I entered a short story contest via NPR. The prompt appears immediately below, and my entry appears shortly thereafter. I didn’t win, but I had fun writing the story. Because of the ending, I chose for the main character, the speaker, to be a male.
THE PROMPT: Round 10 of Three-Minute Fiction, the short story contest from weekends on All Things Considered was based on the following premise: Write a piece of original fiction that can be read in about three minutes (no more than 600 words). The judge for this round was author Mona Simpson, whose most recent book is My Hollywood. She most recently won a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, among other prizes. Here’s her twist for Round 10: Write a story in the form of a voice-mail message. “It doesn’t have to be crazy, but it could be crazy. By nature, first person — basically, a soliloquy or a monologue.”
A Perfect Stranger (By Joan Tornow)
Hi, this is Scott. You don’t know me, but please don’t hit erase! This is important. I’m phoning for your daughter, I mean on her behalf. That’s a funny word, behalf. She’s fine, don’t worry. She’s more than fine, she’s amazing. Sorry, I’m talking too much. She just boarded a plane for Pittsburgh. There it goes, it’s pulling away from the gate. I’m waving but I don’t see her. Before she boarded, she tried to phone you to say she’d be getting in too late to tell you she arrived safely. Her phone was dead, so she gave me your number to call and explain.
She missed the actual plane. Well, I mean they’re all actually planes, all the planes here at the airport. Actual planes. The first one, she missed. We laughed about that. You had to be here. We were talking in the bar near her gate right next to my gate. We forgot to watch the clock. She was telling me why you don’t want her to marry that guy in Pittsburgh. She told me he thinks she talks too much and sometimes when she’s with him he’ll look up suddenly and say, “What? Did you say something?” and her heart just folds up. That’s how she put it; she said her heart just folds up.
She told me to tell you she’s still thinking about what you said. About not doing something she’ll regret. She said she probably does talk too much, but I told her she talks just the right amount. I wish she was still here talking right now. Crazy, right? I mean we just met. I didn’t even get her name, so could you call me with it? On her behalf?
Oh, I almost forgot. I think she left her garment bag. Let me see if the tag is inside or something. Oh, wow. White lace. Just a sec… Just a sec…
Okay, she did say the wedding was tomorrow. Also that you didn’t want any part of it. Said she wasn’t sure she wanted any part of it. That made us choke on our drinks. Then, she looked me right in the eye and asked, “Should I go through with it?” and I said, “It’s your decision, but here you are telling a perfect stranger you’re not sure you’re in love with him,” and she said, “You’re right. You are a perfect stranger.” And we laughed again. She’s beautiful when she laughs. You know how her nose wrinkles up? And then she tucks her hair behind her ear, but it has a mind of its own. Like her.
Just call me, will you? That would be great. Star 69. I missed my flight, too, so I’ll fly out tomorrow. But first, can I bring you the dress? No way to get it to Pittsburgh, is there? She’ll be a gorgeous bride, but not tomorrow, right? No!
Forgive me, but if she would have me, well, I mean if we talk some more, your daughter and I, if we can, and we — well, you know — if we continue like we did here at the bar and at the gate, well, what I’m trying to say is, if it did work out, I would always listen to her and not let her heart fold up. Hope you’re still listening. I didn’t hear the beep, so I have a question: “May I marry your daughter?” Beep.