:: Article

On Call

By Laura Madeline Wiseman.

And here you are. This is not a dream. It’s night work. The woman with the yeses, the goldfish eyes, and you in a hotel room and her husband away. She says, You’re making me want you. Your hand is on her thigh. She’s on her side, eyes wide and staring at you. You get up, open the door and leave her in the flickering TV light. The sheets and pillows tangled on the floor. The complementary lotion and plastic water glasses unwrapped from their packages. You don’t even bother with your things—a blue bag, a book of riddles called poems, and a cell phone—because already, your cell phone rings.

You sit by the indoor garden, the hostas and tropical foliage arranged around koi pools. Can I get you a drink? says a man in a white tux and black bowtie. He winks like a man who’d been in your shoes. You wave him off and answer your phone. Then she’s there beside you, Ms. Yes. Her yeses as silent now as zippers, her husband on her arm like an ermine wrap—expensive, out of fashion, and cruel. He grins and makes a crack about your manmade garden, meaning the hotel one, meaning you. He clings to her: she clings to him. Her hips curved, her hair curled, her lips like poems. She says, When are you off? You’re off in two days, but say nothing. They sway away stopping to admire the fish nursing the surface of the ponds.

The woman you sit with now is blonde and trimmed in wire glasses. Your cell phone rings between you. Your blue bag of tricks on the table, open. Your pocket full of poems. You stop sitting on the chair in the hotel suite. You click the lights off and wait for her to make helpless noises, which she does. She slips out of her clothes. You find her scales, her hostas, her petals and stems. Only once, the whole time, does your cell phone ring again. You answer and keep her pressed to the damp sheets. After, her clad in a 1950s bra and panties, her hair falling on her shoulder, her belly a sweet dimple. You help her with her zipper. When are you off? she asks like an echo. And then How did you make me want you? Ms. 50s says like a repeat, settling the wire rims around her eyes. You open the door and go. All of them blame you for their lulling calls, their words. My garden, they say, but never, my poem or my trick. The moment someone said as much, a voice would say, wrong number, and disconnect the call.

The husband and you arm wrestle. Ms. Yes and Ms. 50s watch. Whoever loses calls the the man in the tux and bowtie over for a second round of scotch. Even the koi clap you on with their puckering noise. You always win among these ferns. Tonight the husband angles towards Ms. 50s with his sarcastic remarks. He pinches along her ermine wrap. They play board games where, as neat and tidy as a poem, she scores. You court Ms. Yes, occasionally sweeping an accidental thumb across Ms. 50’s thigh. You try and fight to stay out of Ms. Yes’ gold eyes. The husband doesn’t care how his wife bends toward you like a leggy flower, how her hands hold yours as she shows you how to throw dice and turn on her phone. You’re safe, see. Not something to look at long. One easily abused, so numb to this world.

You do not end where this started, your hand on her thigh, her eyes wide with that terror, pleasure, surprise. Rather you dine on salmon sandwiches, coin size squares of brownie, and ice tea with melted ice. Under the table she rubs herself against you like a stray. You watch the man with the mustache across the garden telling lies about big money, big hunts, and his big, big room. Ms. Yes says, Tell me something. I heard it once in a poem. You look and are zipped up by her eyes. She doesn’t say what you’re to tell because she’s unhooked your bowtie and your tux is suddenly too small.

You exit to a side room like scoundrels. The room is stacked high with twelve-ounce bottles of soda in plastic racks. She’s got you here, but now wants to play coy. Her body is warm, her lips, her hips, her waist. You click off the cell phone and open the small book. You read, but life is a trick. Life is a kitten in a sack, but she gets in the way of the words and offers her breasts, high and soft. Under her clothes your hands are trespassers, again. She feigns innocence. You tell her where to touch. She’s a schoolgirl at thirty-whatever and married. Your body is one part of this scenario of hotel rooms, gardens, tuxes, poems and your hand on her thigh.

You suppose you should not be surprised to find yourself on the final night not with Ms. 50s for a second round, or Ms. Yes for a third, but passed hand to hand to him, the husband. That thin man. That acerbic mouth. That black hair in small hard curls like Mr. Rogers in a bad dream. Or, should you say, Mr. Yes? But it’s not a dream. It’s a night of work. You have your hand on the husband’s thigh. All the water glasses have been open. The TV channels have all been flicked to, visited, and then discarded. The lotion is empty. The towels wet. And the sheets in their cliché on the floor. His mouth is hard and his hand clumsy, like he’s never done this before. Right. He trembles, shakes, and makes small noises like a fish, which you find mildly pleasing. In his husband voice he says, You make me want you. You’re tired. You get off in six hours or so. You have just enough time for a nap, but as you’re on call, you turn to a page in your book, memorized now, and recite. In the room women come and go talking of Michelangelo, you say with an expression Mr. Yes can’t see in the dark. He’s quick to respond, I bet you’ve heard it all before. You silence him the way he expects. The way you best know. He stops you for a moment and says, All along I knew what you were. And though you don’t answer with words, you wonder who you are and what you were.

laura-madeline-wiseman3ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Madeline Wiseman is working on a dissertation at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln where she teaches English. Her chapbook My Imaginary is forthcoming in 2009 from Dancing Girl Press. Margie, MississippiReview.com and Permafrost have published her poetry. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in American Short Fiction, Blackbird and Pebble Lake Review. Her creative non-fiction can be found in Grasslands Review and The South Loop Review. Her awards include three Pushcart Prize nominations.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, January 12th, 2009.