The phone started ringing just as I got to the M Street Bridge, the border between Georgetown and boring old Washington, D.C., where I lived. I ran up the scabby rise to the phone booth. The metal door folded in with a shriek. Decades of floor crud had morphed into stinky grey fuzz.

“Jeremy?” a woman said.

“Hello? Did you know this is a phone booth — you’re calling a phone booth. You must have the wrong number. I don’t know what I’d expected when I picked up the phone, but you never know, it could have been anyone, Bob Dylan or the Beatles.

“Wait, wait,” the woman rushed on, “I know it’s a pay phone. Is there a boy there, about fifteen, long brown hair? He’ll be waiting, right there. Probably in a green corduroy coat. He loves that coat.”

“It’s not that kind of place –”

“He said to call him at this number at just exactly this time. Jeremy, maybe if you call his name.”

No one was near, just cars flowing across the bridge and the streetlights coming on one by one. Looked like it might rain. I had to be home by ten. If I missed curfew again my parents would probably lock me up until Christmas and it wasn’t even October.

“I’m sorry, no one’s here. I’m not in a building, this is outside.”

I draped my arm over the top of the phone and looked into its shiny chrome front. Vicky was right, the thin sweep of brown eyeliner really did bring out the blue in my eyes. I still looked disgustingly wholesome, all rosy cheeks, shiny long brown hair. My friends went to parties looking lush and knowing. When I turned up the kid having the party called upstairs for his little sister.

“I talked to him last month, he finally called, he said call today at exactly this time. Look around again. Please.”

Sure, boy ran away from home but now he’s going to be right on time for Mommy’s call. Nope, still no one.

“I’m sorry, nobody’s here.”

Why had he split? Maybe it was her fault, who knows what she did. Maybe he decided, anywhere else would be better, anywhere but home? Maybe he changed his mind later, but by then it was too late. I might have passed him on the street, another juiced-out junkie, panhandling in front of the Waffle Shop. Or could be he was doing just fine, stitching leather belts in one of the hippie shops on Wisconsin Ave. Was he cute? Would I like him?

Jeremy’s mother was still talking. The world behind her voice rushed toward me, the scuffed yellow Formica counter, her fingers wound through the tight black spirals of the phone cord, her eyes squeezed shut. Her cigarette smoke leaked down the line.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Well, you were on your way somewhere. But, please, if you meet a boy called Jeremy, you know, looking like I said, tell him we talked.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“And tell him it’s just me and Jeannette here, no one else. And — well, just to know he’s ok. Call collect, any time, day or night. Just to know.”

The fog was deeper in the dusk, soft as mohair. I was almost across the bridge when the phone started up again.

 

7 Comments

  1. sara lippmann

    Suzanne, WOW, I love this. It’s so accomplished, so tight and done. I love how you transport us in time without telling us the time. Your period details are so good.

    I could quote back the whole thing. So much stands out —

    I don’t know what I’d expected when I picked up the phone, but you never know, it could have been anyone, Bob Dylan or the Beatles.

    “It’s not that kind of place –” (the way this line juxtaposes the coat)

    The way you plunk down her interiority with such intimacy: “Vicky was right, the thin sweep of brown eyeliner really did bring out the blue in my eyes. I still looked disgustingly wholesome, all rosy cheeks, shiny long brown hair. My friends went to parties looking lush and knowing. When I turned up the kid having the party called upstairs for his little sister.” —-

    That is, the way you position her imperative. Her want against this phone call is masterful. We have two stories running at once, and the magic lies in their interplay.

    Love the repetition of “Just to know”

    It’s all right here — I’d say, send it out ASAP! — let me know where it lands! Thanks!

    perhaps a few tiny copy edits — like maybe you could compress the second half a bit, reduce the number of “sorry” s

    For example, something minor like :

    “I’m sorry, nobody’s here. {CUTI’m not in a building, this is outside.”}

    I draped my arm over the top of the phone and looked into its shiny chrome front. Vicky was right, the thin sweep of brown eyeliner really did bring out the blue in my eyes. I still looked disgustingly wholesome, all rosy cheeks, shiny long brown hair. My friends went to parties looking lush and knowing. When I turned up the kid having the party called upstairs for his little sister.

    “I talked to him last month, he finally called, he said call today at exactly this time. Look around again. Please.”

    Sure, boy ran away from home but now he’s going to be right on time for Mommy’s call. Nope, still no one.

    {“I’m sorry, nobody’s here.”} This isn’t even a building. This is outside.

    Why had he split? Maybe it was her fault, who knows what she did. Maybe he decided, anywhere else would be better, anywhere but home? Maybe he changed his mind later, but by then it was too late. I might have passed him on the street, another juiced-out junkie, panhandling in front of the Waffle Shop. Or could be he was doing just fine, stitching leather belts in one of the hippie shops on Wisconsin Ave. Was he cute? Would I like him?

    Jeremy’s mother was still talking. The world behind her voice rushed toward me, the scuffed yellow Formica counter, her fingers wound through the tight black spirals of the phone cord, her eyes squeezed shut. Her cigarette smoke leaked down the line.

    {CUT“I’m sorry,” I said.

    “Well, you were on your way somewhere. But,} Please, if you meet a boy called Jeremy, you know, looking like I said, tell him we talked.”

    “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

    “And tell him it’s just me and Jeannette here, no one else. And — well, just to know he’s ok. Call collect, any time, day or night. Just to know.”

    The fog was deeper in the dusk, soft as mohair. I was almost across the bridge when the phone started up again.

    • Suzanne van de Velde

      compounding current lunacy by putting my responses in wrong spot, Andrew Carnegie is my hero

      Sara — I am beyond thrilled that you like this — thank you! Your words will carry me through the week and I will send it out (something I need to do more).
      Think your edit ideas are spot on, and I also realized (even after all this time!) I used ‘rushed’ twice.

      (Laptop continues to find it hilarious to cut me off after 3 mins, so will post 2nd story (fresh-milled) when I get back from work, if it’s too late, completely understand.)

      Thank you, Suzannne

  2. Patricia Bidar

    Blown away, Suzanne. I am reading a great book of short stories by Lucia Berlin, and this really reminded me of her style.

    • Suzanne van de Velde

      thank you so much for these kind words, Patricia — I’ll check out Lucia Berlin. very boring near ‘dog ate my homework’-sounding reasons I haven’t kept up this weekend, still reading.

  3. Laurie Marshall

    Oh, so much to love. The distraction of looking at herself in the chrome of the phone was perfection. Great job.

    • Suzanne van de Velde

      Laurie — really appreciate your taking a look, and thank you. One of my writing teachers said we should always try to let the reader see who’s telling the story. For awhile I felt perhaps girl was being too cold, but in some ways she is the absolute worst person to answer phone from mother’s viewpoint. Sara articulated it perfectly…
      thanks again!

  4. Suzanne van de Velde

    Sara — I am beyond thrilled that you like this — thank you! Your words will carry me through the week and I will send it out (something I need to do more).
    Think your edit ideas are spot on, and I also realized (even after all this time!) I used ‘rushed’ twice.

    (Laptop continues to find it hilarious to cut me off after 3 mins, so will post 2nd story (fresh-milled) when I get back from work, if it’s too late, completely understand.)

    Thank you, Suzannne

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