Chelsea Biondolillo’s prose has appeared in DIAGRAM, Used Furniture Review, The Rumpus, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. Chelsea received her BFA in photography from the Pacific NW College of Arts and is currently an MFA student at the University of Wyoming. She believes in hard work, patience, and you.
This is how it could have happened. The golden yellow block of telephone sat on your lumpy bed. The cord was stretched from the living room, under your closed door, a silver diagonal down the hallway. Later, you’d get yelled at for trying to kill a person with such a trip-wire across the kitchen entryway.
A phone number scrawled jagged in blue ballpoint pen grew damp in your sweaty hand as you grinned and paced around your room. Twice you made a show of it: picked up the receiver and pushed in two then three then four numbers before dissolving into hysterics and hanging up.
Your best friend was balled up on the floor dying of embarrassment for you and egging you on.
If you went through with it and dialed the number, the following things could happen:
1. No one answered = worst outcome of all, but also a bit of a relief
2. Busy signal = would lead to much discussion, i.e.: who was on the phone with whom?
3. His mom answered = she would be inquisitive, but kind. She would always go and get the boy, even if he was busy with friends or out in the garage, even if you said “only if he’s not busy.”
4. His dad answered = he’d chuckle and you’d blush horribly and regret calling. But at least a dad wouldn’t roust a boy from what he was doing. He’d ask your name though, and only if you were lucky would he forget it.
OK, OK, OK, you stand up tall. I’m doing it right now, you tell your friend. You grab the phone and press the numbers fast, so you won’t lose your nerve.
Hello, Anderson residence. Your eyes go wide, your hand circling at the big awkward receiver so that your friend knows: It’s him!
Um, hi. You tell him your name. You step from foot to foot while he takes a pause to remember you. You have your story ready, about forgetting to write down the biology homework, about the friend of a friend who said he was a pretty good student, and likely to have it. And you know, could he tell you what was due?
And maybe the worst thing happens. He reads off the assignment and says, cruelly, Anything else you need? You will say, No. Thanks. See you Monday. And your friend will sit up and prepare to comfort you because everyone knows how awful that feels. Your stomach will feel cold and your cheeks hot. You will have to answer when someone asks you on Monday, because he will tell his friends. Did you call Jason? Why? And no one will believe that you just needed the homework, because you could have called a girl for that.
But maybe not. Maybe he says, You aren’t working on biology homework right now, are you? In his voice, a confident grin. And you try to sound casual and cool, saying, No, not at all, I just wanted to make sure someone had it. (So he thinks maybe you were just working your way through a list, lucky him.) You twist your fingers into the cord and sway back and forth, smiling. You kink the loops of the cord into teardrops, one upon the other. Later your stepdad will make a big show of being unable to make a call with such a shortened, crooked cord.
You ask him what he’s doing. You trace the outlines of the square numbers, your fingers moving around the two clear hang-up buttons, between their yellow arms. Nothing, he says. Too bad, you say, because we were trying to find something to do. And even you are a little breathless, because you have surprised yourself with bravado. Later you might surprise yourself again when you let him reach under your shirt.
And now your friend sits up, eyes wide at being implicated in potential activities. You are more daring than she, and already she’s preparing excuses. How she has to help her mother make dinner, give her little sister a bath, work on her English paper.
On the other end of the crackling line, he tries to remember what your whole body looks like and who you have lunch with and whether or not you wear braces. And if he likes his memory of you, he will say that you and your friend should come down to the river later because some people are meeting up. And you say, Yeah, OK. Maybe we will. And you remember to ask what time. Your friend is up on her knees, in your room full of piles of clothes and homework and cassette tapes and magazines. She’s gesturing to you with both hands, like you’ve swum out too far. Like you need to come back to shore. He tells you to come early but you’ll make sure to be late. You want to know what he looks like looking for you.