Tuesday, May 10, 2011

All You Gotta Do Is Call

Today I am writing as part of the Writer's Challenge II over at IndieInk.org. My challenge comes from Rachel, who writes here. The writing prompt she gave me is: "It was the kind of phone call she dreaded, that she prayed would never come. Yet when it finally came, she went numb. Her burden was lifted. Now she could breathe."

I have to admit, at first I felt a bit burdened by the prompt. I've been doing nothing but posting serious shit lately, and I'm really tired of doing that. I mean. C'mon. It's me. I've got a killer sense of humor. It's not that I can't easily "go there" on this prompt. I've both received and made that call. But this is supposed to be a challenge, right? Wriiiiite. So, I'm going to chuck my usual sensibilities in the wadi and treat all of us to a bit of fiction. Yowza.


Fucking phone. Every time she got cozy and deep in a chapter, the thing dragged her back to reality. She'd unhook it, but she didn't want to miss any calls from her editor. With a long suffering sigh, she clicked the save button, then went into the kitchen where she'd left the handset.


"Ann? Honey? It's your mother."

She always felt it necessary to introduce herself, as if Ann wouldn't recognize her voice after 45 years.

"Hi Ma." Her mother hated being called that, said it was disrespectful. Ann never called her anything else. "Hey, hang on. I have to get this damned cat off the counter."

"Oh, but..."

"Hang on!"

The cat was nowhere around, but Ann needed a minute to disconnect her brain from the book and rewire to deal with her mother. She fished a cigarette out of the pack next to the coffee maker, thought about pouring another cup of coffee, then thought better of it. She dug the lighter out of her bathrobe pocket, suddenly aware that it was after 2 p.m. and she still hadn't bothered getting dressed. Ahh, the life of a writer. She lit the smoke, took a deep drag, and picked up the phone again.

"Sorry. Furball's being testy."

"It's okay. Ann. I." There was a long pause. "Ann. Honey."

"What is is, Ma? What's up?"

"Your father's gone."

"Gone? Already? I thought his fishing trip wasn't until next week."

"No. I mean... gone gone. Dead."

"Wha...? Ma! How? When? Christ on a taco..."

"Don't be vulgar. It was a heart attack. I found him in the garage. I think he fell over trying to lift his tackle box. There are fish hooks and bobbers all over the place. It's just a mess."

Ann realized that the ash on her cigarette was over an inch long. She flicked the ash into the sink and took another drag. This news was a real Charlie Foxtrot. She supposed she should be sad, but mostly she was annoyed. The old fart could have waited until she had the final copy of her book to the editor. It wasn't that Ann wasn't upset by the news, but in truth, there had never been much love lost between her and her father. He was a curmudgeon to the highest degree.

"Ann? Honey? Are you still there?"

"Yeah, Ma. Sorry. You want me to come over? Dumb question. I mean. I'll come over. Just give me a few minutes to get cleaned up. I was writing."

"Who are you writing to? Are you looking for a real job?"

Ann closed her eyes and clenched her jaw, biting her tongue slightly to keep from basting her mother with some vitriolic spew. Any self-defense on her part would be completely pointless. Her mother would never acknowledge writing as a "real job." Never mind that she'd had moderate success with her two published books. Without an appearance on Oprah, being an author didn't constitute a "real job."

"Nobody. Ma. I'm working on my book."

"Oh, you're just writing your... your things." Which was followed by the inevitable when-will-you-stop-being-a-disappointment sigh, a classic Ma-ism.


"Oh. One other thing... uh. I haven't called your sister yet. She's been having such trouble with Bobby."

Bobby, Ann's nephew was both her sister Erika's bane and raison d'ĂȘtre. He was 23 years old, without formal education, still lived with her sister and worked part time in a video store (Ann suspected that was only because of unlimited access to the skin flicks) which cut into his full time stint playing video games. He did nothing to help out at home. Erika loved to complain about this, but catered to his every whim and want. She couldn't afford new pantyhose, but the kid always had a fresh bag of cheezedoodles and a sixer of cold mountain dew at the ready. Ann's mother doted on Bobby, her only grandchild.

"Don't worry about it. I'll stop by Erika's place on my way over to your house."

"Oh, thank you, Dear. I wonder if Bobby will want your father's fishing poles."

Ann barely suppressed a snort of laughter. Bobby wouldn't know a worm from his wiener. His idea of nature was letting his slovenly dog lick cheezedoodle dust from his fingers.

"I wouldn't worry about stuff like that just yet, Ma. Listen. I'm going to get off the phone, take a shower and dress. I'll stop by Erika's. That should put me at your house in about an hour? Is that okay? You're alright by yourself until then?"

"Of course, Dear. I'll see you then. B'bye."

"Bye, Ma."

Ann hung up. She looked down and realized that the cigarette had burned down to the butt. She tossed it into a cup that was a quarter of the way filled with cold coffee. She poured a fresh cup of coffee, considered adding a hefty hit of Jameson's to it, decided that was the best idea she'd had all day, and did so. Then she lit another cigarette and went out on the deck. The afternoon was balmy and the breeze soothing. She took a sip of coffee, feeling some sense of reality seep in as she swallowed the hot liquid with its whisky after burn. Then she took a drag from the cigarette and let the smoke out with a slow, even breath.

She shook her head, whispering to the air, "Fuck, Dad... life sure has a way of flicking boogers in your face, huh?"

She took another sip of the coffee. The warm sun enveloped her. She closed her eyes again and took a deep breath.

It felt good just to breathe.


  1. Fuckin' A, B... now I want to know what happended BEFORE the call, and everything after. Now get writing!!!

  2. This was a fantastic response to the II Challenge! You said so much about the relationships of all of these people in the quick simple exchange between mother and daughter. Nice job, I look forward to reading more of your work.

  3. Great use of the prompt. I could so read a book of this.

  4. I could definitely stand to read more. This is a really great response to that really difficult challenge. Also? If I get paired up with you next week, I'll try to give you something light. (I just can't promise anything because the pairings are random)

  5. Excellent writing. I didn't realize the prompt would be difficult, but you slam-dunked it! Difficult my ass. Pft. ;-)

  6. Wow. Love it. Really, really love it.

  7. wow! you did so much here in such a short space. i love the way you captured the mother-daughter relationship, the sister-sister relationship, the father-daughter relationship, all without being obnoxiously detailed about it. your ability to insert humor and cleverness into the piece without coming off disrespectful of the underlying tragedy is great. i got lost in it. great, great job. hope you'll be sticking around in the challenge!

  8. Thank you, Everyone! This was actually a lot of fun to write. The really cool thing is that it awakened my dormant novel. So, rest assured, you'll be seeing more of Ann.

    Rachel, I need "difficult" now and then to kick me in the ass. So, I thank you very much.

    Maren, maybe it would be best to give me a really dark challenge and let me twist it so it catches light...? ;-)

  9. Great writing. Thanks for my challenge. Glad you liked it!


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