Ok, a bit of a brag, but last weekend began with a big surprise….a call from the editor of the Broad River Review informing me that one of my stories had just won their 2015 Rash Award for Fiction. This was obviously a very happy moment for me, but my initial joy was heightened by two things. Not only had I heard my cellphone ringing, but I had dared to answer it.
I have a rather uneasy relationship with my phone. I do not suffer it, and telephone calls in general, gladly, and I am convinced that this comes partly from spending my childhood in South Africa, and partly from my dislike of being beholden to anything.
When I was growing up in Johannesburg, long distance calls were greeted with a mixture of delight and despair. Obviously, we were all thrilled to hear the voice of a loved one, sizzling gently like bacon down the static of the line, but with that connection came the commensurate anxiety of what it must cost. Calls were reduced to rapid bouts of dialogue to ascertain the weather/health/reason of call before a swift hang-up. My grandmother is still like this. No matter how often I assure her I am Skyping her for free, she still can’t get that urgent tone out of her voice. In her mind, people aren’t supposed to gurgle away their afternoons down the telephone line. Calls are for determining whether someone is still alive, and if so, might they be free for bridge at 3pm on Thursday?
My American husband is quite the opposite. I couldn’t quite believe it when I first met him in London, and discovered that on weekends he would lounge on the sofa and chat to his family in the US for well over an hour. It seemed so, so profligate. “But I’ve got a great rate,” he would assure me, and of course he had. A phone call to Philly at that time didn’t cost much more than an organic egg sandwich.
But old habits die hard. I still feel guilty when I dial London from my landline, and in all situations I always prefer to text or email. Interestingly, I share this reticence with my children. Growing up with Skype and FaceTime, cost isn’t something they consider, but they can’t bear calling their friends’ homes. To them an old fashioned phone call seems like an invasion, an harassment, akin to barging in someone’s front door.
And then, of course, there is the whole “being beholden” chestnut… Remember the broken-hearted friend who wouldn’t get off the phone when you were a teenager, and you couldn’t make a cup of tea because the phone cord was only four feet long? I hated being trapped like that and I hate the fact that now I am supposed to be constantly available. What about stealth mode? And the joy of disappearing? Everyone should be allowed to slide into the undergrowth sometimes but now, especially if you are a parent, it seems irresponsible.
But I will admit that there are some things about rotary phones that I miss. That lovely articulated spinning sound as the wheel wound back. And the murmurings of a crossed line, those not-quite-voices, like the vocal emanations of tin ghosts. I loved them – it was like listening at a keyhole no-one knew was there. And of course our smartphones, with their apps, and cameras, and maps, and dictionaries and instant libraries are a wonder. I just prefer it, when mine is turned to silent.
So imagine my surprise when at 8:30am last Friday morning, my cell phone actually rang. Initially, I wasn’t even sure if it was mine, as I hadn’t heard it’s mechanical chirrup in days. It was an out of state number. Of course it was. Who calls me but those weird robots telling me I have won a cruise, or the people who want to improve my credit, or a collection agency looking for someone else? I picked up. Perhaps I hadn’t had enough coffee. And a good thing I did too because it turned out that while I wasn’t being offered the opportunity to head out on an overpopulated shopping mall into the Caribbean, I had won something far far better. A literary award.
We Are All Nobody will be published in the Broad River Review later this spring.
Copyright Sam Grieve 02/04/16