Long Distance

Short Fiction for Guests of the WordFeeder
Sunday, July 4, 2010

“Norm honey, aren’t you going to answer it?”

Becky, the girl Norman Allgood had been dating for the past few months, had seen that look on his face before, whenever the subject of his parents came up. But lately, when the other cell phone he kept in his desk drawer would ring, the usual angst was laced with… with fear? Fear wasn’t something most people see in their friends, and she wasn’t sure, and couldn’t imagine why it would be there.

“You go hang out with Raye for a minutes,” Norm told her, but didn’t bother to look up, his eyes fixed on the open drawer and the white cell phone laying on top of some papers, next to the Baby Ruth he kept in reserve, his favorite candy bar for as long as he could remember. Reaching into the drawer, he picked up the phone and flipped it open. Pausing a moment before putting it up to his ear, he looked up, waived Becky away, and she left.

“Hey, Mom? Dad?” Becky heard Norm start talking, the tone of his voice apprehensive and uncharacteristically hesitant for a guy who ordinarily exuded confidence.

Across the floor, her best friend Raye was sitting on the edge of Becky’s desk, looking across the open space of their seventh story offices where all their stations were separated by low rise walls, barely tall enough to give even the illusion of privacy. It was late, almost 7:30, at the end of a very long day and even longer week.

“He’s talking to his parents again, isn’t he?” Raye was looking over at Norm, aka “Babe” which is what she always called him, because that’s what he was in almost every respect.

“Yeah.”

“What is it with this guy and his parents? I get that he has issues. I mean, who doesn’t? All that religiousness is one thing, but this preoccupation with his parents… Are you sure he’s worth it?”

“I’m sure.” The commitment in her voice was unmistakable. “This guy’s got a core,” Becky moved her head slightly from side to side. “There more to Norm than anybody I’ve ever met.”

“Including me?”

“Especially you,” Becky played with her friend, taking her eyes off Norm to get her mood back to normal. “…You should see the way he looks at their picture when he walks down the hallway in his apartment. Sometimes, I’ll get up in the middle of the night..”

“Spending a lot of time at his place.”

“At least I’m getting some on a regular basis.”

“Jerk.”

“Serves you right for interrupting me. ..Anyway, I’ll get up and find him sitting on the edge of his big leather chair, sitting there in his shorts and t-shirt, unable to sleep. His notes and articles he’s copied will be spread out on the ottoman and rug all around him, but I’ll see him looking across the living room at this picture of the three of them together. I’ll watch him and wonder what he’s telling them, in his head I mean, and what, exactly, he would want them to know about me.”

“Ever meet them?”

“No, but I talked to them, sort of, a couple of days ago. I was walking past Norm’s, he was out interviewing some guy, when the phone rang, so I answered it for him.”

“I thought he made you promise to never never ever touch that phone.”

“Well, he did, but I had the good sense to pretend like I wasn’t really paying attention, just in case.”

“And you wonder why none of your relationships ever last. …So what were they like?”

“I.. I don’t know. I said, ‘Hello.’ There was some static, but I heard a woman’s voice asking to speak to ‘Norman.’”

“How parental, calling him by his full name.”

“…I told her he wasn’t here and started to ask if I could take a message when a man’s voice told her to hang up, and that was that.”

“Not too friendly.”

“No.”

“I gather he got the other phone so they wouldn’t know his regular number?”

“You know, not exactly. It was weird. We were walking around the other night, after dinner, lookin’ in at some of the craft shops along Righteous, you know, that block where all those churches used to be. Norm’s talkin’ to me about how I should consider putting a patch of blue in my hair…”

“What?”

“Yeah, he likes the way it looks. Anyway, this guy, he’s dressed in a robe, sort of like a Friar that gave up bathing for Lent, comes over and asks Norm… ignores me, and I was wearing that peach tank top, my best no bra bra, the one you..”

“Unbelievable. What is it with these Friars? You’d think they were monks, if you didn’t know better.”

“What?”

“Keep talking.”

“Anyway, this guy asks Norm if he wants to buy a raffle ticket for a dollar. We both figure it’s a scam, but there was something about the guy, so Norm starts to reach in his pocket for some money when the guy tells him, ‘It’s worth it,’ he says. ‘It’s a winning ticket.’ I mean, he doesn’t even tell us what the prize is and, get this, the ticket’s blank, not even numbered. Anyway, Norm decides to give the guy credit for his pitch. ‘What the hell,’ he says, and gives him a ten.”

“Ten. Wow. What do you suppose he’d give me for a quickie in the supplies room?” Raye scratched the underside of her chin, pretending it was a serious question.

“Cute,” Becky smiled at Raye. “So the guy hands Norm the one ticket, looks up at him, and says, ‘Believe me, brother, when I tell you Hell has nothing to do with it,’ and leaves.

“I’m taking the last Hershey’s Kiss” which she did out of the open bag Rebecca kept on her desk, adding the silver foil and paper tag to the pile she’d been making while they talked. Looking up, she realized that Becky had stopped and was staring at her. “Hey, I’ll get you some more.”

“Sure. … Anyway, two days later, early, Norm’s in the shower when the doorbell bongs. Nothing out the peephole, so I open the door.”

“You shouldn’t do that. Maybe there’s someone waiting for…”

“I open the door and there’s a paper bag on the floor in the hallway with a handwritten note stapled to it. ‘Congratulations, and thank you for your charity.’”

“Have you moved in with Norm?”

“No. It’s too soon.”

“Right,” Raye rolled her eyes to hear her friend splitting hairs. “…How’d he know where Norm lives?”

“Haven’t a clue. Even if he followed us to the building, he wouldn’t have gotten in.”

“That’s creepy,” Raye paused for a second, rolling the last Kiss around her mouth to savor the chocolate. “So what did he win?”

“Goodnight ladies.” Their supervisor walked past Beckey’s carrel on his way to the elevator. “Enjoy the weekend.”

“You, too, Mr. Johns.” Raye shifted into her friendly professional demeanor.

“See you Monday,” Becky followed up quickly just as he was about to turn the corner.

Talk resumed as soon as they were sure Mr. Johns was out of earshot. “..So he won the phone.”

“Yeah, it’s the kind you buy at Walmart and add minutes on-line. ..I show it to Norm, but we’re running late, so he throws it into his backpack, figuring he’ll play with it later.”

“Hey, I’m starving. Should we order pizza?”

“How ‘bout if we eat at the new Greek joint?” It was Herb, their friend, and Norm’s long-term buddy since they grew up together, who worked for a graphic arts shop a couple of blocks away.

“Hey, Herb.” Raye liked him, but couldn’t get him to ask her out, not yet anyway.

“What was that?!” Herb asked, knowing full well.

Becky almost fell off her chair laughing.

“I think I just boopsed,” Raye confessed, smiling with embarrassment. “Hey, I’m tired and losing control of my body,” she told them, and then tried to change the subject. “We’re waiting,” she said, still trying to regain her composure, “for Norm. …Becky, honey, could you get it together. I could use a little support. ..He’s talking to his parents,” she explained, nodding in the direct of Norm’s desk where, his back toward them, he was still on the phone.

“I don’t think so,” Herb corrected her.

“You don’t think so what?” Ray didn’t get it.

“He may be on the phone, but he’s not talking to his parents.”

“How do you know?” Becky asked.

“I know that because his parents died in a boating accident a few years ago. I was at the funeral.”

“Bullpoop.” It was a vulgar as Becky let herself go.

“For real. They’re long gone. Dust to dust. Ashes to…”

“I get it,” Becky understood.

“Then who’s he talking to?” Raye whispered, seeing that Norm had finished up and was on his way to Becky’s carrel.

“Sorry, guys.” Norm looked beat. “Some personal business. Let’s get something to eat.”

“Long distance?” Raye asked, only half-kidding, waving her hand in front of her face to clear the air.

A short few moments later down the corridor, Norm paused just short of pressing the elevator button, turned and finally got around to answering her question. “You could say that,” he told Raye to her face, just as the door opened and the four of them got on in a moment of silent awkwardness.

“Hey,” Herb turned to Raye when the doors had shut.

“What?” she answered him.

“You think we could go out sometime?”

————————-

“There. There he is.” The woman sitting in the passenger seat was watching Norman and his friends leave the office building where they worked. Her husband, Norm’s father, had already seen them.

“You know, this is way too risky, being here like this. Someone could see us.”

“Are you kidding, Jack.” Norm’s mother continued to follow the son with her binoculars. “I don’t even recognize us anymore.”

“People in witness protection aren’t supposed to…”

“I don’t care. I wanted to see my son.”

“The phone we arranged for him to get should have been enough, just to hear his voice now and then.”

“The girl sounded nice. …I still think we should tell him the truth.”

“Are you kidding? We’re only safe as long as he thinks we’re calling from the great beyond.”

“Hey, he’s a good kid. Don’t mock…”

“Take away the paranormal crap, he’ll tell Herb and the girl, and try to find us.”

“The static was a nice touch.” Norm’s mom strained to see him clearly.

“Yeah. ..Thanks.”

-wf

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