A telephone rings. This, of itself, is not a common thing in the Witherspoon household. Mr. Jonathon and Mrs. Ellen Witherspoon keep to themselves, mostly. They are very self-contained people who have everything they need between the two of them.
Once upon a time there was more. Two parents and a son, but he's been gone for years. The quiet, genteel Witherspoons were never quite sure how to deal with a son as wild as Ronald. He smoked too much, drank too much, and generally ran about. Good in his classes, yes, and never one to get in trouble...but he didn't fit in with his parents.
They loved him fiercely, though, for all the distance between them. It was never awkward when he'd come home on leave, no more than it was when he left again. Once upon a time there were three. Now there are two, and Mr. and Mrs. Witherspoon have no need for a large circle of acquaintances. They are content.
A telephone rings. Jonathon isn't home, he'll be out late finishing a commissioned piece of furniture for a proud set of first-time grandparents. He won't talk about it when he gets home. He won't talk about it and she won't ask, they'll simply sit in the parlor and spend the evening quietly under the portrait of their son which graces the mantel.
He'll read, and she'll do what sewing she can with cataracts stealing her sight from her. They may talk about their plans for the next day. Ellen is cooking, pots and pans simmering on the stove as she picks this or that herb to give a delicate flavor to her work.
A telephone rings. Ellen picks it up, and her voice is strong when she says, "Hello?"
Ellen Witherspoon is a strong woman. She lost her parents young; her brother raised her. He was lost too, and she raised a husband and a son to honor the lives of the dead with an empty seat at the table. She survived the loss of her son in much the same manner. Her hand shakes when the quiet, frightened voice says, "I'm...speaking to Mrs. Ellen Witherspoon, right?"
Her hand shakes because she knows the voice. She knew it when it was a gentle babble, and when it was a child informing her that he'd learn, one way or another, how to swing a sword. She knew it when it was a teenager standing on the porch talking about some bird he'd hooked up with. She knew it when it was talking about the woman he'd proposed to. "This is the Witherspoon residence?" the voice asks, shaking, and Ellen Witherspoon whispers "Ronald?"
They never had a relationship that called for nicknames, not really. Sometimes, but only on rare occasions. The voice at the other end of the line half-barks an utterly unamused laugh, "Y-yeh. Yeah. It's, uh. It's me. Uh. I'm not dead?" after that is silence, and she can almost visualize the look of consternation on her son's face (My boy!) as he reacts to the banality of what he said, "It's...it's a long story. Been out of me mind for...for a long time. I, uh. I don't know what to say. I'm sorry."
"Ronald, no. No, don't apologize. You're alive...my God, my God, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, oh." She can't think past that. She can't get past my son is alive. Ellen Witherspoon is a strong woman, and she's weeping into a handkerchief while dinner burns because her son is talking to her on the line. He's saying things, explaining, but all she hears is the voice of her only baby boy.
On the kitchen windowsill the first of the flowering herbs is starting to show color.