kitchen for me.”
“What?” he asked, puzzled. “What are you talking about?”
“I need you to get something for me,” she told him. “It’s urgent.”
He couldn’t remember anything being in the kitchen that she would need – no paperwork or anything. But he pulled back the covers and got up, walking back out to the kitchen with the phone pressed to his ear. “What is it?” he asked her. He looked around the darkened kitchen, at the counters and table. “There aren’t any papers here at all.” The only thing he could see was an envelope that had come in the mail, but it was just an ad for car insurance. He thought of how muted Ella’s voice was – maybe it wasn’t the connection. Maybe she was dreaming, and had called him in her sleep. “Ella?” he said into the phone. No one answered.
From the bedroom came a loud wrenching sound, like wood being torn into pieces. Glass shattered, and the howls of the wind became even louder. The floor shook under his feet, and he dropped the phone in his haste to see what had happened.
One of the trees had fallen, crashing through the window and the wall of the bedroom and landing with its network of branches across the bed. Mark stared at it in horror and fascination, his heart pounding in his chest. I would have been under that! he realized. I could have been killed.
He slowly became aware of a voice behind him. “Ella!” he cried, and ran back to the kitchen to retrieve his phone. He brought it to his ear with trembling hands. “Ella!” he repeated. “I have to let you go. I have to call someone. The tree – the big one in the side yard – it just toppled into the bedroom.” He was panting, and his heart was still thudding, but he managed a weak, awe-struck laugh. “If you hadn’t called me, I might have been killed just now!”
“What are you talking about?” Ella asked. “You called me!”
“No, I didn’t!” Mark protested. “You called me.”
“Why would I call you in the middle of the night?” Ella asked.
“I don’t know,” Mark answered. “You said you needed something from the kitchen.”
“What would I possibly need from our kitchen?” she asked. “Are you serious about the tree? Are you hurt?”
“I am serious,” he said. “It came right through the wall.” He shook his head, staring into the bedroom from the doorway. “If you hadn’t called me, I would have been under it.”
“But …” she began, but then stopped. “Well, I don’t know what happened with the phone,” she said. “But I’m glad you’re all right!” She paused. “Did you want me to come home?”
“I can handle this,” he said. “You stay with your mom.” He shook his head again. “Wow,” he murmured. “Just … wow.” He told Ella he loved her at least four times, and reassured her as many times that he was uninjured, before hanging up and calling the police. After that he sat down at the kitchen table and waited for them to arrive, gazing intently at the phone he still held in his hands. “Call history,” he muttered, and quickly accessed it. There was no record of a call from Ella since earlier in the afternoon. But there was no record of a call going out to her either.
“What the hell?” he said, frowning. “I just spoke with her!” Maybe the storm was messing with cell signals, he decided. Maybe he would ask somebody about that in the morning.
The police are coming, he texted her.
That’s good, she texted back. Let me know what happens.
He checked the text log – there were their texts, just as he had expected. So where was the record of the phone call? He glanced from the phone to the bedroom door and back to the phone.
“I guess at the end of the day,” he said finally. “It doesn’t really matter.” All that mattered was that he hadn’t been under that tree when it tipped over. But the whole thing had him spooked, and he sat staring at the table top and occasionally shaking his head back and forth, until the police arrived.