'Pretend-phoning' by Jonathan Cardew
Suddenly, it became clear to Answar why he did it.
He was not lacking friendship, or love, or incoming phone calls (he got plenty of those). It was pure physical need. He was hungry for the phone to be by his ear. If it was not by his ear, if he was not talking into it, or nodding in response to the questions or statements of the caller, or making plans to meet at certain times of certain days, he felt bereft. He felt somewhat not himself.
So he pretend-phoned. He would lift the phone from his pants pocket and answer with a simple “Hello?”
He learned to pause and to interject at appropriately spaced moments. He learned, through observation, that some calls were simply monologues, and the receiver would just stare into middle space while the speaker in the earpiece spouted their pearls of wisdom. He got so good at it, he forgot occasionally to take the phone from his ear and he would walk into stores or his job with the phone still there, slick with sweat.
His girlfriend once asked him who he was talking to, and he froze.
Who was he talking to? He desperately scanned faces in his mind, but the situation — a romantic dinner — scuppered any clear thought, so he stammered “a co-worker,” which understandably aroused her suspicions.
He had been on the phone a lot lately.
She had let her fork fall onto her plate in the restaurant.
After that incident, Answar was careful to conduct his pretend-phoning in private. In toilet cubicles, for instance. With his pants around his ankles, he would place the phone to his ear. There was no noise, save for the occasional crackle caused by his perforated eardrums. He was angrier now on the phone line, heated in his responses, sometimes shouting, “I don’t know what you mean by that! What are you trying to say to me!” or “I’m not going to be able to make it! New York’s too far, too fucking full of people!” But most of all, his responses were mundane, just simple statements of fact, arranging meeting times and things of that nature. “Three o’clock? Absolutely. Three o’clock will work. Bye.”
The pretend-phoning was beginning to feel like the sanest thing Answar could do. The only thing, really.
(Spelk Fiction, March 2016)