Phone rings. I go rigid. Phone keeps ringing. No one else home. Phone rings for the fifth or sixth time. It is obvious at this point that they don't have an answering machine. Phone does not stop ringing. What if it doesn't stop until someone answers it or the person on the other end gives up? What if they are particularly persistent? She told me how to answer the phone if no one else is home, but does that mean she expects to me answer the phone whenever it rings? Probably. She knows I utterly fail at comprehension on the phone. My overall comprehension is generally pretty good, way better than my speaking ability, but somehow the phone completely destroys me. I don't know where anybody is or when they are coming back so what good what it do for me to answer the phone especially if I won't understand anyway?
Finally it stops. I heartily exhale. Not more than a minute goes by and it starts ringing again. What if she is calling to make sure I don't get up too late? Would she do that? I can wait this one out too. An eternity later it stops ringing. This time at least five minutes go by before it starts ringing again. Is this some emergency services hotline and they neglected to tell me? I am pretty sure I understand the word emergency in German and would have noticed if it was dropped.
My worst fear is that multiple people that later get ahold of her will mention that they tried to call earlier and she will realize that since I didn't leave the house, I must have been here. Or that she will come home while the phone is ringing and see that I am not even attempting to get it. I find myself making up a different excuse for every time it rings. This time I am definitely in the bathroom. This time I just couldn't find the phone in time. This time I had just gotten into the shower. The more it rings, the more absurd my excuses get as I run out of all the obvious ones. This time I was so immersed in what I was reading that it took the first couple rings for me to realize it was ringing and it took the last 7 or 8 for me to get down the half flight of stairs between me and the phone and by then it had stopped.
I have started listening to music loudly just so that there is the possibility that I wouldn't have heard it. However, the phone is sure loud. I have also taken to making a trip into town daily just so I don't have to listen to that terrifying noise. Plus that is at least two hours round trip travel time, plus a reasonable assumption of at least an hour doing what I supposedly need to do that she will know I was out of the house, but not when. Sometimes I have almost jumped out of my chair with joy when someone comes home, just to know that I don't have to feel responsible for the phone anymore. I still feel that occasional pang of terror every time it rings. It's like it is just waiting for me. Waiting to shame me. Waiting for me to try to take some really important message and then be responsible for some catastrophe caused by my failure to pass it along correctly.
I hear it in my sleep in that time in morning after everyone has left to do something useful and/or important and I remain attempting to enjoy the rare opportunity to get all the sleep I need. Sometimes I wonder if it is even ringing at all or if it is just reaching into my subconscious to gain more time in which it can torture me. Simply ringing. Ringing. Ringing.