Another Thursday, another story from a BeKindRewrite prompt. Thoughts, feedback and suggestions are always welcome. In particular, I had two possible endings for this story. I’ll put them both below, so you can choose your own. I’d love to know which you prefer.
The Unanswered Phone
The phone rings, but I don’t want to answer it. The day is going too well. Good things have been happening and the slightest change could be a balance in karma – the catastrophe that brings it all crashing down. I know I’m being irrational. I know it’s probably just someone selling newspaper subscriptions or wanting to sell my house. Or give me a “free” cruise if I only hand over my credit card details and billing address. I know all that.
It could even be something good – although how much good news can one person possibly have in a day? My share has already been vastly exceeded by a pink line on a white stick and then I got a Free Coffee coupon in the bottom of my cereal box. Ok, the coffee wasn’t much, but it’s just not going to get better after that morning, is it?
The fifth ring seems unnecessarily insistent, as though the caller is getting impatient, as though they know I’m here, listening but not moving. The fifth ring is accusatory. I almost break my resolve and stand up, but then it stops and there is no sixth ring.
I am instantly filled with remorse. Perhaps it was something good after all, and by ignoring it I’ve done exactly what I wanted to avoid doing – I’ve filled that karmic void and let badness into my life. Perhaps by ignoring the phone, I’ve missed the chance to win a real cruise, or buy the perfect house. Perhaps it was my husband, desperate for help, having been hit by a bus and wanting to say a final goodbye, or the hospital to say that Mum’s been taken ill and I need to hurry over.
I get up now and go over to it. It’s too late. There are no more rings and the stupid answering machine is unplugged because I got fed up of deleting pointless messages from computerised dialers. Whoever rang, I will never know, never have a chance to get that call back. I bash at the buttons, but can’t remember which one, if any, checks the last caller.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ENDING #1
I resolve to call my husband, but he is probably in a meeting and I will be disturbing him. I can hardly explain that I’m calling in case he’s dead. I think about phoning Mum, but it would just worry her. And I can’t tell either of them about the baby, not like this.
I sit down, cradling the handset as I will one day cradle my newborn, and I wait for it to ring again.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ENDING #2
Eventually, I call my husband. I want to be sure he isn’t dead. He’s going to think I’m crazy – maybe I am – but it’s the only way I’m going to be able to relax. My hand shakes as I press the numbers – I want to know he’s alive, but I don’t want to know if he’s dead. I want to hang onto this moment for a little longer, yet this moment is terrifying. I want to hold onto the moment earlier when I was happy, before the phone rang.
It starts to ring.
Would I keep the baby? How could I raise a baby on my own? How could I get rid of my husband’s baby after he dies? Of course I would keep it. But how could I raise a baby on my own?
Pick up, dammit! My brain is screaming now, desperate for him to answer. The fifth ring isn’t loud enough. If he’s dead, no ring would be loud enough anyway. Is he there, ignoring me? Is he worried the phone might ruin a happy morning? He was so happy about the baby, maybe he’s avoiding the phone like I did.
This is my karma, then – an unanswered phone.
16 responses to “Inspiration Monday Part Deux”
Well I just voted for ending #1 and made it 50/50 so maybe not as helpful as I was hoping haha. But I think I prefer #1 because the first part of the story, before the endings, is all about potentials and possibilities and the stress that’s putting on her mind (I assume, after all, the regret over the missed phone call is maybe a reflection of some deeper feeling of missed opportunity she’s having, a conflict somehow related to the news of the baby, but maybe I’m reading too deep?) Anyway, ending two sort of breaks that tension — even if her husband doesn’t pick up the phone, the fact that it’s not a result of her own indecision seems inconsistent with the rest of the piece. In ending #1, the mood stays consistent, and is maybe even intensificed by that last image of her cradling the phone. Just my take though!
Fascinating. Thank you, Brian, and everyone else who voted. I’m sort of pleased that there wasn’t a clear sway in one direction or the other, it makes my dilemma feel less like pure indecisiveness!
I think I prefer #1, although I sort of felt that #2 had a better shape to it because of the second unanswered phone. Either way, it was supposed to be a study on the paranoia that can hit even the most normal people, when they spin into a panic.
I voted for #2. But now I’m thinking of changing my mind. Argh!
Either way, a great stream of consciousness piece. I’ve definitely had that feeling before.
Thanks, BeKind, I’m glad it’s not just me (although for my husband’s sake I should mention I’ve slightly ramped up the paranoia for the sake of fiction!)
OK. thanks! lol
yeah, both are pretty good. the voice and pacing is nice, and the escalation of emotions is palpable.
Maybe, I was kind of hoping the second one would end with the line “the phone starts to ring” (or even better mirror the first line you used.) Then the reader could assume all the things you say after?
Thanks, Craig. Food for thought there, I am still undecided. I wanted the second call to mirror the first, but you might be right that that ending goes on too long. Hmmm… Lessons to learn here, I’m sure.
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I voted for ending #2 because I like the symmetry of the structure. The build up and pacing are spot on. Well done!
I also like that you have given the reader the choice of the two endings. It’s not something that can be done with most stories but in some cases (this being one of them) it works to provide the different results. Other stories where this has been used are “Sliding Doors” (movie) and “The Axiom of Choice” (where it is a central theme) by David W. Goldman (featured recently on PodCastle #211 (http://podcastle.org/2012/06/05/podcastle-211-the-axiom-of-choice/).
Wow! I’d forgotten all about Sliding Doors! I really enjoyed that movie when it came out. Mind you, I was slightly in love with John Hannah, which may have biased my opinion! I’m glad you enjoyed the choice of endings, I used to love those “choose your own adventure” books as a kid.
I went for ending 2. More tension, more fear, irrational. But then …
Yeah! Ramp up that fear! Although, having said that, I actually feel #1 is more bleak because she doesn’t do anything about it. At least in #2, she’s being proactive.
Well written story and the “choose your ending” thing was nice, interesting way of reading it for me.
Anyway, I liked both BUT, the first ending was my preferred one. Perhaps because it was noticeably shorter yet managed to carry an emotional weight behind it as you read it, plus that final line about cradling the phone was a nice touch.
The second one was good too, but felt a little long, though it ended well.
Thanks Spider. I’m glad you liked the options – I’m delighted that a blog allows me to do things like that – traditional publishing would insist I choose for myself!
I liked the second option better, but I can’t explain to you why. Maybe because it seems like a better continuation (or deterioration) of her thoughts. Really like this.