Sunday, October 23, 2011


This is a short story that I wrote one day back when I was still working in New York City. I was taking the train to work when I got a strong urge to write a short, enclosed tale. Got most of it done before I arrived at work.


Phone Call

Gelo R. Fleisher

Mary Garbah rolled her car to a stop as the light turned red. Taking the opportunity to free up her hands, Mary took her phone out of its holder, scrambling to plug in the headset before the light turned green. She moved with unnecessary haste; she was taking a scenic route and a quick glance into her rearview mirror showed that there wasn’t anybody behind her. But Mary was a stickler for efficiency, and she would be loathe to keep things held up, even at an empty traffic stop.

The earphones were set snugly on her head just as the light turned green. Proud of herself, Mary eased on the gas, and pressed the speed dial to her mother’s number. The phone rang several times without anybody picking up; it always did.

Mary looked out the car window as the phone continued to ring. Autumn had just started to settle in, and it was chilly enough to have the heater on, but the grass outside was still green and the trees that glistened under the bright sun were only just starting to show subtle hints of red and yellow.

She liked driving this way to her mother’s. It was mostly undeveloped property, flat and rugged with a just few office buildings interspersed here and there. Watching it all pass by provided a peaceful and quiet interlude in her otherwise hectic weekends.


Mary was a little startled by the pleasant, matronly voice that answered the phone. “Hey mom, it’s me.”

The voice on the other end immediately brightened up, “Mary, oh, it’s so good to hear from you. Do you want to talk with your father?”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to bother him.”

“It’s never a bother to talk with one’s children, let me get him.”

“Mom, it’s okay. I can talk with him afterwards.”

The voice sounded concerned. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine. Just feeling a little depressed, you know, with the birthday tomorrow.”

The voice sighed. “Deary, forty-seven is not old. When you are eighty-eight then you can complain about getting old. Besides, the older I get the less it all seems to mean to me. I mean just yesterday, well I think it was yesterday, I was working on the flowerbed and I will tell you, the whole day must have passed with me there in my overalls, working away with the trowel and shears in my hands. The next thing I know Joseph is calling me in saying that the neighbors are coming over, you know the Hansons? Such nice people.”

“I didn’t know you had a flower bed.”

“I just had one put in. Mr. Hanson, he was a doctor back when he was younger, says that it’s good to keep up the hobbies of our youth. It helps keep the mind and body active. We used to have a small garden when we lived in Dayton you know, but you were probably too young to remember. I just sort of let it lapse after we moved to Cincinnati. Now is as good a time as any to get back into cultivation I suppose.”

Mary still a little surprised. “What do you grow?”

There was a beeping noise that came from the phone. Mary looked away from the road for a second to glance down at it. The small icon that symbolized the power level was blinking. “Damn, the battery’s dying on the phone. I forgot to bring the recharger and I’m...”

Mary heard her mom suck in her breath on the other end of the line. “Mary-Anne Garbah, watch your mouth. There’s no reason for me to hear that sort of language from you. I do hope you don’t speak like that around Jennifer and Andrew.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Mom, it’s not the fifties anymore; ‘damn’ is not a swear word. People use it all the time.”

“Well call me old fashioned, but I thought I raised my little girl better than to blaspheme. Your phone, what make is it?”

“Astra, I told you that last week.”

“Well, I’ve heard that Conducive’s is a better model, maybe you should buy that one.”

Mary let out a sigh. She’d had this conversation before and didn’t feel like repeating it. “Hang on mom, I’m just getting off the freeway, I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Her mom must have noticed the irritation in response, and her tone softened. “I’m sorry for being such a bother, it’s just that we both miss you and worry about you. You don’t realize how much we cherish these calls. I tell you, the things that they can do with technology these days. Why I remember when I thought radio was a wonder to behold.”

Mary looked back out at the scenery; the sparseness of the freeway was giving way to the small suburb that was between her and her mother’s place. As she stopped at another traffic light, she saw a young mother pushing a pink stroller down the sidewalk. The mother was young, must have been in her late twenties, bundled up against the wind in a green jacket. They reached the edge of the sidewalk just as the light turned green. The mother looked over and said something to the child, the words mute behind Mary’s car doors. As the car began to move again, a pang of wistfulness touched Mary’s chest. “Mom, what’s it like to grow old?”

The line was silent for a second. “To be honest Mary, I didn’t really think about it as it was happening. But I don’t think it’s so bad. As long as you don’t have too many regrets and have people to talk to, it’s not bad at all. You know, I was thinking the other day about how helpless you were as a child, why I couldn’t leave your side for ten minutes without you crying. You couldn’t walk or even feed yourself. You totally relied on the people that loved you. Maybe it is justice that you end your life having to rely on those who love you as well. Just make sure to hang tight to the ones you love.”

Mary was silent, not knowing what to say as her mother’s place came into view.

“And how are David and the children?”

Mary turned into the parking lot, taking the key out of the ignition, grabbing the phone and opening the door. A chilly wind gushed past, making Mary stuff her hands in her pockets. She raised her voice slightly to fight the sound of the wind. “Good. David’s still working on the novel, and Jennifer is going to graduate from college in three weeks.” Shivering against the cold, she quickly opened the back door of the car and picked up the half-dozen tulips she’d bought for her mother. Mom had always had a soft spot for tulips.

“Well, I will mark it on my calendar. Joseph and I will definitely be there.”

The day was still bright, with only a few clouds dotting the pristine blue sky. She almost had to squint as she made her way out of the parking lot and into the grassy field. She walked along the orderly rows of crosses and monuments, trying to find her mom.

“I’ll tell Jennifer that, I know she’ll appreciate it. She really misses you. You know I still miss you too sometimes, even on the phone it’s not really the same.”

“Well, don’t be too eager to see me just yet, I don’t think David would appreciate that. I’ll still be here at the end of the day, and you always have my number.”

Mary smiled, her eyes scanning the horizon. “Ok mom, I’m almost there. I love you, talk to you soon.”

“I love y...” The phone beeped, and the line went silent. The small screen that showed the time and signal strength was dark. The phone had run out of power and shut down.

After a few minutes of walking, Mary found the right place. She took her time, enjoying the scenery and the peacefulness of the cemetery. She idly thought that being laid to rest wouldn’t be such a bad thing if she could be laid here. Just hang tight to the ones you love. Mary stopped at her parent’s tombstone, a large grey and white edifice with black lettering cut into the stone:

Janice Garbah Joseph Garbah
1937 – 2023 1932 – 2019

He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully

Between her parent’s names and her father’s favorite bible verse, was a carved picture. Her parent’s faces were etched in perfect detail into the smoky marble. It was an engraving of a photograph taken on their fortieth wedding anniversary. Dad and mom’s faces, touching at the cheek, dad with thick glasses, thinning hair and a teeth flashing smile. Mom, looking as proper as ever, her hair made up in an elaborate bun. Even through the stone she could see the contentment in her mother’s eyes. Mary took off one of her gloves, kneeling down and tracing the outline of her mother’s face on the cold marble.

She’d always meant to ask mom what it all looked like from where she was, what she saw as Mary spoke to her on the phone. Could she hear what she said without it? Probably mom would just shrug.

The wind picked up, shaking the boughs of the trees that lined the cemetery, and sending crisp leaves bouncing along stone monuments on the grassy hill. Shivering slightly, Mary stood up, placing the tulips on the side of the headstone. Putting her glove back on, she said a quick prayer.

Opening her eyes, her gaze lingered on the picture on the headstone. She could almost feel her mother close by. “I love you too mom.” Then turning around, she went back to the warmth of the car.

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