‘A Telephone Call’

A late-night monologue that takes as its jumping-off point a Dorothy Parker story of the same name. It was written (under one of my pseudonyms) for Liars’ League Leicester and performed brilliantly by Sophie Talbot at their Sex & Death event. You can watch Sophie’s reading here.   

There should be two phones, really. A black one and a red one. And they shouldn’t be mobiles, they should be chunky bakelite Cold War phones, phones from ’seventies disaster films, Burt Lancaster phones, get-me-the-goddamn-president phones. But there’s only one phone, and it is a mobile, my mobile, and its green light keeps blinking on and off and on and off and I don’t know how to stop it even though I asked in Carphone Warehouse how you stop it doing that and they didn’t bloody know so it just blinks on and off and on and off all fucking night and I can’t fucking sleep –

It’s going to ring. And when it does, it won’t be the president on the other end.

I know who it’ll be. No I don’t. I know who it might be. It’ll be one of two people. It’ll either be Mick or it’ll be my mum. Look at it, blinking there. Blinking blinking blinking. Waiting to ring. Wanting to ring.

It’s not the phone’s fault. I know that, I’m not an idiot, even at two-forty-six in the morning I’m not an idiot. I’m blaming the phone because the phone’s here, and the things and people who I really want to blame aren’t here. Who are those people? What are those things? The Mick part is easy: Mick’s to blame, and Mick’s not here, and, although there’s a very good chance he will be here later, I won’t want to blame him then, I’ll just want to fuck him. Afterwards I’ll blame him. I’ll need to blame someone, then, for everything, and Mick’ll be there, just like the phone is here now.

Ring, you little bastard. Ring.

The other thing, I don’t know who’s to blame. Who or what. It’s just death, isn’t it? My granddad, I could blame him. Urban air quality. Fags, though she’s never been a big smoker, never more than a ten-a-day-girl, not even that nowadays. My mother. Saturated fats. The NHS, or the McMillan people. But it’s just years, really. Just time. And you can’t blame time for everything that happens. Or you can, but you’d look a bloody idiot. Time’s the explanation for it I suppose, time’s the explanation for a lot of things, but that’s not the same same as saying it’s time’s fault, is it? Things aren’t time’s fault.

So two phones, it should be. Important-looking, pregnant-looking phones, with receivers like dumbbells. One red, one black, one for sex, one for death. And they should light up when they ring.

Although you couldn’t get the black one to light up, could you? Black’s black. You can’t get black light. Idiot. Turns out I am an idiot at two-forty-six in the morning. Maybe I’m an idiot all the rest of the time too.

I’ll give Mick a hard time when he rings. If he rings. Which he will. I’ll be all, ‘How can you think of sex, a time like this, a time like this and all you can think of is getting your end away’, all this. He’ll deserve it too, because it’s true, isn’t it, it’s wrong, it’s sick, thinking about sex at a time like this? ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I’ll ask him.

And he’ll ask me the same question back, because he’s not daft, and I won’t know what to say. ‘Cause I’m thinking about sex too, I’ve been thinking about it all night. What is wrong with me?

He was good with nan, was Mick. When we were together, proper together, not like now. She loved him. Loves him, present tense, present tense, loves him, until that phone rings and it’s mum wailing down the line from the Halifax Royal nan’s still present tense, present and future, nothing but present and future, nan loves Mick, is loving Mick, will love Mick, is going to love Mick.

Nan loves brass bands. Nan loves roast lamb. Nan loves ‘Emmerdale’. Nan loves Mick.

That’s more than I do. All that’s strictly past tense. I did love him, yes, of course I did. I think I loved him partly because nan loved him so bloody much, but there were other things too, of course there were, you don’t move in with someone, you don’t plan a life with someone, on your nan’s say-so. He was a good bloke. He probably still is a good bloke.

And of course he loved me. That helped.

That was before too-young-to-settle-down, before all-going-too-fast, before don’t-feel-grown-up-enough – when we were something special, or anyway something good, and before we were what we are now.

I have loved Mick, I did love Mick.

I fuck Mick, I will be fucking Mick, I will have fucked Mick.

The thought of waking up next to me every morning for the rest of his life, every single day until the day he died – Mick said he loved that thought. He said it made him happy. He said it gave him a hard-on.

The bit he didn’t like, couldn’t cope with, was the thought that he’d never wake up next to anybody else.

How did he put it? ‘It’s not the ever, darling – it’s the never.’ That’s what you get when you go out with a marketing manager. Nothing but fucking slogans.

The other slogans came later, a few months later, after he’d moved out: ‘Sex With Your Ex’; ‘Friends Who Fuck’ – slogans they’d probably been slinging around in the pub, him and his mates, before he called me, that first time, before he called me at half-past eleven and asked if he could come over.

What was I going to say? I missed him. He said he missed me.    

Come on, phone. Come on, ring, and let it be Mick, let him be tanked up and in the back of a minicab on his way over here. I’ll give him a fucking slogan. I’ll tell him where he can stick his fucking hard-on.

Only I won’t, or rather I will, but not in the way I should tell him. I’ll tell him to stick it exactly where he wants to stick it, because that’s what I want, too, really, only the difference is that I hate myself for wanting it, now, at a time like this, whereas Mick – well, Mick would say – will say – that it’s perfectly normal, in fact it’s good, great even, because it’ll help me relax, and work out that tension, and besides I shouldn’t be alone, at a time like this – and he’ll believe it, too, even as he’s slipping off his pants and fumbling for a johnny in my bedside drawer.

I think he’ll draw the line at it’s what she would have wanted butI wouldn’t put it past him.

I want the phone to ring now. I really badly want it to ring, only I don’t want it to be Mick, and I don’t want it to be mum, I want it to be nan, my nan, saying ‘hello, petal’, and how the doctors had it all wrong after all, because you can’t trust doctors, can you, nowadays, they’re no better than the weathermen, are they – all wrong, she’s right as rain, everything’s right as rain –

I know you can’t make that happen, phone, but I’d be grateful forever if you did. I’d never swear at you again for running out of battery or not having a signal even on the overground. I promise. I wouldn’t even mind about the blinking. Look at you: blink, blink, blink, blink, stop that for a moment and listen to me. Please, phone. Please ring and make it be nan. I know you can’t but please do.

We’d need a new phone, wouldn’t we, for nan. Not a red one or a black one but a green one, because green’s her favourite colour. She can’t work a mobile anyway. Mum got her one and she couldn’t work it. ‘What do they need all these buttons for?’

Look, nan. Look what I’ve got, a good solid old-fashioned chunky phone with a receiver and a dial and a curly wire. Yes, it’s like the one you and granddad had in the house in Hipperholme, when you lived there, only that wasn’t green, that one, was it?

And now all you’ve got to do to make it all perfect is call me on it, so I can hear it ring. Because there’s no point, is there nan, in me having this special phone, if you’re never going to ring me on it?

And yes I know it costs a lot to call me all this way away in London. And no, I don’t know why on earth I ever moved here anyway.

It’s going to be Mick. I know it’s going to be Mick. I can see what you’ve got planned, phone. I can read you like a book. A phone-book. Mick’ll ring when he comes rolling out of whatever club he’s been dancing in like a tit all night and I’ll end up telling him to come over. He’ll be drunk when he gets here but I won’t mind, or at least I won’t mind it too much.

He’ll kiss me and I’ll kiss him back and we’ll take each other’s clothes off and for a little while, if I don’t think about anything, it’ll feel a little bit like old times, not just like old times, but a little bit.

And then, just at the critical moment – his, mine, who knows, maybe both of ours but to be honest I doubt it – the phone’ll ring. The black phone.

But that’s life, isn’t it, phone? Blink once for yes, twice for no. That’s just fucking life, black phone, red phone, black phone, red phone, ring ring, ring ring, never leaving you alone. The black one ringing while you’re taking a call on the red and no sooner have you hung up on the red than there’s the black one going off again.

You know what, phone? I think I just want you to ring now. I don’t care who it is. It can be the goddamn president for all I care. I just want you to ring. I just want to sleep. I just want you to ring.                                                      





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