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Feb 18, 2021

Drama Sad Romance

Jessie sighed and gave Shelly a call. Past time. They hadn’t talked for ages. Seemed like… could it actually be years? Get it done before work.

Of course, he could text. ‘One of the great innovations of the new century,’ he thought. ‘Poor communication with the illusion of efficiency.’

His fingers fumbled with the number pad. Holding a ‘cell’ instead of a wall mounted phone felt strange. The device had no heft. Insubstantial, like a toy, he could throw it against a wall without a thought. He thought about this ‘cell’. Living quarters in a prison? Only portable? Or a disingenuous misspelling of sell? If it’s sell, who got sold? Considering the price tag, he figured it could only be himself. Who’s zooming who?

Overlooking the nondescript courtyard, he listened to the line ringing with mixed feelings. He could always leave a stilted message, or hang up and try later. Wash, rinse, repeat.

‘Too much to say. A text won’t do.’ He needed connection. Or closure.

Had she changed? He wasn’t a kid anymore, but he looked the same. No external scars anyway.

So many decisions. Need to adapt after such a regimented existence. Lacking nostalgia for prison life didn’t mean freedom came without peculiar drawbacks. Freedom isn’t free, as they say. What rehabilitation exists depends on individual personal initiative.

Now he had time to do as he pleased. Mainly. So much time and so little to fill it. Yet unused, it still passed. His one room apartment could not contain all the time he had. Time has no shelf life. Like trying to stuff bubbles into a safe deposit box. Use it or lose it.

He thought of inventing a clock which would run slow by day. Owners could fill the longer hours more productively. Come night, the clocks would catch up. Who actually sleeps a full eight hours? ‘Not me.’

The ringing continued. ‘Don’t tell me she doesn’t have a message machine.’ He laughed at his being more tech savvy.

He looked to disconnect when he heard a voice.

“Hello?”

Jessie fumbled his phone. “Shell?”

“Who is this?”

“Hi… It’s Jess.”

The silence felt interminable. She spoke tentatively. “Jess…?”

“Yeah. I thought you were out. I almost hung up.” Her voice brought her presence. ‘My Shelly.’ Tears welled up. He swiped them away with his hand.

“Where are you? Are you out?”

“Fairly recently…”

“Oh… Welcome back to the land of the living…”

“If death is that boring, I’ll pass.”

“Bad, huh?”

“Navigating arbitrary rules and random violence. Skill sets I never dreamed I’d need.”

“Wow…”

“This a bad time? I can call later…”

Had she been sleeping? Alone?

“No. Uhm, it is fine. Are you okay?”

“Considering. Did I wake you?”

“No, I’m… never mind. I hear stories. Are you…?”

“Stuff happens. It can be a horror show. But you learn to wade the… mainly boring routine.”

“What’s up?”

“We haven’t talked in… forever. I got a place. No curfew. Have a window. And a door on the toilet…”

“Good. Working?”

“Part time. Graveyard. I’m thinking it’s temp. Hoping…”

“Good.”

“I want to thank you for your help…”

“It wasn’t much…”

“It meant a lot, though.”

He felt his voice constricting. This shouldn’t be so difficult. He paced the small room. Three strides each way. Barely furnished. The mattress lay on the floor by a small reading lamp and some books. Bare walls.

Shelly continued, “So, you need something? Why are you calling?”

“No. Nothing like that. How are you doing?”

“Oh, you know, Jess… It’s been an ordeal. I don’t know… Maybe you do. What do you expect?”

“I just thought… maybe we could meet. Face to face… long time…”

“Yeah, I know. Let me think about it.”

“That’s cool, Shell. No big deal… I just thought… I don’t get out much. I’m so used to staying in, I have to force myself out. No ski trips planned…”

“I’m really busy... You know, these days. Can I call you?”

“Of course. Any time.”

“Yeah, I’ll save your number. Okay?”

“Wait, Shell. You have a minute? How are the kids?”

“They’re great. Like weeds. Kris is really smart.”

“Like her Mom…”

“Gordy’ll be in the Olympics any day. Can you join the Olympics before your tenth birthday?”

Jessie laughed. “Don’t know the age restrictions. Maybe height requirements, though.”

“He has your crooked grin, of course. Thinks he knows it all.”

This silence felt warmer.

“When could I see them?”

Pause.

“I’ll get back to you on that, Jess.”

“Of course.. They get my letters? I never heard back…”

“They’re little, you know… have their lives now. They’re happy, Jess. Don’t need a lot of drama…”

“No drama, Shell. I don’t need it either. But they could profit from my presence. I have something to offer…”

“Yeah, being present… Maybe you should have thought about that before. You know?”

“It can’t have been easy.”

“It’s easier now.”

“You could benefit from me…”

“Really, Jess? Don’t even go there…”

“That’s not what I mean, Shelly. I mean lighten the load some. I didn’t mean… I mean, I don’t expect…”

“You are smarter than the average…”

“Look, Shell, I made some bad choices. But I never intended to hurt you or the kids. Ever.”

“I know. I hope those choices were worth it.”

“After everything… I know I forfeited… You don’t owe me...”

She murmured.

“Be honest Shell. We’re in each other’s lives. Like it or not, we aren’t strangers.”

“Such a talker. I always believed you…”

“I’m just saying… I have no expectations… I assume you’ve moved on…”

“I don’t mean to cut this short, Jess, but…”

“Wait. I mean, since we have so much history, maybe find something to salvage… from the wreckage…”

“Your wreckage?”

“Sure. Mine.”

Jess didn’t hear anything. Had she hung up?

“Shelly? You there?”

After a moment, “Jess, yeah. I’m here. Distractions.”

“Did you hear me? I need you to know I’m not going anywhere.” Silence again. “What do you think?”

“Yeah, so… not this week. Coffee? Or what?”

“Coffee’s great.”

“Let me see what I can do… next week? Thursday? I’ll call you.”

“Thursday then. I’ll clear my schedule.”

“Right. We’ll catch up.”

“Yeah…” He didn’t want this to end.

“Okay, Jess. I’ll call. Good to hear your voice.”

“And yours. It’s been too long.”

“I’ll call. Bye.”

She hung up. Jessie tossed the phone onto his mattress. He pressed his forehead against the window’s cool glass. The sounds of commotion echoed from below. Not his monkey...

He looked at the phone and set his jaw. ‘Better than I dared hope. I know how to wait.’

He checked his watch. Twenty minutes before his shift.

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7 comments

This is some really well-handled dialogue. You don't run across a full dialogue story that works this well very often. Kudos.

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John k Adams
17:54 Feb 23, 2021

Thank you very much. From your comments and other's, dialogue seems to have become a strength of mine. I appreciate the kind words.

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Philip Clayberg
22:19 Feb 20, 2021

Thank you for writing this. This felt like it was taken out of real life and ever-so-slightly fictionalized. I can really empathize with Jessie. He's trying to reconnect and make up for what he didn't do (or didn't do well) in the past. Hard to know if Shelly will give him a second chance. Maybe she figures she's already given him plenty of second chances and doesn't see any reason to give him another one. She's moved on and he's kind of stuck in neutral. I know from my own personal experience that it's never easy reconnecting, especi...

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John k Adams
17:57 Feb 23, 2021

I really appreciate your analysis. It is so rewarding for someone to 'get' a story so completely. I struggled with 'wade'. Whether I should use vernacular or correct form. It was a conscious choice but perhaps the wrong one. Thanks!

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Philip Clayberg
18:40 Feb 23, 2021

Glad I could help. When you're as old as me (I'll be 54 in July), you tend to have more experience to learn from than someone in their teens does. (There are exceptions, of course, for teens who have gone through a huge amount before their even 20 years old. Refugees, for instance, experience things I couldn't imagine going through myself.) I've definitely made my share of mistakes and have tried my best to learn from them. I've reconnected with old friends, and sometimes it's a time for happiness, but sometimes they've forgotten all ab...

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John k Adams
15:46 Feb 25, 2021

Since I had the character say it, rather than in my description, he dropped the preposition as one might informally or perhaps less educated. The grammatically correct version would be 'wade through the stream'. But the character speaking might say 'wade the stream'. Your comments are very welcome. Too few take the time to even click like, let alone put thoughts to paper. Thank you very much.

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Philip Clayberg
17:50 Feb 25, 2021

I understand now. Vernacular doesn't always strictly follow the rules. It often uses a looser, less accurate version (like "bugger" is actually a corruption of "Bulgar", "Ottoman" is a corruption of "Osmanli", etc.). Maybe I *have* been too fussy in my owns stories, but characters tend to speak like I do or like people I know because that's what I'm most familiar with. With exceptions: I'm not fluent in Russian, French, or Italian, but I've had characters speak a little in those languages because I thought that it made them sound more r...

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