My son, age 12, made up the game. It was the time of landlines, phone books, and telemarketers interrupting our family dinners. That night, we slowly stopped talking as we heard Greg say for the third time, “Could you speak a little louder. Maybe I need to adjust my hearing aid.” Then again, “Louder. It’s an imaginary hearing aid.” He came back to the table bragging, “She hung up first.” “You were on for at least two minutes,” Callie, 10, said with admiration. “Napkin back on your lap,” I chimed in. Two nights later, when the phone rang, Callie told Greg to sit still, this one was hers. “Could you repeat that,” she said. “I’m writing it down but my pencil needs to be sharpened. Now, what are you giving away? Oh, did I say ‘giving away.’ That’s what I wrote down. What I really want is a beer crisper.” She held the phone out from her ear and said, “Wow, I guess that was his good bye.” We muffled our laughter, and I said, “Now back to the history assignment you were describing.” Danny, at 9, knew his voice would give his age away, so he perfected his own spiel, asking plaintively if the person calling knew when the head of household was coming home, that he last saw her in the clothes chute, and he needed to get her out. “That’s where Santa Claus enters our house.” “Don’t bang the receiver down,” I said. “And take turns.” This went on for most of the winter. Several times I reminded them that these poor souls were just doing their job. My husband claimed he wouldn’t be able to talk without laughing. I said we didn’t have to interrupt our dinner to answer the phone. All three children begged me to take a turn. Smiling, I shook my head. It didn’t occur to them I was selling them something every day of their lives.
PAMELA PAINTER is the author of four story collections: the award-winning Getting to Know the Weather, The Long and Short of It, Ways to Spend the Night, and the Flash collection Wouldn’t You Like to Know. She is co-author of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Great Jones Street, Harper’s, Five Points, SmokeLong Quarterly and ThreePenny Review, among others, and in the flash anthologies, Sudden Fiction, Flash Fiction, and Microfiction. Painter’s flash stories are forthcoming in The Best Short Fiction of 2017 and New Micro Fiction 2018. Painter has received grants from The Massachusetts Artists Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts, has won three Pushcart Prizes and Agni Review’s The John Cheever Award for Fiction. Her flash stories have been presented on National Public Radio, and on the YouTube channel, CRONOGEO. Her work has also been staged by WordTheatre who presented Painter’s stories in Los Angeles, London and New York.