Below is a short story I entered to the 2018 Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition. The challenge was to use the first and last lines from another story and make them your own. I chose “A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker. It is the first short story I’ve ever written and I’m super proud of it, even if it didn’t make the cut.
A devoted wife waits for a phone call from her cheating husband as a proof of love in order to decide whether or not to sleep with her ex-boyfriend.
THE JEALOUSY GAME
Please, God, let him telephone me now. I don’t know if I can keep up this façade much longer.
Lilly fingered the pearl beads of the rosary around her neck. Five decades, ten Hail Marys, fifteen Mysteries. She stuffed her phone into the pocket of her black sheath dress and leaned on the balcony railing, breathing in the cool night air.
It was early still; not even eight yet. He was probably still with her, his phone turned off. He hadn’t seen her message yet. Give him some time, Lilly. As soon as he knew she was with her ex, he wouldn’t take long to call.
Max appeared beside her and handed her a glass of red wine. “I know what you’re doing.”
She took a long sip. “What am I doing?”
“You wanted to come here but you’re scared to go through with it.”
“What makes you say that?” She turned to look at him.
“I know you better than you think.” He brushed his hand from her earlobe all the way down her back. “You call me out of the blue after three months of silence. Now, be honest. Is your husband really cheating or was that just an excuse to see me?”
“He is cheating on me.”
“He denied it. You only have circumstantial proof at best.”
“A wife knows.”
He chuckled. “You say he’s been working late a lot. Maybe that’s all there is.”
“He’s also been acting weird.”
“He’s always been weird.”
She rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t answer his phone when I call. He always used to answer, no matter what.”
“You’ve been married two years; it happens. Look, I don’t really care if he’s screwing around or not. Hell, I hope he is. What I care about is you.” He stroked her cheek. “Maybe this is all in your mind. Or maybe you want David to be cheating on you, so you can have an excuse to get back at him with me.”
“Ha! Where did that come from? I’m not delusional.”
“Why did you call me, then?”
“I needed someone to talk to.”
“Yeah, but why me? You could’ve called anyone.” He smiled. “Admit it, Lilly, you wanted to see me. You missed me.”
“Maybe I did, but even if David broke his vows, I’m not sure if I can break mine.”
“Because of your religiosity?” He threaded a finger through her rosary.
She pulled it away. “You mock me, but it’s what I truly believe.”
“Your beliefs didn’t stop you from cheating on me with him.”
“That was different.”
“Because we weren’t married? How convenient. You still made a commitment to me.”
“Not in front of God.” She paused. “It doesn’t matter. You’ll never get it.”
“You’re right about that, so let’s just get to the point. What do you want?”
To save my marriage. “I don’t know. I shouldn’t have agreed to come.”
“And yet, here you are.” He placed both of their glasses on the table beside them and took her by the waist. “Even with your vows, you’ve never been able to let go. All our secret meetings have led you here, so what’s stopping you from taking the next step? Be with me.”
“And what, divorce David?”
“He’ll probably do it for you. There’s nothing left to save, Lilly.”
“But …” Was he right? David still hadn’t called. Did that mean he didn’t love her anymore?
“It’s okay.” He held her to him. “The sooner you realize it, the better. Then we can be together once and for all.”
“I …” Five, ten, fifteen. Breathe.
“And if you’re worried about money,” he said, “I have enough. I’ve been saving.”
“It’s never been about the money. I’ve told you that a hundred times.”
“Yeah, but I know that’s why you dumped me for him, why it’s so hard for you to leave him.”
Lilly groaned. “I need to use the restroom.”
As soon as she was shut in, she took out her cell phone. David should’ve been home by now and seen her message. Maybe he thought she was bluffing. Or maybe he wanted her to go through with it after all. It wasn’t cheating if the husband was in on it. She slunk out of the bathroom and into Max’s room, then laid on his bed and took a selfie.
She sent him the photo and texted, Max is about to do all sort of naughty things to me. If you want me to stop, call me. Or do you want to reignite our game?
“Well, I see you made your choice.” Max stood by the doorway.
Lilly jerked into a sitting position. “I guess so.” Her hand shook as she placed her phone on the bedside table.
Max laid beside her and ran his hand up and down her thigh. “I haven’t been with anyone since we started seeing each other again. It’s been killing me to have you so close but still out of my reach.” He kissed her neck.
Was he joking? Eight months without sex? Although, it was getting up there for her too. Two months. Not a kiss since she came into the picture.
“You’re the only one I want, Lilly. I can’t take it anymore.” He kissed her.
There was no turning back now. Was this what David wanted? If you sleep with Max, it’s the end of our marriage, he’d said when she proposed this scheme three months ago, and now he wanted her to go through with it? He was supposed to stop her, to tell her he loved her and beg for forgiveness. Had that other woman already won?
She broke the kiss. “Let’s just take our time, okay? You don’t want it to be over too fast, do you?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Is this really it, Lilly, or are you playing some sort of game with me?”
“Why would I play games?”
“’Cause you love torturing me.”
“When have I tortured you?”
“All this time. Telling me you have doubts but refusing to leave him.” He paused. “And what about when you made me watch you have sex with that guy we met online?”
“That only happened once.”
“Yeah, but you loved how jealous it made me, how we had mind-blowing sex afterward.”
“I think I remember you loved it too.”
“Is that what you’re doing now, torturing your husband? Are you gonna tell him what we did?”
“Don’t be silly.” She shoved him back and straddled him, easing the dress up her thighs. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s all in my head and this has all been one big excuse to be with you.” She kissed him, pressing her whole body against his.
“Oh, Lilly. I love you so much.”
Five, ten, fifteen, twenty. Don’t think. Just let go. If this was what it took to make David love her again, she’d do it. God would understand.
Her phone beeped.
She scrambled to get it and stumbled out of bed.
“Is that him?”
I’m done playing your games. When you come home, I’ll be gone. I found someone who doesn’t make me hate myself and truly loves me. Enjoy your night.
Lilly gaped at the phone.
“What is it?”
“He’s leaving me.” She stood rigid. “HE’S LEAVING ME FOR HER!” She hurled the phone against the wall, shattering it.
“Whoa, hey, come here.” Max led her back to the bed and sat next to her. “Calm down. Tell me what’s going on.”
Lilly dug her fingers through her hair and took deep breaths. Five, ten, fifteen. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. She clutched her rosary. Twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five. Tears began to fall. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Forty, forty-five, fifty.
She wiped her face. “He was supposed to stop me.”
“Stop you from what?”
“Cheating on him.”
“Is that what this night has been all about?”
She nodded. “He’s always been jealous of you, and I just wanted to give him a taste of his own medicine. But he doesn’t care.” She sniffled. “He’s leaving me.”
“Oh, so you were using me to get back at him?”
“It doesn’t matter now.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” He turned her face towards him. “Look, if he doesn’t want you, it’s his loss. Screw him. I still want you to stay with me.”
“It’s not that easy, Max.” She shot up and paced around the room. “I’ve invested too much time and energy into this marriage. He can’t leave me. I won’t let him. I need to go.” She walked toward the door, but Max blocked her way.
“I’m not letting you leave.”
“What? You can’t make me stay here.” She tried to go around him, but he latched onto her arms.
“Just let him go, Lilly. He doesn’t love you like I do.”
“But I love him, not you. Let me go.” She struggled against him and stumbled back. “You are so pathetic. I dump you for another man and you keep holding on. I would laugh if it weren’t so sad.”
His mouth slackened.
“Why do you think I keep you around? David knows about every one of our meetings. He even saw us that night at the bar when I kissed you. It’s how I keep him interested, how I keep the spark between us. The jealousy keeps our marriage running.”
“We have amazing sex when I return to him. He’s ashamed afterward, but I know he loves the game as much as I do. As much as you did.”
“Then, all this time, everything you said about having doubts, it was all lie?”
“Ugh, Max, I don’t have time for this. I need to stop David.” She walked away. “I’ll tell him how many times you made me come, and he won’t be able to resist me, I know it.”
Max caught her by the shoulder and spun her around. “It’s because of the money, isn’t it? Isn’t it?” He shook her.
“For crying out loud, it’s never been about the money.” She shoved him back. “I love him, now more than ever. He has something you never did: self-respect. He’s willing to hate me, and that turns me on more than you can ever know.”
She turned for the door, but he seized the rosary, and she stumbled and fell on the bed. “That can’t be true. You love me.” He straddled her and wrapped his hands around her neck.
She clawed at his hands, gasping for air, but he pressed harder.
“You belong to me, Lilly. I won’t let you leave me again. I can’t …”
She pushed his head away and scratched his face to no avail. His grip around her neck kept tightening. He was crying, blubbering something she couldn’t quite hear. Her vision darkened. David, why did you bring me to this?
Time stood still. Was God expecting her or would He turn her away? She was His creation, after all. It wasn’t her fault.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?
Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five.
I hope you enjoyed it! If you liked it, leave a comment below. And even if you didn’t like it, you can leave me some constructive criticism. I’m always open to improve.