THE PHONE CALL • by Russ Heitz

Emotional radio voice in the background, praying, pleading.

“What are you smiling about?  It’s cold.  Sleet coming down.  And the washer’s clanking again.  Why you doing a wash so early anyway?”

“Because Robby’s gonna call today.  I want to get it done early.”

“What makes you think he’s gonna call today?”

“I don’t think it.  I know it.”

“Then how do you know it?  You a mind reader all of a sudden?”

“A mother knows these things, that’s all.  You wouldn’t understand.”

“He’s almost forty years old.”

“I’m still his mother.”

“And I’m still his father.  Look, he hasn’t called us in what?  A year?  Year and a half?  He hasn’t even sent us a letter since … I don’t know when.  So why would he all of a sudden break down and call us today?”

“I prayed for him last night, like I do every night.  But this time Jesus sent me a message.  In a dream.”

“You saw Jesus in a dream?”

“Don’t be silly.  I saw Robby.  As clear as day.  And he was on the phone.”

“Maybe he was calling one of his girlfriends.  Probably got another one pregnant.  He could be in jail for all we know.  If he isn’t, he probably should be.”

“He was calling me.  I know it as sure as I know I’m standing here.  Now go fry your egg.  The wash is done and I gotta get it dried.  I won’t be able to hear the phone if the dryer’s running.”

Blare of the midday news, volume loud.

“Aren’t you gonna have anything to eat?”

“He might be stopping for lunch himself in a few minutes.  That’s probably when he’ll call.  I’ll eat something later.”

“You can’t listen and eat at the same time?”

“I’ll eat something later, I said.  You want me to fix you a sandwich?”

“Bread makes a lot of noise when you spread butter on it.”

“Don’t be funny.  You want me to fix you a sandwich or not?”

“Okay.  Baloney and cheese.  I’ll heat up the coffee.  I just think you’re wasting your time.  What if he doesn’t call?”

“He’ll call.  I can feel it.  Here.  And a mother’s heart is never wrong.”

Running footsteps on the porch.  Door flies open, slams against the wall.

“Close the damn door.  You boys live in a barn?”

“Hi, Grandpa.  Hi Grandma.”

“Will you look at those red cheeks?  Bet your hands are cold, too.”

“Freezing.  You got any cookies for us?”

“And hot chocolate?  Like you always do?”

“Spread out on the table.  Take off your coat, Jay.  You too, Stevie.”

“No time to make lunch for herself but enough time to make a lot of junk food for a couple hooligans.  Don’t throw your coats on the floor.  You’re worse than a bunch of wild Indians.”

“You didn’t eat lunch, Grandma?  Why not?”

“Yeah.  You on a diet?”

“Don’t be silly, Jay.  Your Uncle Robby’s gonna call this afternoon.  If you promise not to stay on the phone, I’ll let you talk to him.  But only for a minute.  You remember your Uncle Robby, don’t you?  He’s been on TV.  Many times.  Did you know that?”

“These are real good cookies, Grandma.  I like the peanut butter kind, too.  You got any of those?”

“He’s a real good fiddle player.  One of the best in the country.  He’s played with all the big country music stars.  Keith Urban, Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, all of them.  My favorite was George Jones but they say he drank a lot.  Your Uncle Robby doesn’t drink at all.  He goes to church every week, too.”

“Your Grandma’s dreaming again.  Your Uncle Robby’s been in rehab so many times they gave him his own parking space.”

“Don’t listen to your Grandpa.  He exaggerates about everything.”

“I like Busta Rhymes.He don’t use fiddles in his videos.”

Doesn’t use fiddles.”

“I know.  That’s what I said.  He uses drums mostly.  You like Busta Rhymes, too?”

“Dear me, is that his real name?”

“I don’t know.  Can I have some more hot chocolate?”

The whirring sound of an electric can opener.

“You want me to open another can of soup?  You haven’t eaten all day.”

“Not right now.  Maybe later.”

“Look, Jennie, let’s face it.  He’s not gonna call, okay?  He just isn’t.  You got yourself all worked up over nothing.  Robby doesn’t give a shit about us.  He never has.”

“That’s not true.  He’s just busy.  Playing here and there.  Always on the road. That’s why he never calls.  He’s too busy.”

“He can’t be that busy.  Josh has three kids, a wife, and two jobs.  And he always has time for us.  Day or night.  What does Robby have?  A fiddle, a couple fancy shirts, and a beat-up old Cadillac.  If he was here right now I’d kick him in the ass.”

“You know I hate that word.”

“Yeah, I know.  I’m just mad.  All we did for him.  All he has to do is call us once in a while.  Send a postcard.  Is that too much to ask?  For all we know he’s dead.  Killed in some bar fight somewhere.  Months ago.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Yeah, yeah.  I know.  I’m just blowing off steam.”

Sound of crying in the dark.

“Don’t, Jennie, please.  I was just blowing off steam.  Robby ain’t dead.  He’s all right.  I’m sure of it.  He’s just busy, that’s all.  Look, he’ll call us one of these days, okay?  I just know he will.  Maybe even tomorrow.”

Russ Heitz says: “I write novels primarily but enjoy doing flash fiction pieces, too.”

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Every Day Fiction