Call Her (excerpt from the novel Nokia 5160)
Timothy Willis Sanders
Matt walked to the kitchen and opened the cabinet. He picked up and shook a box of Frosted Mini-Wheats. He heard “tshk-tshk” and threw the box away. He untwisted the tie on the bread and took out two slices.
Matt placed the slices in the toaster oven and thought, “I don’t know what to do today.” He turned the dial to “Toast” and picked up his Nokia 5160. He pressed and held down the 2 button. He saw bank display on the screen. He heard the woman’s automated voice say, “Thank you for calling…” and pressed 4-4-2. He put the Nokia 5160 to his ear and heard her say, “Your balance…for account number ending in…nine…nine…seven… seven…is…one hundred…and…eleven…dollars and…sixty-six cents.”
Matt thought, “$19 a day” and imagined buying a box of Frosted Mini-Wheats. He set the Nokia 5160 on the bookshelf. He watched the bread turn brown in the toaster oven. He imagined wiping milk and Frosted Mini-Wheat from his mouth. He opened the fridge and took out a butter packet. He heard the toaster oven ping and looked at the clock. He read 8:39 a.m. and thought, “In two hours, I’ll be hungry again.”
Matt pictured Vik’s red hair and removed the toast. He opened the butter packet and scooped butter on his knife. He thought “Where’s my phone…” and walked to the living room with butter on his knife. He thought “Can’t remember…” and looked at the countertops. He thought “Fucking just had it,” and rotated his body. He saw his Nokia 5160 on the bookshelf and thought, “Damn, goodness…”
Matt said, “Not sure what I’d do without you,” to the Nokia 5160. He imagined losing Vik’s number. He imagined running into her in 2046. He imagined her saying, “Fuck you. You never called,” and moving away from him. He pressed the down arrow on his Nokia 5160. He stared at Vik’s number. He saw the butter on his knife fall to the carpet. Matt stared at the butter on the carpet. He leaned down and picked up the butter with his knife. He rubbed the stain in the carpet with his big toe.
Matt walked back to the toast. He spread the dropped butter on his toast and said “Shit!” He stared at the toast and remembered seeing dust under an electron microscope. He thought, “Microbes” and pushed out his lips. He thought “Jelly, peanut butter, honey, bananas…groceries, gah” and bit into the toast. He finished the toast and scooped crumbs from the counter into his palm.
Matt walked to the bathroom and took off his shirt. He pressed the blemish under his shoulder blade. He stared at the blemish and imagined calling his mother. He imagined saying, “Mon, I’m dying. I’ll be alive for a while and then I’ll die…” and thought, “…like everyone.”
Matt pulled his shirt on. He pictured Dr. Wong’s gold-rimmed glasses. He brushed his teeth and washed his face. He tried to imagine Vik’s breasts. He heard a noise outside and looked out the window. He watched two lizards fighting on the balcony. He went to bed and masturbated. He fell asleep and dreamed. He woke and tried to remember his dream. He read 10:48 a.m. on the clock. He thought, “It’s too early. She’s probably a late sleeper.”
Matt walked to his bookshelf and read the spines. He took The Collected Poems of Anne Sexton from the bookshelf. He looked at the author photo. He thought, “Anne Sexton” and imagined Anne Sexton passed out in a garage. He pictured his Uncle Larry’s garage and thought, “Who dies in a garage?” He opened the book to the poem Rowing and read The gnawing, pestilent rat. He said, “Gnawing, pestilent rat,” and read awful rowing to god. He looked at the clock and read 10:59 a.m. He took Rowing and sat on the futon. He blinked his eyes and sniffled. He read When a man enters a woman, and imagined Vik’s skin. He laid the book on his chest and looked at the ceiling.
Matt heard his Nokia 5160 ring. He pressed the Menu button and said, “Hello.”
Lucas said, “Hey man. Just got off. Wanna go to Shelly’s?”
Matt looked at Rowing and pictured Shelly’s face. He imagined Shelly seeing the blemish on his back and saying, “Oh my god.” He thought, “When a man enters a woman.”
Matt said, “Are you going now?”
Lucas said, “No. Like around 2.”
Matt said, “Sure. ”
Lucas said, “Cool.”
Matt said, “Where should I take that European girl,” and thought, “I should just not call her.”
Lucas said, “Take her to Eastside Bistro. The food is really good and it’s cheap.”
Matt said, “Where is it?”
Lucas said, “On the Eastside.”
Matt laughed and said, “Ok, cool.” He thought, “One day I will take her to Venezuela or something.”
Lucas said, “I’m gonna go home and shower. I’ll call Eric and then call you in a couple hours.”
Matt said, “Ok, later.”
Matt pressed the End button. He remembered the automated voice. He thought, “$19 a day? Is that right?” He thought, “I can spend $50 max on Vik’s dinner.” He imagined sitting in the Arby’s drive-through with Vik. He read enters a woman / like the surf biting the shore. He thought, “Biting” and sighed. He walked to his stereo and played Stevie Wonder’s Too High. He laid on the futon and read four Anne Sexton poems. He put the book on his chest and closed his eyes.
Eric said, “Did you call her?”
Matt thought, “Why you askin?” and said, “Nah, I will tonight.”
Eric said, “Cool man. Good catch.”
Matt imagined a wild raccoon kicking and snarling inside a metal wire cage. He watched a couple bike across the street. He heard Neil Young and thought “Dad music.” He pictured Eric’s dad reading a newspaper. He remembered the stacks of newspapers throughout Eric’s house. He remembered when Eric’s dad extended his hand over a large stack of newspapers. He remembered how fast Eric’s mother walked through the house and how well she dodged newspapers. He thought, “That does something to a kid,” and glanced at Eric. He hummed along with Neil Young. He thought, “I remember this song. This song is ok.”
Matt took off his coat. He looked at the other people in Shelly’s house. He thought, “None of them are smoking,” and looked at his Nokia 5160. He read 3:53 p.m.
Matt imagined saying, “Hi, remember me,” to a girl with green shoes. He forgot her name. He remembered her at a roller-skating rink months ago. He thought, “Bee Yourself!” and imagined a man in a bee costume giving him a thumbs-up. He imagined saying, “I don’t know myself,” to the girl with green shoes. He wondered if she liked Anne Sexton. He imagined saying, “A man enters a woman like the surf biting the shore,” and her giving him a terrified look.
Matt listened to people talk about George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. He overheard someone say “Corporations…” He looked at his Nokia 5160. He thought, “Hi Vik, this is…” and ran his thumb over the screen. He clicked the down arrow. He read Vik on the screen and thought, “Vicky. Can I call her Vicky?”
Matt pressed the Call button. He thought, “I can’t ride a bike for ten miles. I can’t grow a beard. I’m not a vegetarian. I eat Frosted Mini-Wheats.” He saw Eric pass a joint to Lucas. He imagined two pink sharks chasing a seal.
A woman said, “Hello.”
Matt thought, “Uh” and said, “Is Vik there?”
The woman said, “Yeah, let me get her.”
Matt said, “Thanks,” and thought, “Knew it wasn’t her.”
Matt watched a man with a ponytail drink Lone Star.
Matt heard a woman say, “Who is it? Hello.”
Matt said, “Vik?” and sensed his lips getting cold.
Vik said, “Yes, this is her.”
Matt said, “It’s Matt, we met the other night.”
Vik said, “Hi Matt. Hey, can I call you back in a minute. I’m busy.”
Matt said, “Sure.”
Vik said, “Ok, bye” and Matt heard a click.
Matt thought “Failure” and “Blew it.” He looked at the man with a ponytail and thought “God, fuck that guy.” He imagined locking him in a garage. He thought, “What if I have HIV?” and pictured the blemish on his back. He pictured growing skinny and sweating out a hospital gown. He imagined logging on to Yahoo Mail and sending farewell emails. He imagined Eric saying, “He was in so much pain.” He thought, “I don’t know if she has my number.” He looked at Eric and Lucas. He imagined saying, “Guys I blew it. She told me she’d call back and it’s been 5 minutes.” He heard Shelly say, “Idiots and war criminals.” He looked at his phone and thought “Wait, caller ID.”
Matt thought “I am such a bitch” and looked at his Nokia 5160. He thought, “If she doesn’t call back, fuck it.” He felt the Nokia 5160 vibrate and pressed the Menu button.
Matt said, “That was quick.”
Vik said, “Yea, I was giving my cat a bath.”
Matt said, “Oh man. Was he upset?”
Vik said, “She. And she’s tough to get in. But she, uh, she relaxes.”
Matt pictured Vik lathering soap into spotted fur.
Matt said, “What’s her name?”
Vik said, “Lady.”
Matt pictured Lady curled in a rocking chair.
Matt said, “What’s she look like?”
Vik said, “All white. Prissy.”
Matt said, “Aw, that’s cute,” and thought, “She thinks you’re a bitch.”
Vik said, “She’s skinny and all wet. Bundled up in my arms.” Matt heard her say, “Your all clean now,” to Lady. He pictured Lady licking her wet fur.
Matt thought “Ok. Here we go,” and said, “Hey do you want to have dinner. Maybe Eastside bistro on Sunday?”
Vik said, “Sure, yes. Gah! Lady!”