A man dreams he is falling down a manhole. He has had this dream once before, but when he wakes up this time it is Stephanie Plunkett that he thinks about. Stephanie went to his high school, and her notable trait was that she had one large nostril instead of two. Despite this rarity, her teenage years weren’t marked by the unkindness of others; kids did not call her Hoover or ask if she always scored a hole-in-one when playing Putt-Putt. She was in her Biology class, and once, when she dropped her test, he picked it up for her; she smiled sweetly at him. But sitting up in bed now, he is not sure they ever spoke. At least, he cannot recall the sound of her voice.
That morning he does some Internet research, and it seems that she lives in the next town over. He spies her picture in a PTA newsletter. After typing in a few more pieces of information, he is pleased to learn that she is divorced. That evening, he discovers there are three Stephanie Plunketts in the area. He calls the first, but there is no answer. When he tries the second, a whisper of a voice comes through—so quietly he is not sure she said anything at all. “Hello, I’m looking for Stephanie Plunkett,” he says. And then he cannot think what else to say. There is only silence.
“The one with the nose,” he says, and then winces. “Who’s calling?” the voice says, a little louder. “Oh, this is Ned McArdle. I’m looking for the Stephanie Plunkett from Waynewright High. Is this she?”
There is a loud sniffing sound. He had forgotten this from his days in Biology class. It comes through over the line like a strong wind whipping through a barren street. He presses his ear harder to the phone, waiting.