The International Writers Magazine: When a Stranger Calls
Mourning for Moaning
The day Mrs. Stevens became agoraphobic was the day that her dearly beloved husband, Mr. Stevens died. For twenty-five years, Mrs. Stevens always had the same dream: that a robber was waiting at the bottom of the staircase to steal her costly jewels from her wooden jewelry box. Her nightmare became true on a Sunday evening and her husband died of a heart attack the very next evening. Here’s how it happened and then the aftermath of her sad life
For twenty-five years, the Stevens’ ritual included wine, cheese and crackers, and Mr. Stevens walking in his silk pajamas to the bottom of the stairs and calling out, “Is there anyone in this house that doesn’t belong here?” When no reply came forth, Mr. Stevens called out to Mrs. Stevens, as if she were his shipmate, “All clear, dear. There’s no one at the bottom of the stairs.” Still, that didn’t stop Mrs. Stevens from having the carpeting pulled up so that she could hear the sound of footfalls on the stairs. This ritual went on year after year until finally one evening, Mrs. Stevens dream came true.
The doorbell rang. Mrs. Stevens carefully tiptoed over to the window and looked down. She assumed that it was Publishers’ Clearing House arrived to announce that the Stevens’ had won ten million dollars. As she was preparing her makeup: eyebrow liner, a little blush, pink lipstick on her faint lips, Mr. Stevens made his way downstairs in his silk pajamas to open the door. She called out as he made his way down the stairs: “I know it’s Publishers Clearing House. I see a white van and who else could it be? A door-to-door salesman. Well, tell him we’re not interested. We’re trying to save money, invest it in something worth a return on a well-worn dollar.”
Mr. Stevens opened the door and saw no one standing there. He assumed that the door-to-door salesman had gotten impatient and decided to move onto the next house. He closed the door, only to turn around and find the barrel of a gun pointed at his head. A dark voice called out, “I wanted to surprise you. I came in through the back. Well, you’ve got company now, but I can’t stay long, so listen to what I have to say, and listen carefully.” Mr. Stevens nodded his head. He wasn’t sure whether to wet in his pants at the surprise invitation he just received or cringe.
“Is there anyone else in this house?” the voice called again.
“I didn’t hear you come in. You would need to throw a rock to break in. How on Earth did you get in?” Mr. Stevens asked bravely.
“That’s easily. I reached up my hand through your dog door. Fluffy didn’t give me a hard time. That’s a shame for you.”
“Her name is Sasha and she’s not trained to deal with the likes of you,” Mr. Stevens cried.
“Look, I’ve no time for banter. Is there anyone else in the house besides you?” the voice asked again impatiently.
“Yes, my wife, Martha. She’s upstairs. She’s got a sixth sense about these things. For years, she always waited for you, and here you are. Come to rob us. Please don’t hurt us.”
“Hurt? That’s not my style. Now, move upstairs but turn around first.” The voice placed a blindfold on Mr. Stevens, and the two of them headed up the stairs. Mrs. Stevens hadn’t heard the conversation between the voice and Mr. Stevens. She looked out the window but didn’t see the door-to-door salesman headed back down the driveway. She called out, “Harry, what is it? Well, I guess we didn’t win after all. Perhaps another evening.” She opened the bedroom door with one hand and with the other hand, she began wiping her wasted makeup off. Her eyes drooped in surprise as her husband’s slippers grated softly against the wooden stairs as a man in all white with a surgeon’s mask came up the stairs.
“A doctor? What is a doctor doing up here?” she asked. The voice shoved Mr. Stevens into the room, knocking him into Martha. He didn’t turn on the light. Mr. Stevens whispered, “A gun. He’s got a gun. Oh, Martha. Your dream has come true. But not the one we quite imagined,” Mr. Stevens cried as the voice shoved him onto the bed.
“I’ve come for one thing only. I don’t know you. I haven’t studied your house so please be assured that I haven’t cased your place. I picked your house because I was at a party and someone made a joke about you. They said that you’ve feared for over twenty-five years that someone was going to break into your house. That your biggest fear was that someone was going to break into your house and take your valuables. Only thing is that I’m a writer in need of inspiration. You're writing my next book right now. What happens will determine if you live or die.”
“Who are you? Why are joking like this? We’re the blunt of someone’s joke and you need inspiration. Where is Publisher’s Clearing House? Where is Candid Camera? I’ve heard enough!” Mrs. Stevens cried. She went over to the top drawer of her Victorian-style drawer and removed a musical box. She began playing a song from the Nutcracker.
“It’s not Christmas, dear,” Mr. Stevens said flatly. He sat on the bed.
“Actually it is Christmas. See, on Sundays, I am a writer. On Mondays, I’m a painter and on Tuesdays, a researcher. I happen to know for a fact that Mr. Stevens is a well-respected member of the community and Mrs. Stevens is a socialite. So, what have I come for? To start a new party!” He snapped his fingers.
“Take off your clothes,” he said.
“This isn’t funny anymore. Mrs. Stevens and I would like to know how you found out about us. This can’t be real. You can’t be real.”
“Oh, but I am. You see, I’ve developed a habit too and you’re going to pay for it,” the voice said.
“But how did you find out about us?” Mr. Stevens asked.
“It’s funny about small towns. I read in the newspaper about how your wife was afraid after that other house was robbed. You see your mistake now. And the funny part about it was that it wasn’t even me. It was some other guy that goes by the name of Craig. He’s a painter. But me, my name is Oliver and I’m a writer. See, the other house, I needed inspiration so I painted on the walls while the family was away. But then, I saw your wife on the news, talking about how she’s been afraid for years that something like this would happen on her block. Now, I was having a one-man party. Now, we’re having a three-person party. Now, I was a bit nervous at first because this is the first party I’ve ever had with other people too. But I want to write a story and I need your help. See, it’s about this married couple that gets robbed by a psychopath. How does it end? Maybe it’s a choose your own adventure story? I’ve heard from you,” the voice said, pointing at Mr. Steven, “I’d like to hear your input. How should this story end?” The voice asked, pointing at Mrs. Stevens.
“You rob us, we call the police, and then you go away!” she cried.
“No?” the voice asked.
“Well, then, I guess you’ll have to tell me.”
“See, with that other home, I just painted a picture. The news said that the place was robbed but they exaggerated for dramatic effect. I did no such thing. That would be a crime. Instead, I ate in their refrigerator and told them that I would be back someday. Only I don’t like them as much as I like you two. See, that family has kids, and kids have a tendency to get in the way of things. Grown-up things. Fun things. Are you getting a better understanding of how things operate?”
The Stevens stood there in their master bedroom with shocked looks on their faces.
“Apparently not. But you will. I happen to know the human condition on loneliness is a vicious cycle. One that requires understanding, obedience and humility. I don’t want your jewels, honey,” the voice said, reaching over and squeezing one of Mrs. Stevens’s breasts.
“What do you want?” Mr. Stevens said. His mind was racing; he immediately thought of sex. He looked around the room for some type of covering for his wife.
“Sex comes later,” the voice said, almost as if he were reading Mr. Stevens thoughts.
“What comes first then?” Mrs. Stevens asked.
“Your telephone number. It’s listed in the directory but I thought this would be more fun. Asking. Our first date.”
“You want our telephone number? For what? To keep in touch,” Mrs. Stevens said sarcastically.
“God bless her. Ain’t she great? I see why you want to protect her,” the voice said,
“What do you want from us? Because we’re going to report you,” Mrs. Stevens said.
“Why? I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t stolen anything. I didn’t break anything. I just wanted to talk. In fact, I’ve got a monologue in mind. But you sourpusses are too much for me. Still, I think we should read it. But first, should I tie you sir to a chair and make you watch while I have sex with your wife?”
“Sex with my wife? Sex with my wife! Why, you bastard!” Mr. Stevens said, getting excited. He stood up but then a sharp pain in his chest pulled him back into his bed.
“This is too much for you? Perhaps a rain check is in order?” the voice said.
“Oh, my god!” screamed Mrs. Steven,” My husband is having a panic attack or a heart attack. Call 911. Please,” she cried.
“I didn’t mean to overexcite you. I was just kidding. I think I’ll be leaving now,” the voice said. He skipped over to the stairs and flew down the banister. Mrs. Stevens called emergency but it was too late for her husband. He was having a heart attack.
The voice cried out, “Good-bye, Mrs. Stevens. Didn’t mean to frighten your husband. But we’ll be in touch. I’ve got to go now before I get in trouble.” Mrs. Stevens was on the phone with the emergency personnel but it was too late for her husband. The shock of the voice announcing that he was going to have sex with Mrs. Stevens was too much. By the time the paramedics arrived, it was too late for the husband: he died the next evening.
One would think that having someone break into the house, banter with the Stevens’ and make cruel jokes would be enough for Mrs. Stevens to want to put her house up for sale. No, instead, the event had the exact opposite effect on her. She no longer wanted to answer the door. She stopped looking for Publishers Clearing House. Her doctor said that she had a panic attack of her own. The news crew from the local television station came around again to make Mrs. Stevens a local celebrity but she was paranoid and on edge. After all, that was how the voice had discovered her.
She began to subscribe to Weekly World News, investing her time in reading about conspiracy theories and aliens giving out greeting cards made on other planets. She simply didn’t have time to go outside of her house to talk to a local reporter or try to guess who the voice was based on his shape, his voice, his build in the darkened master bedroom that fateful evening. She began sleeping in the den. Of course, the telephone rang nonstop. This she actually answered. There was some anxiety in her belief that it had been a practical joke gone bad. After all, the man hadn’t taken anything from then. He hadn’t taken anything from the last house he “broke into.” Life took ordinary steps.
Two weeks later . . .
It was a Tuesday evening. The funeral for her husband had already passed. Martha Stevens was getting used to living life without her beloved. She enjoyed her evenings: watching Wheel of Fortune, frozen television dinners, a phone call from her sister in Birmingham. She began to think of it as a dream gone bad, a nightmare that ended with her husband’s death but she was safe, or so she thought. That evening, Martha laid in bed, rubbing herself down with cream. She put on her night mask and kissed the picture of her dearly departed husband, said her prayers, cried a little, drunk a little champagne (a mourning ritual), and climbed into the bed in the den and fell asleep. At three o’clock in the morning, the telephone began to ring. Martha decided to ignore it at first. After five rings, the telephone stopped ringing. Martha breathed a sigh of relief but then, one minute later, the telephone began ringing again. Martha was unsure whether or not to get the phone. It could be a relative calling to announce that someone else in the family had died. Middle-of-the-night phone calls always alarmed her. For a split second, Martha fantasized that it was her late husband. Calling her to tell her that the whole robbery was a practical joke, that him dying was a fluke, that he was still alive and the whole thing had been planned as a part of an upcoming surprise. After all, Martha hadn’t planned on losing her husband so close to her birthday. Against her better judgment, Martha answered the telephone.
“Oh. Oh, yes. Oh, yes, baby. Right there,” the voice said.
“Who is this?” Martha asked.
“You know who this is.”
“I can have this telephone called traced. I can find you once and for all,” Martha said.
“Sorry about your husband. So sad to read such sad news,” the voice said and hung up.
That one particular telephone call jolted Martha right out of her bed. She wasn’t sure whether to start laughing or crying or both. Then, she came to her senses. She looked at the clock. He had been on the phone with her for less than a minute. Could the phone call be traced? Martha began to cry. True to his word, the robber was back into her life. Martha called the police, who told her that she was being paranoid but if the telephone caller called again, they would place a tracer on her phone.
The next day, Martha decided to invest in a gun. Friends told her to change her telephone number and she did. Weeks passed and nothing happened. Martha began to fear again that he might break into her and Harry’s home again as retaliation since he could no longer moan on the telephone. On a Wednesday evening, this time around seven o’clock, the telephone rang, She answered the phone, only to hear the sound of heavy breathing. Martha screamed into the phone, “Stop harassing me! I’m old enough to be your mother! I don’t leave my house much because of you. You won, okay, young man. You won. Now leave me alone!” she said and slammed the phone down.
That night, she decided that she was going to have an actual conversation with the young man. Perhaps if she talked with him, he would eventually go away. Martha had to admit that since Harry died, she was lonely too. She had enough of the young man’s loneliness. Again, the telephone began ringing in the middle of the night. Martha was fed up with the man’s desperate cries for attention.
“I decided to invest in a gun because of you,” she told him.
“Why such violence? I just want to have a little fun on the telephone. Now, have I touched you?” he asked.
“No, you haven’t,” Martha said. She began to hear moaning outside the den on the ground floor of the house where she slept now. She peeked out the window. No white van. Just cats mating below her window on the ground behind the bushes.
“I heard moaning outside my living room. I looked outside and two cats were mating. Get a cat!” Martha said and started to hang up.
“Oh, Martha. I just want one opportunity.”
“One opportunity? One opportunity at what? Sex? Well, I’m not that kind of girl. The only man I slept with is gone. Gone, gone, gone. I’m just not interested in intimacy.”
“Martha, I’m lonely and I know you are too in that big, old house by yourself. Just on the telephone. That’s it. Just this once and then you’ll be free. I’ll be free. Everything that I have to offer is free,” the voice said.
“Free? Look, I’m tired and I need some peace. What can I do to make this over?”
“Scream. Moan. Banter with me on the phone. Make my dreams come true.”
“Okay,” Martha said and began moaning along with him.
© Jasmine Marie Jan 2010
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