Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sorry, wrong number

Year 1976
Place Chattanooga, TN

I was at my parents' house during winter break from college. I was in my little brother’s bedroom, reading a comic book, when his phone rang. Back in the day, when I shared this bedroom with my little brother, there was no phone, much less one with a separate phone number. My first thought was, hey how did my little brother get his own phone? I decided to be cool about it, answer the phone, and take a message.

I picked up the phone and said hello. I was expecting to hear one of my little brother’s friends, but instead heard a woman’s voice I didn’t recognize.

“Steve,” she said, “we have to talk. I can’t believe the shit you’ve been trying to pull.”

“Uh, excuse me,” I said, “but I think you have the wrong number.”

“Damn it, Steve. Don’t play games with me,” she said. “I know it’s you. I recognize your voice.”

“No, really,” I said, “I’m not Steve.”

“Steve, this isn’t funny. We need to talk, so stop fucking around.”

“Look, I can tell you’re very upset and I don’t want to make the situation any worse for you, but I’m not Steve. You dialed the wrong number.”

There was a moment of silence. I thought she might just hang up, but she didn’t.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” she said. “A total stranger. But listen, you sound like a nice person. Can I talk to you about what I’m going through?”

“Sure,” I said.

By now, I wanted to know what Steve did and this is what she told me. Her name was Susan. She was engaged to Steve. About three weeks before the wedding day, a very cute and very pregnant girl showed up at Susan’s door. The girl said she was seventeen years old and that Steve was responsible for her bulging stomach. Susan called the girl a liar and slammed the door in her face. She called Steve to verify that he was in no way involved with the pregnant teenager.

“Don’t listen to that little bitch,” Steve said. “So what if she’s pregnant? That’s her problem, not mine.”

“Did you have sex with that girl?” Susan asked.

“Yeah, so what?” Steve said. “What’s the big deal? She doesn’t mean anything to me. I love you, that’s why I’m marrying you.”

“No you’re not,” Susan said. “The marriage is off.”

Susan ran to her mother for comfort.

“I can’t believe I never realized what a terrible person Steve is,” Susan said. “And I can’t believe he actually thinks I would still marry him after what he’s done.”

“You can’t do that,” Susan’s mother said. “The wedding is too close. It’s too late to call it off now.”

“But, mom! What about the girl Steve got pregnant?”

“That doesn’t matter. What matters is the invitations have been sent and it’s too late to cancel the caterer.”

“Mom! Steve is a jerk and I can’t believe you’re taking his side.”

Susan’s mother wasn’t the only one who took Steve’s side. Susan’s family, Steve’s family, and all of Susan’s friends took Steve’s side. Abuse was heaped on Susan from all sides for ruining the wonderful wedding day everybody was looking forward to enjoying.

“That sucks,” I said when Susan finished her sad tale.

“Do you think I did the right thing?” she asked.

“Totally,” I said. “If Steve’s willing to screw this girl over, think what he might do to you. The guy can’t be trusted.”

“You’re so nice to listen to me,” Susan said. “I know this is a strange thing to ask, but would you like to get together?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess we could.”

“I really need this. You understand what I mean, don’t you? When we see each other, you understand what I need from you, right?”

The situation was starting to get really weird. Unless I was completely misreading her signals, Susan was asking me to do her as revenge on Steve. It was a crazy, screwed-up thing to even consider. It was the kind of thing that only happened in cheap sleazy novels. I had no idea who Susan was. I didn’t even know her phone number. I would have to be insane to see her, so of course, there was only one thing I could say.

“Where would you like to meet?” I asked.

We settled on Eastgate Mall by Loveman’s Department Store.

“How will I know you?” I asked.

“I have long blonde hair and I’ll be wearing a yellow top,” Susan said. “I love the color yellow.”

“You’ll certainly stand out,” I said.

“And when I see you,” she said, “I might not be able to contain myself. You do understand what I mean, don’t you?”

I couldn’t bring myself to say, you want to get naked and screw like bunnies, because one, I wasn’t comfortable saying it out loud to a total stranger, and two, I was afraid that despite all the obvious hints, I could still have read her wrong and all she wanted was a big hug and a shoulder to cry on.

“Yes,” I said. “I understand exactly what you mean.”

At our agreed time, I went to Eastgate Mall and found a bench in front of Loveman’s Department Store. I was watching the crowd trying to pick out a blonde in yellow when an old girlfriend showed up and sat down beside me. I hadn’t seen the old girlfriend since I started college. We had a nice time catching up with each other.

“What brings you out to the mall today?” my old girlfriend asked. “Doing a little holiday shopping?”

I told her the whole story, starting with my little brother’s phone ringing up to me sitting outside Loveman’s, waiting for Susan to show up.

“Are you really going to go through with meeting this strange chick?” my old girlfriend asked.

“Now that I think about it,” I said, “I don’t know why I agreed to meet her.”

“Wild sex with a woman you’ll probably never see again?” she suggested.

“There was that,” I said, “but come on. This is nuts.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I think I’ll go home.”

We said our goodbyes and went in opposite directions. As I was leaving, I passed an attractive woman with long blonde hair wearing a yellow t-shirt. She looked really pissed off. I kept walking. I didn’t want to make her day any worse than it already was. For the rest of the time I was at home, my little brother’s phone didn’t ring again.


No Name Me said...

Love this, M. Your writing reminds me a bit of Thom Jones's in the Pugilist at Rest. He has a great story in there called "Wipeout." Very male sort of vibe, funny as hell, too.

Your work also reminds me of Steve Almond, My Life in Heavy Metal.

You probably have read both already, but if might dig one or both.

Anyway, thanks for this!!

jessica said...

You have just GOT to wonder if she went ahead with the wedding and made Steve's life a living hell...

Mickey Dubrow said...

Thom Jones and Steve Almond are good company to be with. I saw Almond on a panel at AWP and he seemed obsessed with sex, so that's why I respect him.

Phil said...

You crack me up, Mickey, you rack me up.