In late 2015, The Guardian and Hodder & Stoughton held a horror fiction competition judged by Stephen King. I didn’t win, but here’s my entry, Sausage Fingers.
‘Hey, don’t hang up on me, bitch.’
‘John?’ she says, staring at the cellphone and wondering how he’d managed to get her new number so quickly.
‘Detective Cole, is that you?’ She’s not sure now. John Cole doesn’t normally sound so… agitated. It’s one of the things she respects about him. That calm, unflappable manner.
‘I’m sorry, I think I mistyped the number,’ the stranger says. She relaxes. ‘Look, I’m really sorry. I thought I was ringing, well, it doesn’t matter who I was ringing, but, yeah, I just, sort of…’
‘Got a digit wrong?’ she suggests.
He laughs. ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s it. I’m really, really sorry. I hope I didn’t come across as, you know, a bit of a, well…’
‘I was going to say something harsher, but thanks for being charitable. Look, I’m really sorry.’
‘So you’ve said.’ She smiles and wanders back over to the hob to check how the saucepan is doing. Not bad. ‘It was a woman you were arguing with, am I right?’
‘How… yeah, yeah it was. My ex-wife. You won’t believe the stuff she’s been doing with child access, you know?’
‘Oh, that’s awful,’ she says, stirring the broth. ‘You aren’t getting on then?’
‘Ha, no. She’s had her lawyer pull it back to just one afternoon a month. And she’s the one citing unreasonable behaviour. Can you believe that?’
She laughs, not unsympathetically. She has her own issues with the legal system.
‘Uh, while I’m on,’ he adds, ‘sorry about calling you a bitch earlier.’
She’d forgotten about it, actually. ‘No, that’s fine.’
He laughs nervously. ‘Well, this is awkward.’
It is, somewhat. She doesn’t talk to people much. Particularly not men. Not for long anyway. Conversation never seems to last as long as she’d like it to. She blames her shyness. ‘No, it’s not awkward,’ she says, mentally apologising to the memory of her parents for lying. ‘It’s funny,’ she insists. ‘It’s like something out of a sitcom.’
‘Yeah, yeah, I guess it is. I’m not catching you in the middle of anything, am I?’
‘No, nothing major,’ she says. ‘I’m just boiling up some stock.’
‘Oh, so you’re a whizz in the kitchen?’
She blushes. ‘Well, I try.’
‘Good enough to feed the family, right?’
She catches the expression of the man sat at the kitchen table. He seems to be glaring at her. She turns away. ‘I actually live alone,’ she says.
‘Oh, I’m sorry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, I’ve been by myself for nearly a year now.’
‘She got all the kids then?’
‘Both of them, yeah. Jack and Albie.’ He says the names mournfully, as if that’s all he feels he has left of them.
‘Jack and Albie,’ she repeats. ‘Boys, then?’
‘Oh yes, and…’ He pauses and laughs again. ‘Here’s me, rattling off my life story to some complete stranger I dialled with my sausage fingers. Hell, it’s not like I’m even likely to meet you in the flesh, is it? You’re a cellphone. You could be anywhere in the States.’
She grins. ‘Actually, you’re ringing from an Ellington County number, am I right? I’m just over the river in Burton.’
‘No kidding? Burton, Massachussetts?’
‘Oh my god! Talk about a coincidence! I’m in Bradford, and I ring a cellphone and I get talking to a gal just down the street.’
‘Bradford’s a nice little town. I’ve visited a few times. I was there last Christmas, in fact.’
‘Yeah? You go on that ice rink they set up in the square?’
‘That’s the place.’
‘Me too. I was with the boys. And her.’ There’s a pause. ‘Oh god, you weren’t there Christmas Eve were you? You know, when they found that guy…’ He coughs and tails off.
‘In the tree? No,’ she says. ‘I was there the night before, on a date.’
‘Ah,’ the man at the other end of the line says. ‘Good date?’
‘To begin with, but it didn’t last.’
She giggles. ‘I’ve been chatting with you for, like, ages, and I still don’t know your name.’
‘No. No, you don’t. It’s Calvin.’
‘Kelvin? Like the temperature?’
‘No, Calvin, with a ‘c’.’
‘Ah,’ she says. ‘Like the church.’
‘Hmm? Oh, yes. I get you. Most people say ‘like the pants’.’
She giggles again.
‘What’s your name?’ Calvin asks.
She purses her lips. Should she tell him the truth? She does. ‘Abigail.’ No need to apologise to her parents this time.
‘Abigail,’ he repeats, as if trying it on his tongue. ‘I like it.’
‘Thank you,’ she says. ‘We should…’ She can’t say it.
‘Meet up?’ he guesses.
She can feel her face turning pink and fans herself. She tries to say ‘yes’, but has to settle for a positive-sounding murmur.
‘I’d like that,’ he says. ‘You sound really nice, Abigail.’
‘So do you, Calvin.’ She can’t stop herself smiling. She puts a palm to her cheek and is amazed at how warm it is.
‘When are you free?’ he asks. ‘I know a great restaurant in Burton. Enrique’s, just off Harmon Street, under the colonial museum. Latin place. Fantastic food, but somehow you can always get a table.’
‘Sounds good.’ She looks at the man in her kitchen. He’s still glaring at her. ‘How about tonight?’ she says, defiantly holding his gaze. The man’s expression seems to convey his disgust in her.
‘Tonight? Wow. Uh, yeah. I’ll give them a call, just to be sure, but yes, I can meet you there. Is seven good for you?’
She glances at the kitchen clock, and then at the hob. She could leave those bones simmering while she’s out. ‘That would be marvellous.’
‘Okay, right, well… how will I recognise you?’
‘I’m the petite blonde with the red jacket.’ The man at the table seems to scowl. She covers the phone mouthpiece and hisses at him: ‘I am petite!’
‘Fantastic,’ Calvin says. ‘I mean… Yes, well, I’ll see you this evening.’
‘And I’ll see you.’
‘So, uh, bye then, Abigail.’
There’s a pause, and then his handset clicks down.
She sits down at the kitchen table and breathes out. Her hands are shaking, she’s that excited. ‘I know it’s soon,’ she says to the man opposite.
He doesn’t say anything. That’s typical of him though. It was the lack of conversation that made it not work out between them.
‘Calvin sounds nice. I think this might be The One.’ She’s still grinning and feels embarrassed at such a display of emotion in front of the man from last night. He stares back at her. ‘Well,’ she adds, ‘there is the whole divorce, I guess. But, you know, it can happen a second time, right? You know, L-O-V-E?’ She scowls at his surliness. ‘I believe in love, even if you don’t.’
After a few minutes of crazed silence, she decides she has to talk to someone about all of this. Someone who will actually listen and engage with her. She goes through to the utility room and removes another pre-paid cellphone from the bag behind the dryer.
She knows the number by heart. No chance of misdialling.
‘Hello, Detective Cole, it’s me again. You won’t believe what just happened.’