Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Short Story Released

My Last Name is Abraham

(first published at The East Hampton Star -- reprinted here with permission of the author, me)

* * *

The wind blows—ruffling my newspaper—as the phone rings. I was just about to sink into the Sports Section where I dive in. I am kind of annoyed to be reeled in from my morning mind-swim. Reluctantly I answer. A woman says, “I only need 10 minutes of your time.” No way, I think, goddamn telemarketer. And before my coffee. The nerve. Then I stop, cock my head. Wait. I can tell from the age of her voice, the clarity of it, and her lack of accent that she's not a telemarketer. So who is she? what does she want from me?

“For what?” I say.

“Either yes or no,” she says. “A yes will earn the answer to your question, of course. It's only ten minutes. Exactly ten minutes. You can spare that.”

"What the h—heck?"

"Is that a yes?"

"It’s not a no."

"Then it’s a yes. Good answer. Fantastic.” As I sink this turn of events in she starts: “Do you have a newspaper?”

“Yes. I’d just sat down to read it.”

“Great. Look at page one of today's Business section."

“I am in today’s newspaper.”

There is an article about the Asian Auto Expo. Two models are showing off a small Daewoo. "Which one are you?"

"I'm the one on the left,” she says.

It's a sexy picture. Her hair is in a ponytail but long bangs fall at her chin. She's smiling like she knows something I don't. She's a model so of course her body is gorgeous. She stands by the driver's side door of a Daewoo sports coupe.

“You're beautiful.”

“Not really. But I photograph well.”

She tells me people never talk anymore. She blames this on Internet chatting. The cold sell, she says, is dwindling away in our society. People are getting so comfortable being cowards. She once got an email—organized and well structured—asking her if she would consider being a slave for a one year contract.

“Sexual?” I ask.

“Yes. Of course. Paid.”

That kind of thing is hard to say to someone's face. But it's easy to email every girl on a given chat site.

“They say in one hundred and one tries,” I say, “you can get anything.”


I try to place her accent. It sounds so clean to me. It must be an American. But from where? There sometimes seems to be a trace of New York but then it fades, is it Ohio, maybe it's not even American, perhaps from some English speaking country, a small one, Belize or a traveler, yes, that must be it: someone who moved around a lot as a child and sucked it all in—the culture, the accents, the adaptability.

Eight minutes have passed. I find myself thinking of how to prolong. What will happen at exactly ten minutes? Will the line go dead? Will she make an exception of some seconds long enough for a polite goodbye? Will she ask if she can call again? She can if she wants. It's her right to dial any number she wants. Obviously, she has the number.

I look around my house to see if anything else is weird. Maybe simultaneously cat burglars are robbing me blind. The blinds (no relation to cheap cliché in previous line) blow a little in the wind and tremble, pattering against the window. One slat has fallen and lies on the ground. I've been meaning to fix it and this call makes me wish I had fixed it a long time ago. And wish I had eaten more apples, flossed regularly, cleaned the bathroom more, fixed the flat tire on my bicycle.

Eight minutes thirty seconds have passed.

“Should we start to say goodbye now?” I ask.

“That's not necessary.” She speaks slowly. Her voice sounds confident. Mine on the other hand begs for guidance. I feel lonely, lost, floating in this world. The blinds bang in the wind.

“Is that really you in today's paper?”

“No. But wasn't it nice to think?”

“Like Holly Golightly.”

“Yes, you got it. Go hard. Truman Capote.”

“I live near his old apartment. The one he lived in with Marilyn Monroe.”

“I knew from your number you were in New York City. So where exactly are you?”

Brooklyn Heights. With a view of downtown Manhattan.”

“How's the view without the World Trade Center?”

“More dynamic.”

A voice comes on the line. Compared to hers, which has been flowing all over me like beads of sweat down an Aztec red coke bottle on a summer day, it is harsh and automated. The voice drones, “15 seconds.”

“Where are you?” I ask.

Seoul,” she says. “On base. I allot ten minutes a week to call home to combat homesickness. Since I have no— ”

Two harmonized tones beset the line. The blinds shudder.

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