Contest #101 shortlist ⭐️

Today The Phone Won't Ring

Submitted into Contest #101 in response to: Write a story about a character who always repeats themselves.... view prompt

5 comments

Fiction

Today the phone won’t ring.

She checked as soon as she woke up. Dead breath in her mouth. The guy next to her--an aberration. He should have gone home. She made it explicitly clear to him that under no circumstances could he stay the night. He said he just wanted to rest his eyes while he waited for his Lyft. Now here he is. He’s upset the balance. She should beat him to death with the coffeepot, but that would only derail the morning further.

Once he’s up and out (“I’ll call you when I’m back from Fiji. Big things going on there. Really big. Can’t even talk about them.”) she checks her email. She checks it every morning at nine oh three. It’s nine twenty-seven. There are no emails. She is going to have a bad morning. She is going to have the worst morning.

Her habits are simple:

  • Wake up at nine.
  • Email at nine oh three.
  • The phone call comes at nine thirty.

Today the phone call will not come at nine thirty. In fact, there will be no phone call at all. She will check several times while knowing the entire time that she has royally destroyed the routine with her carelessness. All because she went out to a Peruvian restaurant and brought home one of the waiters. He gave her extra bread sticks. On a cloth napkin, he’d written his number in sharpie. The audacity of ruining a napkin had aroused her. She called him as soon as she got in the door and promised herself that she’d have him out before two or three at the latest. The trust that she puts in herself after several glasses of wine is laughable.

A message from her mother came through and she promptly responded that she did not care who was getting a divorce, because men failed to excite or even intrigue her these days. The Peruvian waiter was an exception in a long line of exceptions, but she’d been damned if she let her mother foist another crying divorcee on her all because she was always coming home for the holidays with perfectly wrapped gifts and no boyfriend.

When receiving the phone call, she was supposed to dictate a series of words over the phone. Once that was done, she could go about her day, which usually consisted of Tim Burton films-- one or two, but always Beetlejuice--and takeout from whichever menu had squirrels its way to the top of the drawer next to the stove.

No phone call meant no movies, no Winona Ryder, and a skipped lunch. A disruption of her routine meant that she wouldn’t be hungry--not for days. That would help with the bathing suit she’d purchased online that had come in three sizes too small, but it meant that she was going to be angry all the time unless she forced herself to eat one of the stale bagels that are always sitting on her kitchen table.

There was no point in getting dressed. She paced back and forth in her apartment wearing only her Panic! At the Disco t-shirt and the gym shorts she bought back when she thought she might at least begin a flirtation with the gym.

The phone buzzes.

Her excitement is cut short when she recognizes that the buzz is not the buzz of a text message, which would still not be a phone call, but would be better than the reminder that she only has two free articles left to read this month from the New York Times. She only reads the New York Times when there’s a piece about unrest, because unrest is the subject of her daily phone calls, but today there could be a thousand words on every page of the paper about revolutions and assassinations, and she would only be able to get the edited version of the history she’s meant to be enacting.

Her words were good today--Sandstorm, Throw Pillow, Angst.

She would have delivered them with a crisp articulation that would have made her contact recommend her for a promotion. Something to take her out of the suburbs where she has to eat Peruvian on Friday’s just to feel metropolitan. Other than the place with the cloth napkins, it’s all fast food and nail salons. She doesn’t get her nails done in case she gets a call to come into the field. You can’t have long nails in the field. Everyone knows that. Everyone knows you can’t screw up your morning with an unwanted guest either, but here she is.

It’s a quarter to twelve--no phone call. No text. No email from the contact--not that they ever would email anyway.

She might be removed from the program for this.

They don’t hand out demerits. No warnings. No one strike, two strikes, and the third means you’re out. One miss and you’ve jeopardized yourself and the dissidents in Romania or wherever else there was turmoil.

The bagels fill up her mouth with such density she expects to choke. It would be a reprieve for whatever is coming next. Her apartment smells like the air fryer she used days ago in a misguided attempt at making healthy curly fries. She should have known better. Sucking the toxins out of anything will render it inedible. At least to her. A birthday cake candle is lit. She brings up YouTube on her television and puts on Nina Simone. It’ll steady her nerves. Her mother messages with more information on the divorcee. It was a nasty separation, but no kids, which means the marriage practically never happened.

One quick search of the guy through her database reveals that he once hit a man with his car and kept going. Her mother has good intentions, but she’s a horrible judge of character. That or she just wants her daughter married off as soon as possible no matter the risks. The car he was driving was brand new. It had to have needed work after that, and once you bring a car into the shop you never stop bringing it in.

Today the phone won’t ring.

She sits on her couch and listens to “Feeling Good.” The volume on the television is far too loud, but she doesn’t care. She doesn’t want to hear the crack or the sound of the bullet hitting the back of the couch. They’ll miss her the first time, but not the second. Even then, it’ll be just the shoulder. That’ll give her time to get a few shots in before they realize that they should have just left her in the program. Six years and she’s never missed a phone call, but one mistake means you have to be removed.

To hell with them.

Everybody’s entitled to one bad day.

July 06, 2021 06:36

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5 comments

Amanda Lieser
17:04 Jul 19, 2021

Kevin, this line made me smile: She should beat him to death with the coffeepot, but that would only derail the morning further. I really enjoyed how you captured the main character’s routine and the explanation of the importance of the routine. I also loved how you illustrated their relationship with their mother and how uninterested they are with their mother’s hopes and dreams. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on getting shortlisted!

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Alvin Fernandes
17:55 Jul 21, 2021

I don't understand the plot, I'm sorry :(

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Andrea Magee
10:17 Jul 17, 2021

Cool story!

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21:53 Jul 16, 2021

f a n c e e.

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Lilia May
16:38 Jul 16, 2021

I really loved the plot twist on this

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