I've got a couple more stories done today, the Phone Tag and Backwards exercises are both done now, and both were very nice to write given how much trouble I'm still having with 'The Reluctant I'. The backwards one I have a few reservations about, but more on that later. For now, here's the Phone Tag exercise. Just a couple of quick notes beforehand: pay attention to the date at the start, it's important, and be prepared for quite a dark and tragic piece.
Last Call (Phone Tag exercise)
Norfolk, England, August 1940
Stanley waited patiently by the phone, just as he always had, while Ella (he should really call her Miss Stapleton, but she never minded) made the call. As she spun the dial and asked to be put through, he sat in silence, sipping his hot chocolate and trying not to wince at the heat. He was nearly seven, after all, and it wouldn’t do for him to be upset by it. Not in front of Ella, anyway. She was a Grown Up, and never upset.
The call seemed to take longer than usual, and when the phone finally seemed to connect, Ella did not immediately hand it over like she usually did. Instead, she seemed to stiffen, and when she spoke, her voice that Stanley had come to know meant safety and strength suddenly seemed to say ‘help me’.
“’Hello? Hello?” she began, and Stanley leant forward to try and hear. He knew he shouldn’t, and that mother would think it awfully rude, but something wasn’t right. There was no ‘Hello, Mrs Wallace, can I pass you to Stan?’ or even the bright and lilted ‘How are you, Mrs Wallace? Good, good, I’ll pass you over now.’ that he sometimes heard if she was in a particularly good mood that day.
“Hello?” she said again, and then “Oh.” A long silence followed, in which Stanley could do nothing but wait, perched on the edge of the step.
“No, no, he’s here. But I’ll hear it first, please.” Stanley noticed that she was doing the cross voice that he only got when he was naughty.
“Right…. Right… Oh crikey… Oh God.” Ella paused for a moment more, swallowed, and seemed to calm herself.
‘Close your eyes and count to ten.’ Stanley wanted to tell her, just like she taught him, but he said nothing. It would be rude to interrupt, especially a Grown Up. Still, she managed to regain composure as he knew she would, and started speaking again, her voice even more ragged now than before, a tapestry fraying at the edges.
“Ok… Ok, I’ll tell… Oh God no. How did it…?”
Stanley began chewing his lip and tapping his fingers in patterns of four beats on the bannister, counting each and trying to understand. Why wasn’t he allowed to speak to Mother? Or even Father? At the very least he would like to have said goodnight to them. Confused, he went back to listening to the call, fighting to understand. Like in the stories, Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery. Those stories always had a happy ending, didn’t they? Especially when Ella told them.
“Right. Right. Both of them?” Another age-long pause. “Ok. So what will you do about… what will you do about him?”
Stanley noticed the pointed look his way that Ella must have thought he hadn’t. His mind was flying now, running through idea after idea. Maybe they were coming to visit, and they were already on the way? Maybe they had gone on holiday away from the city? But why hadn’t they told him?
“Right. Of course I will. Of course I will.” Ella put the phone down and stepped back as if it were a live snake, or a dead rat, or a monster from under the bed she always promised weren’t there. “I’ll tell him.” She said hysterically, voice high like it went when she was singing, but not as happy. That voice made the world better, this one seemed to tear it apart. “I’ll tell him… I’ll tell him.” She stared into the distance at something Stanley couldn’t see, but because he tried anyway, he didn’t see the tears flooding her eyes.
After Time (he didn’t quite know how much), he finally spoke up.
“Can I speak to Mother and Father now, please? Are they going to phone back?”
Ella appeared to evaporate before his eyes. She still stood there, not moving, but all the life and soul had left her like a sparrow flying south to warmer climes. She looked down at him, but not into his eyes, and finally, finally told him.
“They aren’t going to call back…” She sobbed, sinking to her knees and clutching desperately at Stanley. “Oh God, Stanley, they’re never going to call back.”
- First off, a note on the tone of this piece. It really is upsetting and tragic, but again I hope I've handled it well. This is probably one of the saddest and most unpleasant pieces I've written, but at the same time, I think it is in a way quite touching and relevant. The story touches on a lot of themes that I do like, such as the innocence of childhood, the bond between parents and children and the way this is affected by various circumstances.
- This piece is also unusual for me in that the setting is not only a new area in terms of my writing, but also massively informing of the piece, without being explicitly explained. The first person that read this missed the date at the start, and the piece took on an entirely different meaning. So that's something I've not really done before, and I'm interested to hear whether it works or whether the story as a whole is too vague.
- I hope that the perspective on the story works well enough. I think I've managed to capture the mind of a 1940s child well enough, but I'm of course open to criticism.
I'll post the next one later today, and for now, any comments are welcome as per usual.