Call Waiting by Peter Dabbene

Sam: What’s that sound..? Is that..?

Reg: Dude, your smartphone is ringing.

Sam: I don’t recognize the number.

Reg: Sales call?

Sam: They do this thing now where it looks like it’s a person calling.

Reg: It’s not a person?

Sam: No, it’s one of those automated people.

Reg: Like a robot?

Sam: A computer, pretending to be a person.

Reg: What a lie.

Sam: Too true.

Reg: I don’t recognize any phone numbers anymore. If it’s not programmed into my phone, I’m flying blind.

Sam: Yeah, I barely remember my own.

Reg: Not knowing who’s calling. Gawd.

Sam: It’s like the 1970s or something.

Reg: It’s stopped.


Sam: It’s started again.

Reg: Same number?

Sam: Yes.

Reg: No one calls twice unless it’s bad news.

Sam: Oh my God, you’re right. What do you think happened?

Reg: I don’t know. But whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

Sam: You think someone died.

Reg: If I had to bet…

Sam: It’s not stopping.

Reg: Wait for it…

Sam: Maybe I should—

Reg: It’s stopped.

Sam: You’re like a psychic.

Reg: I think you mean a telekinetic.

Sam: Whatever.


Sam: Ringing again.

Reg: Awful.

Sam: Horrendous.

Reg: Wait… couldn’t it be good news?

Sam: Are you crazy?

Reg: I’m serious. Maybe someone won the lottery or something. And they’re desperate to tell you.

Sam: I’ll remind you that this isn’t coming up on my contacts list. It’s not someone I know well.

Reg: I guess someone wouldn’t randomly call to tell you they won the lottery.

Sam: And if they did, that wouldn’t exactly be good news for me. Kind of rubbing my nose in it, really.

Reg: Maybe they’re going to share some of it with you?

Sam: That would never happen.

Reg: Yes. Now I’m being stupid.

Sam: If it was good news, I’d get a text first, then a call. Especially after I didn’t pick up the first couple of times.

Reg: Hmm.

Sam: Text: “Pick up the phone, I just won the lottery!” Text: “Pick up the phone, your grandfather died!” You see the difference.

Reg: No text means the phone call is bad news. Q.E.D.

Sam: It could be from an old person who doesn’t text.

Reg: Aren’t they all dead?

Sam: Some are still alive.

Reg: Maybe one of them just died.

Sam: And another is calling to tell me.

Reg: It stopped.

Sam: Maybe the second person died, too.


Sam: Again with the ringing!

Reg: Maybe the bad news isn’t as bad as we’re thinking. Maybe someone just broke down somewhere.

Sam: Not as bad? Are you serious? I don’t want to deal with somebody’s mental breakdown! At least if they’re dead, it’s, like, done. 

Reg: I meant a car breakdown. Maybe someone just needs a ride.

Sam: With Triple-A, Uber, and Lyft? I guess it’s possible, but…

Reg: Whoever it is keeps calling.

Sam: If you were broken down someplace and someone wasn’t answering your call, you’d just call someone else, wouldn’t you?

Reg: Unless you were the last person on the list.

Sam: If I’m the last person on the list, maybe I’m not as close to that person as I thought I was.

Reg: You’re right. Like, they’re not even on your contacts list. Is it going to voice mail?

Sam: They keep hanging up when the voice mail kicks in. I guess you can’t force someone to talk.

Reg: You are the proof.

Sam: Q.E.D.


Sam: Fourth time! If this person wants to communicate, why won’t they just leave a message that I can review at my convenience? 

Reg: My voice mail has been full for three years. I’ve found it’s easier that way.

Sam: Mine’s full, too, now that I think about it.

Reg: So voice mail is not an option. Unless you listen to those old messages and clear them.

Sam: So not worth it.

Reg: You could just delete them without listening to them.

Sam: That’s so final. I feel like I’d be violating a trust.

Reg: You’re right, it’s more compassionate to keep them and just not listen to them.

Sam: I try to be a good person.

Reg: That’s why I love you.

Sam: I wish they’d just text.

Reg: No one doesn’t text unless it’s really bad news.

Sam: Why won’t people give bad news by text?

Reg: Or even e-mail?

Sam: Does that make sense? Or am I losing touch with humanity?

Reg: I know, right? Why should bad news be easier to hear than to read? It’s bad news either way.

Sam: OK, so it’s definitely bad news.

Reg: Except for snail mail. A letter would be nice, I think.

Sam: “We regret to inform you…”

Reg: Not so in your face.

Sam: People are just rude.


Sam: Ringing again. So annoying.

Reg: Why not just decline the call?

Sam: If I do that now, the person will know that I’m aware of their calls and don’t want to talk to them.

Reg: While ignoring them respects their feelings… wow, you’re like a saint.

Sam: But anyone who calls this much is flat-out crazy.

Reg: You mean like a serial killer?

Sam: A serial killer is definitely possible.

Reg: At least the call can’t be coming from “inside the house,” right? ‘Cause we’re not in your house. Did you ever see that movie?

Sam: Dude, it’s the age of the smartphone. The call could be from literally anyplace.

Reg: Including… right here.

Sam: O.M.G.

Reg: Politeness be damned, Sam. Block the number.

Sam: Done.

Reg: Turn your ringtone down, and let’s go. And if your phone vibrates, don’t pick up.

Sam: Ever.

Peter Dabbene’s poetry has been published in many online and print literary journals, and collected in the photo book Optimism. His stories can be found online at,,, and elsewhere, and his comic book work can be seen in the graphic novels Ark and Robin Hood. He has published two story collections, Prime Movements and Glossolalia, and a novel, Mister Dreyfus’ Demons. His latest books are the humor collections Spamming the Spammers, More Spamming the Spammers, and The End of Spamming the Spammers, along with an essay collection, Complex Simplicity. His website is