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The Obscene Caller

The Obscene Caller

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Published by Diana Altman
Who is on the other end of the line?
Who is on the other end of the line?

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Published by: Diana Altman on Jan 04, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/20/2012

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THE OBSCENE CALLERBy Diana AltmanWhen Jonathan and I were first married, we lived in an apartment near Boston. My fatherhad died and left me just enough money to quit my job teaching and begin what I hoped wouldbe a writing career. To supplement income from freelance work, I was a private tutor. MyJapanese students had returned to Kyoto so I was running an ad again in the Boston Phoenix.Each morning Jonathan drove his Saab to Brookline where he was an architect in a smallfirm. I fed our cats, then sat down at my desk. Discouraged by the rejection slips that arrived likebad smells, I had decided to take every
one’s advice and write a
dirty book. Sex sells, they allsaid. The problem was overcoming my own modesty and writing down things that would makeme die of shame if read by my in-laws. Usually I took the phone off the hook and kept itdisconnec
ted until I’d
finished working but since my tutoring ad was running I wanted to beavailable. Nowadays
we have so many options with telephones but back in the 1970’s we justdidn’t.
Even answering machines were rare. My friends knew not to call during the morning sowhen the phone rang I hoped it would be someone needing English lessons.
Miss Dutelle?
Yes?
 
It was a pleasant young man’s voice.
 
Will you watch me masturbate?
 My stomach flipped over. Could my thoughts while writing have been projected into theworld?
“Who is this?”
 
“Bill Stan
ley
.”
 
 No. Couldn’t be.
I knew Bill Stanley. He was in my class when I taught seventh grade, askinny little kid who hoped to make himself look more developed by wearing a pack of 
 
Marlboro’s rolled into the sleeve of his tee
shirt. It was touching to see his toothpick bicep.Always disorganized, I sat with him one afternoon arranging his three-ring notebook, separatinghis math notes from social studies, sorting homework papers according to subject. How oldwould he be now? Sixteen? I could see him surrounded by other young punks guffawing withtheir palms over their mouths. How could he do this to me, me who helped him understand that ashort story is not just retelling
last night’s television show. “This is the saddest phone
call I ever
got,” I said and hung up.
Heart pounding, I went back to my desk. Now where was I? The girlwas in the bedroom with...
brrringgg
! Maybe this would be a new student.
“Hello?”
 
“Well, will you?”
 I slammed the phone down. It rang again and I stood there waiting to see how long themoron on the other end would let it ring. If I took the phone off the hook then prospective clients
would continue getting a busy signal and they’d give up
. The phone was still ringing as I put onmy coat and went out the door.Picking items off the shelf at the health food store, I imagined confronting Bill Stanley.
I’d go
to the high school where he was surely failing every subject, walk into the remedial
reading class and say in front of everyone, “
H
ere I am, Bill, come to watch you.”
Jonathan did not believe a former student would call after three years.
“Maybe I’ve put
myself in touch with all the scurviness in the world by spending time writing
a dirty book,” I
said. Jonathan read the chapters a
nd said he didn’t th
ink the book was all that dirty. I wondered if I was more sheltered than I realized.It was the blustery time of year when people from other states wonder why anyone wouldlive in New England. Gray every day, skeleton trees, slushy streets. It was already dark at four inthe afternoon. I was still smarting from the phone call of the week before, hurt that Billy would
 
want to disgust and scare me. I’d felt so motherly toward him when he showed up in my
homeroom after school. At the same time I kept imagining scenes of revenge. If that little brat
ever called again, I’d fix him. I’d catch him and punish him.
Through the window I could seelights come on in the house across the street. Someone came to the window and pulled down theshade.
 Brrringgg
!
“Hello?”
 
“Will you watch me masturbate?”
 Ha! Here was my chance.
I’d teach that little creep to mess with me.
If he thought being
sent out to the hall for disturbing the class was bad, he hadn’t seen anything yet. “Who is this?”
 
“Bill Stan
ley
.”
 
“Do I know you?”
 Silence. Then,
“No
.
I don’t think so.”
 
Then how do you know me?
 
“I don’t.”
 
Then how did you get my name and my telephone number?
 
You really want to know?
 
Yes, I do.
 
Should I tell you?
 
Yes, you should.
He would
make up some stupid story and I’d say you can do better 
than that, Billy.
Out of the paper. You advertised as a tutor.
He heard the sharp intake of breath he
’d
been
hoping for. “
Well, will you?
 

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