The Elves Always Rang During Dinner

Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 0 Comment(s)

When I was a kid my dad spoke Elvish on the phone all the time.

I didn't know it was Elvish back then, I was little.  But the coded messages he dictated into the receiver certainly weren't English, and by the time I read The Hobbit in middle school I became fairly certain that it was Elvish he was speaking.

That helped me understand why he'd get up from the middle of a family dinner, traditionally a punishable no-no, to go chat in tongues upstairs in his bedroom.  The Elf people were a highborn race and not to be kept waiting.  I figured my father must be a very important human to consult with a race known for their legendary hesitancy to interact with the sons and daughters of Men.

"Get me the human father on the line"
I worried that perhaps my father had found himself on the wrong end of one of those mystical treaties where the fine print binds you to servitude the rest of your mortal life.  Why else wouldn't he scream when the phone woke him at all hours of the night and morning.  If I rang any time past 10pm, I was scolded for my thoughtlessness.  I guess Elves don't have to concern themselves with humans' emotions. Sure seemed like an imposition at the time.

I could tell that it wasn't the same elf every time.  There were different types of calls.  Lots of times it seemed like he was talking to their medicine man -- which made sense considering my dad is also a doctor.  Those calls were low stress.  Usually a list of potions and doses and timing instructions.  Early on I thought maybe my dad was being tested by the elves.  His responses all seemed like answers to premeditated test questions.  What would you do in this situation if you had such and such an ailment and had been vomiting since last night? I never worried too much about these calls.

Other times the conversations were more lively.  Discussions.  Like the Elves had attempted some sort of Do-It-Yourself project without reading the directions and had screwed it all up.  Now, with the project in shambles, they were asking my dad for instructions.  He would have this disgruntled tone as he slowly educated the Elves in the way of his people -- or whatever the hell they were talking about.  Whenever he hung up one of these calls, they were always followed by grumbling of various intensities.  The word I most often heard him use was, "incompetence."  I didn't think my father would want the Elves to know he was talking about them like that.  They are extremely skilled in the art of the bow and arrow.

A variant of this type of phone call was that every so often the elf on the other end would be my father's equal.  They would talk as brothers-in-arms.  The conversational content remained instructional, but the tone was pleasant, airy, light.  Dad never looked put out after those particular calls.  Less grumbling.

And then there were the worst calls.  My least favorite.  These phone calls came at all hours but the script was always the same, at least on my father's end of the phone.

". . . Yes, this is he.  Yes, I am.  At what time? Ok.  Thank you for letting me know. Goodbye."  

Every once and awhile he'd end with, "I'll be there shortly." Then he'd give my Mom a kiss, go upstairs, change into a suit, and drive off into the night.

For me, it was harder when he didn't have to leave.  The lack of any visceral reaction post-call was worse than any amount of grumbling.  The quiet hung their like the calm after a drive-by. Everything was back to normal, and never the same again.

Something about those short quiet conversations where he said nothing stung my father.  Usually he went up to his bedroom for a few minutes, but when he came back downstairs, he'd lost a bit of the twinkle in his eyes.  I couldn't imagine what the Elves could be saying that would distress him so.

Dad was our Golem. Our protector. As a kid, I'd never even seen him cry, but I always thought these phone calls were the closest he came.  I couldn't understand why he kept answering the phone.  I wasn't surprised, however, when he came out vehemently against the new best thing ever: the answering machine.

"If someone needs to talk to me, they can call me back," was his canned response on the issue. Considering his popularity with both humans and elves alike, I suspected he was right.  They'd never stop calling.

My admiration for a race of genetically superior light-filled beings began to dull.  At first I just resented their ability to grab my father's attention at a moments notice.  I thought that was only for his children.  Like when I would call his oncology office during a hectic point in his day, and he would leave an appointment to make sure everything was ok with his son.

Time came I started to hate those bow-carrying highborns. Didn't his medical practice take enough of his time, why this second job consulting for the supernatural.

I had a nightmare in which our phone began ringing without end. Every time the receiver clicked back against its base, the ringing started up again the next instant. Each conversation was the same quiet truncated script.  The one I came to fear as strongly as I did my own mortality.

Thanks for letting me know.  Goodbye.

But the calls kept coming. Even our second line, the one that dad said the hospital didn't even have, started to ring off the hook.  As I opened my parents' bedroom door, I saw my suit-clad father sitting on the edge of his bed, slumped over, head in his hands, crying.

But Golems don't weep, and I awoke alert and aware that it was just a dream.  Everything was back to normal, and never the same again.

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