I’m excited to announce that my story “The Call” was selected among the top 25 out of 5300 entries in the 13th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. “The Call” has been published in the Writer’s Digest Anthology. Happy readings!
“THE CALL” by J.L. Hammer
The ring of the phone floated through the moonless night as Laura trudged back toward the house after rolling the garbage out to the curb.
Her husband, in silhouette, hobbled onto the front porch. The cast on his left foot made a long scraping sound against the cement. “Hold on. My wife might hear,” he said into the phone.
Laura froze in mid-step. Like a well-trained hunting dog, her ears honed in on the words.
He closed the door behind him and took a deep breath. “Okay, it’s clear. Go ahead.”
She tried to shake it off. Almost laughed at the absurdity of the idea and walked right up to him. Soon they would celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. They had a solid and comfortable relationship. An image of a late model Chrysler flashed through her mind. She fought to swallow the lump forming in her throat. What if John had grown bored? What if instead he really wanted a sleek cherry red Corvette?
She inched closer. John would never cheat. The corners of her lips were on the verge of quirking upward when feminine laughter fluttered from the other end of the phone. A clear giggle followed by “Oh, John” boomed across the silent night.
Oh John indeed. Pressure squeezed across her chest.
“I told you yesterday that I’m not good at this kind of thing. I’ve never done it before,” he whispered into the receiver. Cupping a hand over his eyes, he peeked through the window into the well-lit house.
Her mind scurried for a logical explanation. Laura thought about the other night when she had walked in on John tapping away on the computer. He had minimized the screen as soon as she’d approached. At the time she hadn’t thought much about it. But now she wondered what he’d been hiding. Laura envisioned a young bikini-clad body posed for him, sporting gravity-defying implants the size of cantaloupes.
She gnawed on her lower lip. She might have gained twenty pounds since they’d married, but he said it gave him more of her to love. Laura sucked in her stomach, but as she traced her form, her fingers detoured over a roll or two. Okay, she could stand to do a few crunches, but she wasn’t a complete loss.
John grunted and redirected her attention. He ran his fingers through his unruly brown hair, which she had never mentioned to him had grown substantially thinner on top. “When do you want to meet again? Okay, she works early tomorrow morning. Come by at half past eight.”
The headlights from a passing car cut through the inky blackness of the front yard. Laura crouched down behind the bulk of a Black-eyed Susan bush. She craned around the cheerful yellow petals, but the rest of John’s words were lost over the grinding of the engine. By the time the sound faded, he ended his call and went back into the house.
Sucker punched by disbelief, Laura commanded her legs to move. At the last minute she veered toward the kitchen door, not wanting him to know she’d been outside. The door behind her shut with a quiet click. Blinking back the tears, she willed her breathing to slow.
“Hun?” John called out.
She inhaled a steady breath. Play it cool.
Plastering on a smile, Laura walked into the living room.
John reclined in his favorite ugly twill chair. He watched her enter, peering over a copy of The Bakersfield Californian newspaper. “Where’d you take off to?” he asked, most of his face shielded by the story “Never Too Old to Tango.”
“Oh, I was just in the kitchen.” She cleared her throat and perched on the edge of the loveseat. “Didn’t the phone just ring?”
“Huh?” His eyes glanced down and scanned the newspaper.
Her fingernails sprang, digging into the loveseat. “I said,” Laura enunciated each word, “Didn’t the phone just ring?”
“Oh.” He waved a hand into the air. “Stupid telemarketers.”
She envisioned herself flying off the loveseat, ripping that newspaper out of his hands, and cramming it down his lying throat. But she didn’t. Instead she sat there like a statue, wondering how long she’d been a blind fool. Her gaze dropped to the cast on his foot. John claimed he’d broken it when his foot caught a gopher hole during a solo round of golf. A growl vibrated in her throat.
“You say something, hun?”
“No, I didn’t.” Somehow she managed to speak without unclenching her teeth.
Laura zeroed back in on the cast and waited as if the plaster would blurt out a confession and declare its owner a lying dog. Golfing my foot. He’d probably been on the losing end of a rough game of footsie. His lover had snapped that sucker right in half with her Neanderthal strength.
After a restless night of tossing and turning, Laura climbed out of bed. Her heart hurt. Her body hurt. All night she kept envisioning the man she loved in the arms of another woman. To her annoyance John hadn’t even left the living room. He’d just snored away on that ugly recliner. This was the third time this week he hadn’t even bothered to join her in bed. He claimed it was more comfortable because it elevated his foot. But what if that was just an excuse?
Laura glared at him. John’s mouth drooped open, and he released another guttural snore. In a rush she got herself ready for work and clipped on her name tag in the shape of a tooth. With a tug of the covers Laura made the bed, all the while contemplating if she should sprinkle tacks between the sheets.
John still slept when she left the house at a quarter to eight. Before she even got onto the freeway, she burst into tears. With blurry vision, she pulled her Honda off to the side of the road. Laura knew she couldn’t go to work while her husband made passionate love to another woman. How could he do this to her? After calming herself, she called work and claimed a sudden illness. The digital clock on her dash flashed half past eight. Once traffic cleared, she slammed her foot down on the accelerator and flipped a U-turn.
Before she knew it, she had her Honda parked at the house next door, and she was huddled down near the rose bushes in her front yard. Laura glared at the convertible VW in their driveway. “Hussy.”
She crept to the front door. The rays of the morning sun singled out her every movement. Her hand wrapped around the door knob. With her ear pressed against the coolness of the wood, she paused and listened. Muffled voices. As quietly as she could, Laura entered the living room. The sound of voices came from farther back in the house.
“Hold on,” John said. “Wait...that’s it.”
“Do you like it?” The hussy purred.
“Tastes so good.”
Laura saw red. Her face contorted into a snarl. Tastes good does she, John? How much will you enjoy her when I knock out your teeth and only gums remain? With clenched fists and a set jaw, she barreled down the hallway. Through the open door, she glanced into the bedroom. Empty. If he had that hussy sprawled out on her grandmother’s lace tablecloth, she’d bury them in it.
Laura skidded to a halt on the linoleum. Two sets of rounded eyes met her narrowed pair.
Her glare traveled down to the table that displayed cute little cupcakes and then to her husband crammed in the chair—a half-eaten cupcake frozen midway to his mouth. No one spoke. The silence stretched out while confusion rattled through Laura’s brain. Finally, she stared into the plump, aged face of the hussy. Laura’s mouth dropped when it registered who stood wearing a floral muumuu in her kitchen: Mrs. Loveall—the church secretary.
John pushed to his feet and hobbled toward her. His lowered brows slashed a straight line across his forehead. “Hun, what are you doing home?”
Laura’s mouth opened and closed. “I-I.” She waved a hand in the air. “John, Mrs. Loveall...What’s with the cupcakes?”
Mrs. Loveall clicked her tongue and shook her head.
John gave her a sheepish grin. “I’m no good at this stuff, and Mrs. Loveall offered to help me.”
Laura frowned. “You’re talking in riddles. Good at what stuff?”
“Planning...details.” He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Mrs. Loveall wanted me to pick the flavor for the cake she’s making. I wanted to surprise you with a party for our anniversary. I thought we could renew our vows.” He hooked a finger under her chin, pressed a quick kiss to her lips. “Ten years together, that’s something special.”
Laura didn’t know what to say. So, she wrapped her arms around her husband’s waist and did the natural thing—burst into tears.
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