The Cell Phone: Unsuccessful Short Story Entry #2

During your weekly housecleaning you find and unfamiliar cell phone in the cushions of your couch—but can’t recall having had any recent visitors. It rings.

That was the Writer’s Digest short story contest prompt that I tackled this month. I had to wait a full two weeks to experience the head shake that followed the manic clicks through the the semi-finalist list. Out of 670+ entries, I ended up in the bottom 666. It was statistically interesting, but not quite the professional validation I was looking for.

I read through all of the chosen entries to see what they had that I didn’t, and then spent a little time wondering if an electronic glitch had diverted my entry before it arrived, gleaming, in the Writer’s Digest inbox. That devolved into me staring out the window and contemplating what level of illegal it would be to naturally brine my computer. I eventually leaned back in my squeaky office chair, my fingers interlaced on my forehead as if trying to trap any remaining confidence from evaporating into the salty sea air.

I unlaced my fingers, scratched my hair more than I needed to, and went back to reread my contest entry. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered. I wanted to rearrange and tighten up a lot of what I thought was already arranged and tight, but working on it further felt like searching for the perfect rebuttal while lying in bed alone.

Below is my submission. Comments, suggestions, and cleverly combined swear words are welcome.

The Cell Phone

“Okay, Mrs. Olsen. If we could go over this one last time, just to make sure I’ve got everything straight. You say you arrived home at 5…”

Pam Olsen rubbed her eyes. “Yes. I came home at 5 to get a jump on my weekly cleaning. I was fluffing up the couch, and like I said, I found a cell phone stuck in the cushions. I figured one of Larry’s idiot employees must’ve lost it, so when it started buzzing, I answered it. A man whispered, ‘She’s in the living room,’ and the line went dead. I was bent over the couch facing a wall, Sergeant. I was practically paralyzed. I slowly turned around without even taking the phone away from my ear. Thankfully, no one was waiting there to attack me.”

“That’s when you—”

“Heard noises upstairs, yes. Can you imagine being a small woman like me and coming home to criminals in your house? I could barely breathe. I bolted into the kitchen and reached under the sink.”

“For the 38 Special.”

“Special, plain—I have no idea. Whatever it was, I specifically forbid Larry from stashing guns under the sink. The man never listened to me.”

“Go on.”

“Well, I could see from the stairs that my bedroom door was open a little, but I always keep that door closed to avoid listening to Larry moan about his supposed cat allergies all night. I was shaking uncontrollably as I crept down that hall, Sergeant. It sounded like a tap recital when I finally pushed the bedroom door open with the gun.”

“And that’s when you heard someone in the closet.”

“Yes. There was no way I was going into that room to be raped and strangled, so I pointed the gun at the closet, closed my eyes, and pulled the trigger.”

“How many shots did you fire?”

“I just kept pulling the trigger.”

“With your eyes closed.”

“I was terrified.”

“And then…”

“I grabbed the lamp off the nightstand and yanked open the closet door. When I saw Larry—” Pam Olsen covered her face and sobbed. “I dropped the lamp and ran downstairs screaming. He was supposed to be at work.”

“And that’s when you called 911.”

Pam nodded.

“Just a couple more questions, Mrs. Olsen. I promise they’ll be quick.” Sergeant Novak handed Pam a tissue. “Now, can you give us that cell phone?”

“Cell phone?”

“The one you found. We need to bag it as evidence.”

“I’m…not sure where it is. It was all such a blur.”

“It’s okay. If it’s here, we’ll find it. Now, you said you got home at 5?”

“That’s correct.”

Sergeant Novak flipped a page on his notepad. “Because your neighbor, Mrs. Jankowski, said that she heard your car pull up at 3.”

Pam closed her eyes and swept her fingers across her forehead. “Sergeant, Mrs. Jankowski is a sweet woman, but she’s in her eighties. She gets things muddled sometimes.”

“She said you sat in front of her house for nearly an hour because a red convertible was blocking your driveway. Says she missed the end of Wheel of Fortune watching you talk to yourself.”

Pam cleared her throat. “Do you mind if I smoke?”

“It’s your house. Now, Wheel of Fortune ends at 4.”

Pam Olsen took a long drag of her cigarette, tilted her head back, and blew smoke straight up into the air. “Like I said, Sergeant. Mrs. Jankowski gets confused.”

Sergeant Novak scratched his neck. “It’s just odd that she would be so specific about that convertible. She said—what were her words? ‘A trashy redhead wiggled across the lawn and got into a red convertible.’”

Pam took one last drag of her cigarette and rapidly stubbed it out in the ashtray. “Sergeant, if I had come home in the middle of the day to find some tramp carrying her heels across my lawn, I would’ve been pretty upset, but not enough to kill for.”

“Did I mention the woman was barefoot?” Sergeant Novak flipped a few pages in his notebook. “Maybe we should go over this one more time.”

“You know, Sergeant, it’s been an exhausting day. I’m ready to plead the fifth just to get you on your way.”

“This isn’t a courtroom, Mrs Olsen.”

Pam’s eyes narrowed. “Then, I don’t think I should say anything else until I speak with my lawyer.”

“Sure. He can meet us downtown.”

Pam stared.

“Now. You say you arrived home at 3…”

749 words, submitted 9/7/10

One thought on “The Cell Phone: Unsuccessful Short Story Entry #2

  1. Not bad though I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on it since you seem to be looking for some input. I didn’t see a picture of the woman talking before you jumped into the dialogue with the sergeant so it seemed a bit disjointed. Maybe a little description would help readers visualize what was happening a little easier and sooner (i got it but after re-reading the first paragraph a couple times). I’m still not sure if it was an elderly lady shooting her old husband or who did what exactly. I’m not a fan (personally) of having lots of characters to keep track of either and it seems you’ve introduced 5-6 in 749 words, it’s not easy for me to keep track of what exactly is happening on the first read. I liked the intrigue, the mystery and the little twist of her killing her own husband. I wasn’t sure why the phone was there or who was on the other line though. I think you’re on the right track but I liked your burning the house down story better TBH. One thing my old teacher told me was to “write what you know” so maybe some fiction more derived from personal experiences would be a little easier to flesh out. Good luck Jon, keep writing!

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