The Phone Call
Percy Robinson sat upright in his recliner, twiddling his thumbs
while he watched the TV. With each revolution, he felt the roughness
of his skin scratch at the undersides of his thumbs. Scrape, scrape,
scrape. All morning long, a subtle nagging feeling pinged inside his
stomach. When he woke up, he accidentally kicked one of his slippers
and sent it sliding across the hardwood floor into the hallway. At
breakfast, he picked up his favorite mug and saw a wet ring on the
table. A bead of coffee dripped from the bottom, followed by another
and another. In the living room, he sat down to watch a rerun of
Gilligan’s Island, but the lineup had unexpectedly changed to an
episode of Mister Ed, his least favorite show. A talking horse was
hardly his idea of entertainment. With dashed expectations, Percy
got up to turn the dial on the television set. He settled on The
Price is Right and made his way back to his seat, feeling the kilter
of his routine swaying over a foggy precipice.
The contestants on this program were a bunch of lousy idiots. He
particularly hated the mousy looking girl who insisted on bidding
one dollar every time. “Well,” he thought, “that explains why she’s
been at that podium for the past three rounds.”
The twin bell ringer of the old rotary telephone shot through the
game show and vibrated hard against the wooden surface of the end
table across the room. Percy pulled himself up and headed over to
answer the call. Halfway there, the tone cut out. Percy stopped
abruptly and found himself staring quizzically at the heavy hunk of
taupe plastic. He swore he had heard it ringing. Better make sure,
he thought as he picked up the receiver. “Yell-oh?” he said with a
deep twang in his voice. An unpleasant dial tone tickled his
eardrum. He put the receiver back into its cradle and turned around
toward the recliner.
Just as he was about to sit down, the phone rang again. He rushed to
answer, but the phone fell silent after one ring. Again, he picked
up the receiver and bellowed, “Yell-oh?” to the dial tone. Percy
scratched at the stubble on his chin. Maybe it was a wrong number.
But in that case, wouldn’t the caller stay on the line to make sure?
No, probably not. People these days had no decency or courtesy.
sat down in his chair and refocused on The Price is Right. In the
midst of the phone situation, the mousy girl had somehow made it to
the next round. She had to putt a golf ball into a hole with only
one swing. The girl looked like she might topple over as she held
the putter with her hands too close together. There was no way she
was going to make this shot. Her form was off and her arms were
wobbly. The crowd cheered behind her, which was a waste of time and
effort as far as Percy was concerned. Just as she pulled back to
take a swing, the phone rang.
“Goddammit!” Percy exclaimed. Once again, he got up and headed
toward the phone. Once again, the ringing stopped. He let out an
elongated grunt and tightened his fingers into two shaky fists. His
bulging eyes stared at the phone, daring it to ring again so he
could swoop in and give this son of a gun a piece of his mind.
Moments passed by without another ring. The sound of the ecstatic
audience on the television interrupted him. He turned to see that
the mousy girl had made the putt and won a brand new car. His foot
started to twitch as it tapped furiously back and forth.
Although he wasn’t quite sure how, he knew it was time to take
action. He picked up the phone by the base, dragged it over to the
television, turned the volume all the way down, and headed back to
his seat with the long grey telephone cord trailing behind him.
Percy sat in his chair with resolve, one hand on the receiver as the
phone sat in his lap. He felt like a hunter waiting in the weeds to
snipe a wild turkey. As time passed, he started to tap his fingers
along the receiver, first with all digits pressing down in unison,
then with each one taking a successive turn, starting with the pinky
and ending with the index finger. A clicking noise accompanied each
tap. He stretched out his hand and examined his long fingernails. He
thought about where the clippers were, but could not remember the
last time he had seen or used them.
The jarring sound of the ringer startled Percy out of his fingernail
contemplation. His heart leapt in tandem with his body and the phone
tumbled out of his lap, sending the receiver rolling across the
floor. “Dammit, dammit, dammit!” Percy cried as he pulled the
receiver’s corkscrew cord toward him to retrieve the handset. “Who
is this?” he demanded as he held the receiver up to his ear. The
callous noise of the dial tone mocked his eardrum. He slammed the
receiver down into the cradle and left the phone on the floor.
began pacing back and forth. His mind raced with thoughts of who
would be cruel enough to call somebody and hang up after one ring.
His asshole brother Jerry fit the bill, but they hadn’t spoken in
years. If Jerry wanted to mess with him, he wouldn’t resort to a
prank call. But a teenager would. He pictured a group of wiry necked
fifteen-year-old boys gathered around a phone book, snorting as they
asked innocent callers if their refrigerator was running. But why
would they call and hang up multiple times? Wasn’t the point of a
prank call to hear the befuddled reaction from the person on the
other end of the line? No, it couldn’t be a prank caller. But if it
wasn’t a prank caller and it wasn’t Jerry, who the hell could it be?
The phone rang again. Percy decided that he wasn’t going to fall for
this trickery anymore. The ringer stopped, but its echo carried
through the room. Percy’s chest tightened as he waited for the
silence to spread, for the cruelty of another one-ringer joke to
invade his already sour morning. A second ring pierced through the
quiet, followed by a third, and he rushed to pick up.
“WHO IS THIS? YOU’RE A SONOFABITCHPIECEOFSHIT FOR DOING THIS TO ME!
WHEN I FIND OUT WHO YOU ARE I’M GONNA WRING YOUR SCRAWNY NECK!”
“P-P-Percy?” said a soft, trembling, female voice. “It’s Mary Jane.
Percy pulled back and stared at the receiver in disbelief at the
live human voice on the other end of the line. He pressed it up to
his ear, utterly confused as he thought about his brother’s kind,
pretty wife. Unsure of what to do, he puffed out his chest and spoke
in his most careful, formal tone, “This is Percy speaking.” Panic
emanated from his eyes. He was glad that Mary Jane could not see him
in all of his awkwardness.
“Percy, Jerry’s in the hospital. He’s dying. He ain’t got more than
a few days left. I know he wouldn’t want me calling you, but I
thought you had the right to know. I was hoping you could come over
to say your goodbyes.”
Without realizing what he was doing, Percy hung up the phone and
threw up all over the living room floor.
Copyright © 2013 Michelle Huston
lives in Connecticut with a menagerie that includes a
husband and two spoiled cats, one of whom has interrupted
the biography writing process several times for a scratch on
the head. She teaches English and First-Year Experience
courses at several colleges and universities. Huston earned
a BA in English from Western Connecticut State University
and an MS in counseling/higher education administration from
Central Connecticut State University. She is currently
working on a second master's in creative writing from
Southern New Hampshire University. When she isn't teaching
or taking classes, she enjoys writing, traveling to Disney
World, working out at the gym, and reminiscing about the
days when My-So Called Life was on television. Huston
chronicles her experiences in higher education through her
blog, which can be found at