The phone rang nine times before Clara could turn off the oven, wash her hands, dry them, and pick it up.
“Clara, it’s me. We need to talk about something.”
“Good morning to you too, Gerald.”
“Sorry, sorry, good morning. Where are my manners? How have you been?”
“I've been doing alright. A strange cough, but nothing that you need to worry about. How are you?”
“Not so well, Clara. I mean, I'm good, but there's something that's not so good.”
“What was it you wanted to talk about?”
“It’s about Samantha. She called me last night, said I shouldn’t tell you anything, but I can’t do that. She’s our daughter. Whatever she tells me, you need to know as well, especially when it’s that important.”
“Why didn't you open with that? Did anything happen? Is she alright? God damn, Gerald, why did you wait a whole night to call me?”
“Calm down, Clara, she’s safe, nothing happened. We had a long talk, and she...”
“What, Gerald? She what?”
“If you’d let me finish. Thank you. She told me she’s switched hobbies again, Clara.”
A silence came from her side of the line.
“Clara, you there?”
“That ungrateful little...”
“I know, I know.”
“What is it this time? Ufology? Mountain climbing? What?”
“I don’t know, something to do with libraries, she says. Said she’s been getting into it ever since the break up with Olga. It has something to do with collecting books, organizing the bookshelves, setting up the whole borrow-return system. You know, running a library.”
“Oh, dear Lord. I thought she had finally found herself with that whole skydiving nonsense. What’s wrong with that now?”
“Samantha said it reminded her too much of Olga. They did meet during a parachute malfunction, anyway.”
“I know, Gerald, I know. And I bet you didn’t talk her off this stupid decision.”
“How could I? She’s going through something, Clara.”
“And you want me to be the one to do the hard talk. Typical. No wonder she told you first.”
“Can you imagine how she felt, jumping from the plane everytime, having to not only remember if the parachute was packed correctly, and pay attention to all those little details she told us about, but on top of that be thinking about her ex the whole time? Everytime? I couldn’t bare to talk her back into it.”
“I don’t buy it. She probably just got bored again and went with her first instinct, clinging to the first hobby that crossed her way. I bet there’s another girl involved, she never gets these ideas by herself.”
“At least she’s not jumping from planes anymore, Clara.”
“That’s a plus, I’ll give you that. But she’ll have to pay us back for all those courses, all that equipment.”
“I’ll pay you back. Let her have this one.”
“You spoil her too much, Gerald. Too much. Someday you’ll have to be tough with her, or she’ll never see the importance of a hobby, a real hobby, a life-long one. Like you have your U-boat collection and I have mining. It's what defines us. Can't she see it? Can't you make her see it? Or else I’ll always be the mean mom, all because you can’t be a dad when you need to.”
“Come on, let’s not get into that again, Clara. Am I not doing that right now, talking to you as her dad?”
“I’m worried about it too. Okay?”
“Whatever, Gerald. So, what’s this library thing she loves to do now?”
“She says it’s been going on for some weeks, now. Didn’t want to tell us before she got the hang of it. That shushing thing seems really time consuming when you sum it all up at the end of the day.”
“Weeks? The nerve on her.”
“To be fair, I tried to talk some sense into her, make her think about how her options were already thinning down. Child actress, for example, that boat is long gone. And she said, Clara, she said that she still needs some time to figure stuff out.”
“And what’s the endgame here? Did she at least say what she’s getting out of it?”
“She said her real goal is to become a bibliophile. The library is just the beginning. It gave me some hope.”
“A what? Is that anything like that sapiosexual phase she had? I can’t take another girlfriend coming to Christmas and not shut up about Nietzsche, Kierkegaard or Foucault. Save the dissertation for your PhD and just eat the damn turkey, Mona!”
“Oh my god, I forgot about Mona! She was the worst."
"By far, the worst!"
"Remember that boat trip? When we got trapped with her in the middle of the lake?”
“Wish I could forget it. I can still hear her voice yapping that ‘the image of the self is naught but the collection of other being’s perception of their own self in contrast to existence’s unknowable ether projected back on us’, or whatever she had just read that morning.”
“Clara was just so taken by her. You could feel the love in her stare.”
“You’ve always been a softy.”
“And you, a pessimist.”
“At least I was right. It was just a phase. Just like this bibliophilia and whatnot. Does she get turned on by books, now?”
“No, nothing like that. It’s not sexual, she says. It started with a really old book she saw at Olga’s parent’s house. A first edition of sorts, kept behind glass. She couldn't even touch it. What was the book? She told me the name... Something with a D..."
"Yeah... Da... De... Do. Do! Do-something."
"Yes, that's the one! Our daughter said she never felt that kind of attraction before. Like she had finally found her purpose in life, collecting rare books."
"I bet she asked you to buy her one just like that."
"Surprisingly, no. Said she's already in touch with some collectors, researching preservation techniques and taking some classes on book repair. The library is just the beginning, a stepping stone to learn the ropes before taking the dive. I know it's worrying but this might be it, Clara. A hobby that has room to grow into her.”
“She said the same thing about Egyptology. But I haven’t seen her excavate any tombs for over ten years. And I’m still paying to keep her license active.”
“We are paying it, Clara.”
“Exactly. I don’t know why you’re not mad about this, Gerald. You seemed more worried when I picked up the phone. What 's up?”
“I’m worried, Clara, don’t get me wrong. But this conversation got me thinking.”
“Yeah, thinking, remembering, recollecting. Do you remember her 15th birthday?”
“Come on, Gerald. It's nostalgia speaking.”
“Her smile when we gave her that new edition of A History of Ancient Egypt - Volume I: From the Pre-Dynasty to the Middle Kingdom, do you remember? When she opened it and the license you hid there fell out?”
“Okay, that was a nice one. And I did have a lot of fun on our trips, entering all those tombs with her. But those taxes! Oh Lord, the taxes alone could have paid for her college.”
“I still have that golden scarab, you know? It’s on the mantelpiece.”
“I only wish she had stuck with it. There was some future there.”
“But that’s not what hobbies are about, Clara. We talked about this. Just because we work with what we love, doesn’t mean she has to do it as well.”
“I know, I know. I just don’t want her bouncing from hobby to hobby forever, you know? Her job is already too consuming. She needs something to shape her personality around, or else she'll just become an employee. And I won't have it, not my daughter! But we can’t keep paying for her indecisiveness. I mean, she left Egyptology for the harp. The harp, Gerald! And then came the mixology courses, the vintage shop she begged us to buy, the trips to all those buddhist temples.”
“Maybe she’ll bounce back, you know? She’s dealing with books, anyway. The Old Egyptians wrote books as well, right?”
“I think it was papyrus, or something.”
“Gerald, let’s be realistic here.”
“I just hope she finds it this time, you know? When she called me last night, I couldn’t believe it. Skydiving really looked like her thing. That whole jumping into the unknown, just had a Samantha vibe to it. And with Olga doing it as well, it all seemed more grounded.”
“Come to think of it, she’s always been more a bookworm than an adventurer.”
“Yeah, remember scuba diving?”
“If I remember? Complete disaster! That panic attack gave us a real scare, huh?”
“It was a really weird way to know about her thalassophobia.”
“She hid it well. From us and from Georgina. Remember Georgina?”
This time, he was the one who fell into silence for a while.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“You got quiet all of a sudden.”
“I don’t know, Clara, all this got me wondering. Have we failed her?”
"I mean, should we have forced her into a hobby like our parents did?"
"You take that back, Gerald! Right now!”
“We have given her everything she's ever asked for. If we had the same opportunities growing up as the ones we were able to give her, can you imagine what we would have attained?”
“Yeah, you’re right."
"And she never had to break free from our expectations, like you and I had to. Would you like to still be making pottery like your dad? May he rest in peace."
"I thank every day to my younger self for saying no to that whole singing thing my mom put me through. Still dream about that sometimes."
"Yeah, I remember your nightmares. The night singing and the night screaming."
"Samantha never had to go through any of that. And never will. Because of us. You, me."
"We are good parents, right?”
“The best, Gerald. The best.”
“She’ll find herself, right?”
“I really hope she does. I really do.”
“Me too, Clara. Me too. Can I ask a favor?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“When you talk to her, be gentle.”
“Please, Clara. Just… Just let Samantha have this one. I’m having a feeling about this book thing of hers.”
“You know I can’t.”
“Just this one. One last time. And if in a year or so she changes her mind, then we can be more harsh. But for now, I think she really needs us to be okay with this. With the whole thing with Olga, as well.”
“Okay, okay. But that’s the last time. If she goes into basket-weaving or bird-watching after that, that's a risk she'll take with her own time and money. And you’ll have to say no as well. Do you hear?”
“I do, I do.”
“We have to work together on this, Gerald. No more classes, no more equipment, no more international trips searching for enlightenment, no more you can pay me back later, honey.”
“I hear you, and I will. I swear. No more. But please, just be gentle this time.”
“Alright, I will.”
“And, Gerald… thanks, as well. For telling me.”
“You know I wouldn’t keep something like that from you.”
“I know. Thanks for that.”
“You’re welcome as well.”
As silence fell once again between them, Clara felt a smile grow on her face and wondered if the same happened with Gerald. Eventually they would ask about their partners as they always did when they were done talking, and would inevitably exchange a curt yet polite goodbye before hanging up the phone. But for now it felt good to know that the other one was still there, on the other side of the line, to know they could still talk about the only hobby they had ever shared.