Runner-up: The Phone Call

By Peter Johnstone

Peter says: I’m 73.   I spent most of my life in Southsea but I now live in southern Germany with my family. My mother dabbled in writing. My father was a musical Houdini. I write short pieces to figure out my life.

“Hello, is that……Paul?”
“Yes, it’s me. Hello, Joan. This is a surprise! How are you?”
“Why aren’t you here?”
“Why aren’t you here? You said you’d be here today.”
“Erm, because it’s Saturday and I don’t arrive until Tuesday.”
“What day is it today?”
“It’s Saturday..
“And when do you arrive?”
“On Tuesday.”
“Let me look at my calendar. What day is it today?”
“It’s Saturday.”
“The twelfth?”
“No, it’s the fifth.”
“The fifth?”
“Yes, Saturday the fifth.”
“And, you arrive. . .on Tuesday.”
“Yup, that’s it.”
“The eighth?”
“That’s right.”
“I’ve got it written down here.  ‘Paul arriving on Tuesday’.”
“And you leave on Saturday, the twelfth.”
“That’s it.”
“And you’re coming here on Friday.”
“Oh dear, I’m so sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“Why’s that?”
“I get muddled up. I’m so sorry. What must you think of me?”
“It’s OK. We all mix up dates.”
“But I’m so embarrassed.”
“There’s no need to be. It’s fine. Everybody mixes up dates once in a while.”
“Can we go through it again?”
“Of course.”
“You arrive on. . .”
“On Tuesday. At what time?”
“About nine.”
“In the evening?”
“Yes, in the evening.”
“That’s right. I’ve got it written down here on my calendar, ‘Paul arrives, evening’.”
“That’s it.”
“And you’re staying with Mike.”
“You’ve got it.”
“And you’re leaving on Saturday.”
“That’s it, and I’ll have lunch with you on Friday.”
“Let me write that down. ‘Lunch with Paul’. . . Oh, I already have. It’s written down here.”
“Good, you usually write everything down.”
“I’m sorry. Can we go through this just one more time?”
“Tuesday the. . .”
“Do you have any idea when you’ll arrive?”
“In the evening, about half past eight or nine, depending on the train connections.”
“And then you’re. . .”
“Staying with Mike.”
“And I’ll see you on. . .”
“Any idea what time?”
“Lunch time. I’ll bring something light to eat.”
“And you leave on. . .”
“Saturday. That’s right, I’ve got it on my calendar.”
“Good.  I’m pleased it’s all straight.”
“I want to ask you something.”
“OK. What do you want to ask?”
“Well, er. . . Are you sure you want to come?”
“Of course, I do. It’s your eighty-fourth birthday. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“I get so confused.”
“It’s OK. It’s only sometimes, and we’ve known each other a long time.”
“Over thirty years.”
“It’s nearly forty years since we were teaching together.”
“Is it that long?  Where has the time gone?”
“Do you remember the Old Time Musical Hall?”
“How could I forget?  Now what did I sing?”
Paul breaks into song, “Let the great big world. . .
Joan takes over, “Keep turning.  Never mind if I’ve got you. . .
They sing together. Paul, who does not remember the words, fills in with, “La, la, la.
For I only know, That I want you so,” Joan continues, and tremulously sings the last line alone, “And there’s no one else will do.”
There’s a long pause before Paul breaks the silence, “And Penny and Katie dressed up as showgirls.”
“Yes, and that little lad. . .”
“Who did that Stanley Holloway piece from memory.”
“That’s him! On his ‘orse, with his ‘awk. . .”
“In his ‘and. . .”
“Brought the house down.”
“It was a wonderful night.”
“It was amazing. I’m really looking forward to seeing you again.”
“I am too. When are you arriving?”
“I’m arriving in England on Tuesday.” 
“That’s the. . .”
“The eighth.”
“Yes, Tuesday the eighth.”
“That’s right. Here it is. Paul arrives on Tuesday the eighth.”
“Do you know what time?”
“In the evening around nine.”
“You’re staying with Mike?”
“That’s it.”
“You’ll be here on Friday. Any idea when?”
“About lunchtime”
“Let me write that down, ‘A bout lunch time’.”
“And, you’re leaving on Saturday.”
“That’s it. Look, I’ll phone you on Monday to confirm the arrangements.”
“But you usually phone on Tuesday.”
“I know, but I won’t be there, because I’ll be travelling.”
“Oh, so when are you arriving?”
“On Tuesday, but I’ll phone you on Monday so that everything is clear.  Sorry, Joan but I’ve got to go. I’ve got the shopping to unpack. Best wishes for your birthday. See you soon.”
“But what day are you coming?”
“I’m coming on. . . Why don’t you look at your calendar and tell me what you’ve written.” 
“What date is that?”
“The eighth.”
“On Tuesday.”
“Yes, that’s it. Tuesday the eighth.”
“Any idea when?”
“What have you written on your calendar?”
“Erm. . .Ah, Tuesday the eighth, ‘Paul arrives in the evening’.”
“That’s right.”
“And you’re staying with Mike.”
“And, I’ll see you on. . .”
“What does it say on the calendar?”
“Wait a moment. Here it is. ‘Lunch with Paul on Friday’.”
“Very good.”
“And, you leave on Saturday.”
“That’s it. You’ve got it. But I really have to go. Have a lovely birthday party with your family, Joan. See you on Friday. Lots of love. Bye.”

He puts the phone down quickly and reaches into the shopping bags and then opens the fridge door to put milk and cheese in. The phone rings. He stares at it and lets it ring three of four times before answering.

“Hi, Joan.”
“Hello? Paul?”
“Yes, it’s me.”
“How did you know it was me?”
“I had a feeling it might be.”
“I wanted to ask you about when you’re coming.”
“OK, just give me a few moments to pull up a chair and make myself comfortable, then we’ll go through it.”