Short Story Of the Day, The Call by Bill Chance

“As useless as always. There are so many jerks out there. I had a shoot last night and the photographer made a pass at me. Of course that happens, but this guy was awful. And disgusting.”

—-Bill Chance, The Call

Telephone Pole, Deep Ellum, Texas

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#7). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


The Call

Jim was not a morning person and suffered from bad hangovers. He had learned to drink a glass of water and take aspirin before he fell dead asleep drunk – he knew hangovers were partially caused by dehydration – but had forgotten. Again.

The ringing phone felt like needles poking him through thick cotton. The phone was tangled in the same mass of sheets and blankets he was. The only way to find it was to trace the cord from the wall through the disorganized confusion until he found the instrument. His last apartment had one of the new style phone system with square jacks in the wall where you could move your phone from one place to another but this one hadn’t been updated and the phone was hard-wired. At least there were two, one in the living room and one by his bed. That was a modern luxury.

Finally, he had the earsplitting thing in his hands. It felt huge and heavy. At least it had buttons. He never missed the rotary phones that had mostly disappeared over the last few years. He would always hesitate, stumble and get wrong numbers with those things. He stared at the phone and considered not answering. He could not think of anyone he wanted to talk to right then. But he knew the phone could keep ringing for a long time so he lifted the receiver, mostly to shut it up.

“Hello?” he said.

“Hello,” said the voice on the other end of the line. Jim tried to figure out who it was. It was female and sounded young – about his age. The voice sounded a little familiar and he felt embarrassed that he couldn’t figure out who it was. He decided to go with it and try and figure out who it was by context.

“How are you?” Jim asked.

“Oh, good, good. I just wanted to check in and see how you were doing.”

“I’m fine, same as always. What’s up?”

“Nothing really. I just wanted to check in and talk.” Her tone was cheerful but flat. No clues. “Did I wake you up?” she asked.

“Oh no, I’ve been up for a while,” Jim lied. “I’ve just been puttering around, making breakfast, that sort of thing. Went for a short run.”

“You run in the mornings?”

“I try to.” Another lie. “You know it gets so hot later in the day.”

“No kidding.”

There was a pause and Jim realized he was no closer to figuring out who the hell this was. He decided to kick it up a notch.

“How’s your family?”

“Great, great, really. My sister is graduating high school later this year and everybody is excited about that. The last one to leave the house.”

“Has she made college plans?”

“Well, she’s never really been college material, as you know, but she is thinking about State. Giving it a shot, I’m proud of her.”

Jim scraped his mind for someone with a little sister that wasn’t too smart. And “State” didn’t help him at all. What State? Which State? He was going to have to dig deeper.

“How’s your love life?” he asked. There was a pause.

“As useless as always. There are so many jerks out there. I had a shoot last night and the photographer made a pass at me. Of course that happens, but this guy was awful. And disgusting.”

So she was a model. Jeez, did he know any models? His poisoned brain cells were not working very well, he couldn’t think of any women he knew that did that. Who was this? Nothing to do but keep on asking questions.

“That’s awful. The world is full of jerks. What was the shoot for?”

“Nothing, really. My portfolio mostly. That makes it worse. I should have known.”

And the conversation went on. Jim really enjoyed talking to this woman. She was funny, thoughtful, and did a lot of interesting things. She was the kind of person he had been looking for his whole life. And he couldn’t figure out who she was. He cursed his foggy mind. He cursed the damn telephone.

They talked for over an hour. They talked about movies they has seen, television shows they watched, and music they liked. They talked about the weather and the politics and even traded the best jokes they had heard lately. Jim’s hangover had disappeared and he was beginning to feel like this was going to be a good day, maybe the best of days.

But suddenly there was a pause on the other end of the line. She was not responding to what he said. He could hear her breathing.

“Are you okay OK?” Jim asked.

Another long pause, then the question, “Frank?”

“Uhhhh,” was all Jim could say. Then a click and a dial tone. “Wait!” he shouted even though he knew it was too late.

Jim had been a wrong number all along.

Suddenly feeling sick, he hung up and stared at the phone. He stared at it for a long time, trying to will it into ringing again. It never did.

He wished that there was some way to find out what number had called. He wished he could call back. Maybe someday, but that would be too late.

What We Really Want Is Just Stuff That Works

“It is one of the unexpected disasters of the modern age that our new unparalleled access to information has come at the price of our capacity to concentrate on anything much. The deep, immersive thinking which produced many of civilization’s most important achievements has come under unprecedented assault. We are almost never far from a machine that guarantees us a mesmerizing and libidinous escape from reality. The feelings and thoughts which we have omitted to experience while looking at our screens are left to find their revenge in involuntary twitches and our ever-decreasing ability to fall asleep when we should.”
― Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion

wires

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.”
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Looking At Her Phone in the Dark

“I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
—- Albert Einstein

There is something special about standing around in the middle of the night and talking with a bunch of your best friends. To stand around with them in front of a beautiful art museum is extra special.

So special, in fact, that it is something that you would have to text to a bunch of people… people that aren’t there.

“This is the whole point of technology. It creates an appetite for immortality on the one hand. It threatens universal extinction on the other. Technology is lust removed from nature. – Murray (WN 285)”
—- Don DeLillo, White Noise Critical: Text and Criticism

A group of friends in front of the Dallas Museum of Art, night, long exposure

A group of friends in front of the Dallas Museum of Art, night, long exposure

“This was before voice mail, recorded phone messages you can’t escape. Life was easier then. You just didn’t pick up the phone.”
― Joyce Carol Oates, Beasts

I used to work a little closer to where I lived. Sometimes, I would go home for lunch… but not very often. One day, while I was home, the phone rang. This was before caller ID – back in the days when people would actually answer their phones. It was, however, after the invention and installation of the answering machine….

…do you remember when these had little tapes in them? Once, I left for a long business trip and when I returned I had a large collection of very interesting phone messages left from a number of my friends and even a couple of cool ones from strangers. I liked these so much I replaced the tape with a fresh one and carried the old one around with me for a year or so. Sometimes I’d listen to it for fun. I know that sounds stupid – but I wish I had that tape now, thirty years later. I’d love to hear it again.

…at any rate, back to the story. I was home, the phone rang, I picked it up. It was a friend. She said, “Oh, I didn’t think anyone would be home. I called to leave a message.”

“I’m home making a sandwich. But it’s ok,” I said. “I’ll hang up and you can call back and leave a message.”

So I did. And she did.

When the phone rang my hand quivered over the receiver. I was torn on whether I should pick it up (as a joke, you know) or to let it ring and let her leave her message. I decided the joke was too stupid (strange, I know – I don’t usually pass up an opportunity for a stupid joke). As the machine picked up, I walked out the door, left for work, and let her leave her message in private.

I never listened to it.

Short Story Day Twenty – A Telephone Call

20. A Telephone Call
Dorothy Parker
http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/teleycal.html

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