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Long Distance

By Jacqueline Doyle

This is how I imagine it, the phone call I can’t bring myself to make. Or am I recalling a dream, the old fashioned telephone booth, the glimpse of his ghost?

I’m on my way to Tomales Bay for a writers’ conference. I’ve been sad all morning, and suddenly I want to hear my brother’s voice. I know there’s no cell reception in this part of Marin. I’m not sure this can wait. I’ve been postponing it for so long, and if I wait another hour, I might not call at all.

     I’ve stopped at a telephone booth in a little town with two cross streets, a market, and a hardware store. There’s a large heap of change from my glove compartment on the cold metal shelf in front of me. The glass in the booth is clouded. Coins clatter on the shelf as I sift through them, putting the quarters on the left, dimes and nickels in the middle, pushing the pennies to the side. I drop in fifty cents and punch in the number of Steven’s cell from my address book, wondering if it’s still current. He answers on the first ring.

     “What’s up?” I say, because that’s the way he talks. “Not much,” he says, because that’s what he always answers. His voice sounds very far away.

     He’s sick, we’ve barely spoken for four years, we weren’t close for the last forty, so we have one of our classic nonconversations. At least he’s not talking about Mom’s will, the lawyer, the Trust, all the conflicts and animosities we can’t get past. I hug the black plastic receiver to my ear as he tells me about his latest home improvements, though I’ve never been to his house, two thousand miles from here in Wisconsin.  



About the Author

Jacqueline Doyle has published essays in The Gettysburg Review, Superstition Review, Waccamaw, Southern Humanities Review, Sweet, The Pinch, and elsewhere, and has earned two Notable Essay citations in Best American Essays. Her recent flash fiction collection The Missing Girl (winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition) is available from Black Lawrence Press. She lives with her husband and son in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she teaches at California State University East bay. Find her at This is her second appearance in Under the Gum Tree.