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Biting the Bullet
Hazel Marshall -
Reaching out I touched it. I started to depress the numbers in the correct sequence and imagined how it would sound in the room I was trying to reach.

‘I can do this,’ I thought for the twentieth time that morning. ‘All I have to do is pick up the phone and speak. Sound confident, that’s the secret.’

I stared at the phone. It glared malevolently back, daring me to touch it. Its shiny black covering with its little LCD display smugly showing the numbers of the last five people who had phoned me. Mum, somebody trying to sell me double glazing, John, wrong number and Sara. With complete absorption I studied their numbers as though they were some hidden code which would give me the answer to a complete lack of self confidence. They weren’t, although I did discover that if I screwed up my eyes all the numbers looked like the number eight. It’s the way the digits are entered. The number eight fills in all the sides, you see. All the other numbers have less sides than the number eight.

Reaching out I touched it. I started to depress the numbers in the correct sequence and imagined how it would sound in the room I was trying to reach. Would it be a deep, rumbling ring or a high, melodious tone? Would it be hidden under a pile of papers or sitting on its own? I touched the keypad and pressed the final number. ‘That’s how easy it is,’ I told myself. ‘Now all you have to do is pick up the receiver.’

Daringly, I did so. I stared into the little black dots in the earpiece and wondered why the earpiece had so many more holes than the mouthpiece. Something to do with sound waves obviously. Maybe I could look it up on the internet instead of phoning .... No, that was only putting off the inevitable.

The humming which I had first heard when I picked up the phone had now deteriorated into an automaton’s voice asking me to replace the receiver if I wasn’t going to dial a number. She wasn’t actually saying ‘Shit or get off the pot’ but that was the overall message she was trying to convey. Hastily I put the receiver down again.

My legs were beginning to get pins and needles due to my kneeling on them so determinedly by the phone. It started in one big toe and then crept up the foot and over the next one.

‘This’ll make me call,’ I thought triumphantly. ‘Soon the pain from the pins and needles will annoy me so much that I will have to stand up. Only I’m not allowed to stand up until I’ve made the phone call and so I’ll have to make the phone call.’

The fatal flaw in this argument was discovered when I realised that I was the only person who was enforcing this rule. Despite the strongest protestations from my inner consciousness within thirty seconds I was rising and walking about trying to dispel the agonising pinpricks which were afflicting not only my feet but also my lower calves.

Now that I was up, I may as well go to the toilet. All that anxiety made me want to go. But wait, I’m sure I was once told that the best time to make a phone call was to do it while needing to go to the toilet. Apparently, or so the theory went, you sounded businesslike and confident, because, in reality, you were trying to get the business over and done with so that you could get on with the more urgent matter at hand - going to the toilet.

It made perfect sense in a way but I decided against it. Largely because going to the toilet would put off making the phone call for at least another two minutes.

My husband was using the phone when I returned to the living room. I gazed at him in envy. The easy way in which he held the receiver, the determination with which he pressed the correct buttons on the keypad and the confidence with which he spoke to the person on the other end.

When he was finished he came over and ruffled my hair affectionately.

‘Done it yet?’


He laughed and left. He knew better than to get me in conversation at such a time. I could delay for hours with such an excuse.

The phone’s demeanour was no longer menacing. It was now regarding me in a somewhat pitying manner. Soon it would adopt a patronising demeanour as it realised that it was safe for one more day from my fumbling attempts at using it. Suddenly annoyed by its implacability I lunged for the receiver and lifted it to my ear. With trembling fingers I punched in the correct sequence of numbers. The phone rang only once at the other end before it was picked up, thereby giving me no chance of slamming it down again.


‘Hello. Is that the Royal Park dental practice?’

‘I’m sorry, you’ve got the wrong number.’

Damn. Now I would have to start all over again.

© Hazel Marshall 2001

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