Grand Barda Illustration Triptych: Telephone Calls in Short Stories

Writers often use telephone conversations to add drama, suspense, or twists to their short stories. It’s a great way to add dialogue at key moments and shake things up. At other times, an important call isn’t made and its absence can change the arc of a story or even the course of a character’s life. This week’s Grand Barda Triptych showcases how anticipating a phone call from a suitor, summoning the courage to call a Hollywood heartthrob, and being unable to use the telephone in a moment of urgency makes for great storytelling.

NOTE: The following short story discussions contain spoilers. Follow links below the illustrations to read or listen to the featured works before reading my comments. Enjoy!

Phone90s

Inspired by:
“Roy Spivey” by Miranda July
The New Yorker, June 11, 2007, p. 90.

Listen to an excellent podcast of David Sedaris reading the story “Roy Spivey.”

The quirky, unabashed Miranda July is so damn talented. She is not only an offbeat performing artist, but also a successful short story writer. On top of that, she is the scriptwriter, director, and actress in odd-yet-loveable films like Me and you and Everyone We Know (2005). She embraces her weirdness and she understands isolation. This awareness emerges in her artistic creations. This bright-eyed, gifted artist is often misunderstood, so some people fail to appreciate the raw emotions at the core of her writing. You either love Miranda July or hate her. I LOVE her and every one of her idiosyncrasies.

There is much sadness in “Roy Spivey,” in which a young woman is enraptured by a famous celebrity after sitting beside him during a flight. True, humorous moments are strewn along the way —like when the narrator lets the famous Roy sniff her smelly armpits and when he nibbles her arm— but this is actually a story about loneliness. Before they part after the landing, he gives her his telephone number. She “wanted a telephone number like this [her] whole life,” and holds on to it for years. The secret telephone number becomes a security blanket of sorts, even after she gets married and grows older. It remains a false, comforting hope for a different life, should she choose that path. She itches to call. She needs to call. Yet this telephone call between the narrator and Roy Spivey never happens —for better or worse.

Phone70s

Inspired by:
“A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker
Complete Stories
Penguin Classics, 2002, 480 p.

Listen to a cookin’ 1951 radio recording of “A Telephone Call” by actress Tallulah Dahling.

Some writers have the knack of weaving wit and sadness to create genuine stories about female obsession. Dorothy Parker is perhaps the leader of that of that pack. Her stories are real —funny yet laced with hurt. They will linger in your heart and your mind days after you read them.

My lonely, newly-single 19-year-old self could easily have been the narrator of ”A Telephone Call”. Such love-starved inner dialogues are not merely reserved for teenage angst-riddled girls or young women with stalking tendencies. Surely, most women have had obsessive thoughts about a crush at one point or other. Although this story is set in a different era, when women were not expected to make advances or first moves in relationships, its desperate, frantic yearning is still real and relatable for today’s readers. I can imagine a teenager, clad in a Billy Talent T-shirt, obsessively checking her smartphone for a text or an incoming call, thinking, “PLEASE, God, let him telephone me now.”Reading Parker’s story once again made me chuckle, cringe, and shake my head, thankful I’m no longer part of the dating game. Though, if I was single right now —like I was when I first read this in my early twenties— I think I’d be overwhelmed with heartache.

RedPhone

Inspired by:
Crazy Glue” by Etgar Keret
Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006, 237 p.

Read Keret’s short short story “Crazy Glue.”

Etgar Keret is a world-famous Israeli writer known for his surreal style of storytelling. “Crazy Glue” was the first story I read by Keret. It appeared in a collection of micro stories titled Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories, and it was by far my favorite. The story’s magical quality made my heart skip a beat. After my first reading, I took a deep breath, stared at the wall for half a minute until I processed my thoughts and emotions, then went right back to the beginning and read it again. And again. It’s that powerful.

In this story, a wife suspects her husband of having an affair. When the husband questions his wife for buying glue, she answers, “A lot of things around here need gluing.” She wants to find a way for her husband to stick around. He gets the hint and thinks she is suspicious of his “overtime” hours.  At work that day, he cancels his plans with his heartbroken lover Abby over the telephone. When he returns home, the husband’s wife is seemingly nowhere to be found, yet the furniture is glued to the floors and all of the appliances’ doors are glued shut. He wants to make a call to find his wife, but the phone’s receiver is glued to its base. He finally hears laughter and sees his wife hanging upside down, feet glued to the living room ceiling. He places a stack of books and steps on them to kiss his wife. The books tumble. Husband and wife remain glued in their embrace. Ah… so perfect.

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