August 3 2022
by Anthony Varallo
After my uncle died, he started calling me on his Kermit the Frog telephone. I was ten at the time, and kind of excited to have my own phone, even if it was my dead uncle’s and even if he called me late at night, after I’d already fallen asleep.
“You awake?” my uncle asked.
“Sorry,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I said.
“Yeah,” I said, even though I knew it really wasn’t okay. But I didn’t want my uncle to feel bad, what with him being nice enough to leave me his Kermit phone, and what with him being dead and all. Kermit phones were pretty cool back then.
My uncle told me what it was like to be dead, while I said things like “wow” or “really” or “that’s so weird!” The things he said were observant and revelatory, even if I can’t remember most of them now. You have no interest in remembering your life, after you die—that’s one thing I remember. Which surprised me. I mean, you would kind of think the opposite, right? My uncle told me about heaven, too, which he could describe in incredible detail. I’ve forgotten most of what he said, which I’m a little embarrassed about, but what ten-year-old pays attention to adults? There’s a lake. In heaven, I mean. It’s … big.
The thing is, whenever my uncle called, I was usually sort of asleep, which made it hard to pay attention. Plus I really got into the idea of being on my Kermit phone. I mean, I couldn’t believe that I actually had my own phone, right in my bedroom, sitting on my nightstand, where I could call anyone in the world, if I wanted to, and anyone could call me. As my uncle told me about the afterlife, I’d twirl the phone cord around my finger, the way adults did on television, and stare into Kermit’s ping-pong ball eyes. I liked to imagine someone walking in on me talking on my Kermit phone and feeling sort of jealous of me.
My uncle told me about my future. Things to watch out for. Things that mattered. Things he knew now that he was dead and in heaven, where, it turns out, they tell you stuff like that. That’s another thing about heaven I forgot to mention earlier: you get to know everything about pretty much everything.
The Kermit phone stopped working after a while. First, the zero pushbutton started sticking, and then the same thing happened with the three, until you couldn’t dial any number with a zero or a three in it, which made it pretty useless.
I guess it didn’t really matter. By that point my uncle had long since stopped calling me. He didn’t give any explanation; he just didn’t call anymore. Unless he did explain, and I wasn’t listening.
You can’t just walk up to celebrities or famous historical figures. There’s a rule about it. They tell you day one.
Anthony Varallo is the author of a novel, The Lines (University of Iowa Press), and four short story collections. Recent work is out or forthcoming in The Normal School, JMWW, Pithead Chapel, Pembroke Magazine, New Letters, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. Find him online at @TheLines1979.