Spring 2010

Table of Contents - Vol. VI, No. 1


Poetry    Fiction    Reviews   

Caryn Coyle


Ten Minutes on the Telephone

Their baby is seven months old when he finally calls her. It is the middle of the night. Genevive is actually dreaming about him. In the dream, they are dancing, twirling in an erotic embrace, his hands securely planted in the back pockets of her jeans. They are gyrating to “Wild Thing,” the early version, from the ‘60’s, by the Troggs.
The phone interrupts their dance.
Genevive opens her eyes, loses the Troggs, and instantly focuses on Paige, sleeping near her behind the brown sculpted spokes of her crib. She is lying on her back and snoring softly.
Good, the baby’s still asleep, Genevive thinks as she plucks the phone’s black receiver. She rolls over in bed, turning away from Paige. It’s uncanny how much she thinks about her. Her mind is always rushing back to her daughter, like a tide that covers the sand, retreats and rolls over the same section of the beach again and again.
The day has been exhausting. Paige has been sick, and every sheet Genevive has for her crib has been used, and stripped off. Her mattress is covered with bath towels now. Paige has whimpered and Genevive has made -- if she’s counted them -- fifty or more round trips through their apartment, savoring Paige’s little head on her shoulder. She has sung to her, resting her cheek on her baby’s:
tura lura lura
tura lura lye
tura lura lura
that’s an Irish lullaby

A colleague covered Genevive’s classes at the ballet school today. How much longer will they tolerate her absences?
She puts the phone’s receiver on her ear, but before she can speak, she hears him.
Tears fill her eyes. They have not spoken for over fifteen months. The lawyers have spoken for them, instead. His checks have finally started to trickle in, mostly on time.
“Gen, it’s me, Paul.”
She can hear the alcohol in his voice. So many previous calls flood her mind. He would wake her from a variety of destinations, Palo Alto, Houston, Fort Lauderdale. A computer salesman, he went to conferences and conventions. His calls always came late at night and never sounded sober. “What are you wearing?” he’d ask.
She thought little of him when they first met a decade before. He had premature gray hair that fell into his hazel eyes. His smile was whiter than it should have been because his two front teeth were fake, knocked out in a hockey collision when he was thirteen.
Paul was someone she’d jostle at Friday night happy hours. They danced one night when someone requested “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis. Joining the others on the small dance floor, they embraced. His hands crept over her back. She clasped her arms around his neck and he kissed her cheek.
When he helped her find a teaching job, the friendship deepened. She knew he was married, but he rarely spoke about his wife; did not wear a wedding band.
Genevive thought she sensed deep unhappiness in Paul. She wanted to help him. He told her secrets he said he did not share with anyone else. How scared he’d always felt before he slid onto the ice at each and every hockey game during his college career. His shame at being unable to afford a new suit when he got a job after graduation. He’d picked one he thought was acceptable out of a pile at the Goodwill Store.
On the Super Bowl Sunday the Bears defeated the Patriots -- lying next to her on the bed she now occupies alone -- Paul described the profound disappointment he had experienced the night of his wedding. “It just felt different, nothing more. I knew I’d made a big mistake.” His confession gave Genevive the permission she needed to love him.
Once she fell into the tormented hole of passion, she was buried. He separated her from his other life, and she was ashamed. Genevive thought she was not worthy of happiness.
“Why are you calling me?” She pulls herself up on one elbow, looks at the digital clock on her night stand. “It’s 3:26, Paul. IN THE MORNING!”
“I’m sorry, Gen,” his voice slices through the early morning quiet. Surreal. “Can you ever forgive me?”
“You left me, us.”
“I know. I didn’t know what to do.”
“And now you want to talk?” Her anger surprises her, but she is relieved that she doesn’t sound weak.
“Gen, listen to me.” He is slurring his words, it sounds like he is saying ‘Listerine.’
“Why?” The question hangs in the dark room. The digital clock makes a “dink” sound clicking off another minute, 3:27.
Paul had left so abruptly, he never saw what she looked like ten, twenty, thirty-five pounds heavier, with Paige growing inside her.
When she told him she was pregnant, she tried to explain why she wanted the baby. Her life had a new purpose. She and Paul had a miraculous new bond. She could come out of hiding and they could show the world how they loved each other.
He told her it would ruin him. She remembered how her head had tingled like it did when a migraine was starting. As his words sank in, she actually saw stars.
The wound has healed, however. Paige has restored her and thoughts of Paul have faded.
His phone call is unraveling her resolve.
“I always loved you.” His words pierce through her.
“Then why did you leave?”
“I toll you --” the slurring again. “I had to.”
“No you didn’t, Paul. You could have gotten divorced.”

Genevive thinks about the song, “Wild Thing.” She’d heard it that autumn night when he needed to see her. She had a foreboding that he wanted to end their romance. So she wore her shortest jean skirt under the canvas duster to meet him at the convenience store in Federal Hill. She parked her Mustang at his feet. He was sitting on the curb that was painted yellow and surrounded the store. Paul looked awful. Purple shadows under his eyes, stubble on his face and his hair unwashed.
Facing him, she placed her legs on the outside of his thighs and lowered herself into his lap, right there, on the curb. The stiff canvas formed a tent. Under it, her skirt bunched up around her waist. She wore no panties and felt his zipper; sharp, cold. Genevive tugged on it with her right hand, feeling for his firm penis with her left. The shock of what they did in public was part of the reason why she didn’t want them to part. He held onto her when she tried to stand up again and slipped his arm in hers to walk the few feet to her Mustang. “You are unbelievable,” he whispered as he kissed her cheek.
When she slid back into her seat and turned on the ignition, the Troggs were singing “Wild Thing.”
His smile revealed both of his false teeth. Paul’s hazel eyes brightened from a dark blue to a yellow-green in the convenience store’s lights. “That’s you!” he said, as he leaned in and kissed her again through the open window frame.
Five weeks later she bought a home pregnancy test at the same convenience store.

Paul’s voice is clearer, “Could you have guaranteed the life I would have had with you would be any better than the one I have now?”
Genevive feels hot. Though she is not wearing anything under her white sheets, she is perspiring. Her armpits are suddenly damp. So is the nape of her neck. The heat radiates down from her scalp to her chest. She raises the receiver from its resting place on her ear and returns it to the cradle on the phone. The digital clock dinks again at the same time the phone line clicks off: 3:36.


© Caryn Coyle



Poetry    Fiction    Reviews   

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