He called three, four, five, six, seven, eight, his fingers jerking, unable to grip the receiver.
A woman’s voice answered, “Hello?”
Walter cried back at her, “Hello, oh lord, hello!”
“This is a recording,” recited the woman’s voice. “Miss Helen Arasumian is not home. Will you leave a message on the wire spool so she may call you when she returns? Hello? This is a recording. Miss Arasumian is not home. Will you leave a message—“
He hung up.
He sat with his mouth twitching.
On second thought he redialed that number.
“When Miss Helen Arasumian comes home,” he said, “tell her to go to hell.”
He phoned Mars Junction, New Boston, Arcadia, and Roosevelt City exchanges, theorizing that they would be logical places for persons to dial from; after that he contacted local city halls and other public institutions in each town. He phoned the best hotels. Leave it to a woman to put herself up in luxury.
Suddenly he stopped, clapped his hands sharply together, and laughed. Of course! He checked the directory and dialed a long-distance call through to the biggest beauty parlor in New Texas City. If ever there was a place where a woman would putter around, patting mud packs on her face and sitting under a drier, it would be a velvet-soft, diamond-gem beauty parlor!
The phone rang. Someone at the other end lifted the receiver.
A woman’s voice said, “Hello?”
“If this is a recording,” announced Walter Gripp, “I’ll come over and blow the place up.”
“This isn’t a record,” said the woman’s voice. “Hello! Oh, hello, there is someone alive! Where are you?” She gave a delighted scream.
Walter almost collapsed. “_You!_’ He stood up jerkily, eyes wild. “Good lord, what luck, what’s your name?”
“Genevieve Selsor!” She wept into the receiver. “Oh, I’m so glad to hear from you, whoever you are!”
“Walter, hello, Walter!”
“Walter. It’s such a nice name. Walter, Walter!”
“Walter, where are you?”
Her voice was so kind and sweet and fine. He held the phone tight to his ear so she could whisper sweetly into it. He felt his feet drift off the floor. His cheeks burned.
“I’m in Marlin Village,” he said. “I—“
“Hello?” he said.
He jiggled the hook. Nothing.
Somewhere a wind had blown down a pole. As quickly as she had come, Genevieve Selsor was gone.
He dialed, but the line was dead.
“I know where she is, anyway.” He ran out of the house. The sun was rising as he backed a bettle-car from the stranger’s garage, filled its backseat with food from the house, and set out at eighty miles an hour down the highway, heading for New Texas City. A thousand miles, he thought. Genevieve Selsor, sit tight, you’ll hear from me!
He honked his horn on every turn out of town.
At sunset, after an impossible day of driving, he pulled to the roadside, kicked off his tight shoes, laid himself out in the seat, and slid the gray Homburg over his weary eyes. His breathing became slow and regular. The wind blew and the stars shone gently upon him in the new dusk. The Martian mountains lay all around, millions of years old. Starlight glittered on the spires of a little Martian town, no bigger than a game of chess, in the blue hills.
He lay in the half-place between awakeness and dreams. He whispered. Genevieve. Oh, Genevieve, sweet Genevieve, he sang softly, the years may come, the years may go. But Genevieve, sweet Genevieve …. There was a warmth in him. He heard her quiet sweet cool voice singing. Hello, oh, hello, Walter! This is no record. Where are you, Walter, where are you?
He sighed, putting up a hand to touch her in the moonlight. Long dark hair shaking in the wind; beautiful, it was. And her lips like red peppermints. And her cheeks like fresh-cut wet roses. And her body like a clear vaporous mist, while her soft cool sweet voice crooned to him once more the words to the old sad song, Oh, Genevieve, sweet Genevieve, the years may come, the years may go …