FICTION: Taking the Call

They were supposed to be on vacation, but he was on his cell phone. Back at the office things were out of control.

“What things,” she wanted to know. But then it was clear to both of them she did not want to know, and he did not want to be on vacation.

“I’ve got to take this call,” he said, hollowly, not even trying to sound as if he’d rather be on vacation.

By the time he got off the phone, all the nice tables on the boardwalk with views of the boats and the harbor were occupied. They had to sit under the awning against the wall in the shade near the kitchen door where the waiters came out and went in with their big round platters and it was a miracle there were no accidents.

She sipped a glass of Pinot Grigio, and he was drinking something she didn’t understand, something stiff he said he wanted. After a while of no cell phone the appetizers arrived, the waiter making a show of opening a side table with one hand while balancing the platter over his shoulder with the other. A plate of oysters cooked in herbs and butter pushed the phone to the side, and the waiter spun around with his big long pepper shaker saying tell me when to stop as he cranked out spits of freshly ground pepper onto her pink shrimp salad dressed with dribbles of green goddess.

The dry wine seemed a nice pairing with the shrimp. She looked around. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all, their table against the wall in the shade by the kitchen door. Across the boardwalk the diners drank and ate and laughed and the waiters came and went. She couldn’t see directly down into the harbor, but she could see the big river flowing outside the harbor, the tops of masts, and her eyes fixed in the distance on a small canoe that seemed to be drifting.

Suddenly he shouted, “God damn it!” “What,” she said, her eyes coming back to their table and him, startled. “My fucking phone just died. And I didn’t bring a charger. I’ve got to go back. You stay here. I’ll run. Dash into the room and pick up a charger. Won’t be five minutes.” And just like that he was up and running and gone, leaving her alone with a few oysters and her shrimp salad with the green goddess dressing and her dry wine. When the waiter returned, certainly longer than five minutes, to ask how things were, she was still alone and ordered a second glass of wine. The oysters had attracted an absurd horsefly, but she made no move to flick it off.

She tried to enter the room quietly, but he was sprawled on the bed, both bottles of complementary champagne empty, and not even his choking snoring would wake him. His cell phone was on the bed next to him, right next to his hand.

From the balcony, she threw his phone like an outfielder aiming for home plate ahead of a runner. The throw felt good, a fluid strong motion, and she heard a splash, a wet slap, and she had a picture in her mind of an umpire calling the runner out. She took off the wedding ring and put it on the bed next to his hand in place of the cell phone.

The ring tone told her it was him, and she quickly recalled his rule. If she didn’t pick up by the end of the second ring, he would hang up. He was too busy to fritter away calls on voicemails that people were too lazy or absent minded or who knew what to pick up live. It was him. She took the call, confused, wondering how he had retrieved his phone, answering in the middle of the second ring.

“Where’s my phone?”

“Aren’t you on it?”

“Have you gone crazy? I would never travel without spare phones. I found your ring. Where is my phone? Where are you?”

“I’m using it for bait. I’ve gone fishing.”

There followed a short pause.

“Listen, you don’t understand. You don’t understand me. I need a phone. I want a phone. I want to be plugged in. You just don’t get it. Do you know how many followers I have on Tripper? Yesterday one of my Trips got over five hundred gotchyas. And I’m just getting started. I’m a start up, a one man start up. I like being on, available, feeling the tingling of all the notifications, the backlit world. You, with your paper books and posh magazines, everything hands on, hands on everything. I have work to do, seven by twenty-four. It never ends and I don’t want it to end. You finish a book. Ain’t that somethin’. I never finish anything. There is no finish. I’m close to something. I feel it. I want it. It’s right under my fingertips.”

She swiped off. She was halfway across the new pedestrian bridge, the so called Bridge of the People, walking east, toward the industrial section. It was early yet, windless, the river smooth, flat, empty. Her phone rang and it was him again. She resisted the urge to toss it ringing into the river, and she would not be silly and think she would never take another call from him, but she wanted to begin somewhere.

Joe Linker is a West-Coast writer and the author of Alma Lolloon (2017), Saltwort (2017) and Penina's Letters (2016). He blogs regularly at The Coming of the Toads. 

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