20. A Telephone Call
This is day Twenty of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.
Dorothy Parker is a writer that, deservedly or not, is less famous as a writer as she is famous for being Dorothy Parker. She is known for her wit, her wisecracks, and for her acerbic and slightly warped observations on the life around her.
I think of her primarily as a key member of the Algonquin Round Table. I’m jealous of that. Wouldn’t it be great to have such cool friends? To sit around all day trying to outdo each other in wit and verbal repartee? That would be the life.
But even Dorothy Parker tired of the circle. She said, in later years:
These were no giants. Think who was writing in those days—Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway. Those were the real giants. The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them….There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn’t have to be any truth…
I’m not sure if that’s fair. If your goal is to have a large group of writers get together and everyone turn out work like William Faulkner and Earnest Heminglway… well, good luck with that.
Sometimes there is a bitter truth in wisecracks and there are worse ways to waste your life than to spend it in the company of witty friends.
Today’s story, A Telephone Call, is a pleasent little ditty – a first person account of a woman in desperate desire and drowning in existential angst. At first glance, it is a simple tale of a woman begging to God to have her man give her a telephone call. Look closer, though, and you will see it’s more complex and sophisticated than it appears.
Reading what others have said of this story, many write about how young the woman is and they remember when they were that age – as if misplaced desire is a perogative of the youthful. I don’t see it that way. I read it as a woman having an affair with a married man, slightly ashamed of her behavior, but unable to control herself.
I think he must still like me a little. He couldn’t have called me “darling” twice today, if he didn’t still like me a little. It isn’t all gone, if he still likes me a little; even if it’s only a little, little bit. You see, God, if You would just let him telephone me, I wouldn’t have to ask You anything more. I would be sweet to him, I would be gay, I would be just the way I used to be, and then he would love me again. And then I would never have to ask You for anything more. Don’t You see, God? So won’t You please let him telephone me? Won’t You please, please, please?
Are You punishing me, God, because I’ve been bad? Are You angry with me because I did that? Oh, but, God, there are so many bad people –You could not be hard only to me. And it wasn’t very bad; it couldn’t have been bad. We didn’t hurt anybody, God. Things are only bad when they hurt people. We didn’t hurt one single soul; You know that. You know it wasn’t bad, don’t You, God? So won’t You let him telephone me now?
—-Dorothy Parker, A Telephone Call
I read once that some people of the Algonquin Round Table were scared to leave the table for fear of what Dorothy Parker would say about them in their absence. But still…it would be fun to have a group like that.