Compliance

First Tony heard the bushes rustling. Then he heard breathing. “Is someone there?” he asked, beginning to turn around.

“Be cool, man,” came the reply.

“What?” Tony turned around completely to see who was standing in the bushes behind him.
The rebuke came immediately. “Are you kidding me with this? Don’t look at me.”

“Huh? Oh…”

“That’s right, turn around.” And as Tony complied, the stranger added, “Thanks, now just be cool. Thought I’d never get away from the old lady.”

Tony scanned the other park-goers. “Is that her? Tall woman, pink skirt?”

“You know it. And what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I tell ya, man. You think you have a handle on things. You think the world makes sense. Then all of the sudden all the rules change. You gotta figure out your own way.” Tony heard disconcerting noises behind him, along with a heavy sigh. “Been holding this one in all day.”

“Are you…” Confusion, disgust, shock, Tony felt it all. “You’re hiding behind me so you can pee? I’m your pee shield?”

“Potty training,” the toddler said with an embittered laugh. “They may have taken my diapers, but they’ll never make me use the potty.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by m on Unsplash

Ring

Ring 

He always let the phone ring twice before answering, just to be sure it was a real call.

Ring …  

“Hello?”

“I hate you and I never want to see you,” a shrill voice rang out.

“Um … who is this?”

“Cheryl” the voice replied.

He paused a moment to reflect, his mind swimming through a sea of names and faces, but landed on nothing familiar. “I don’t know anyone named Cheryl.”

“Who is this?”
“Matt. Matt Reinhart.”

There was a pause. A gasp. A click. And he walked away from the phone.

Ring … 

Ring 

“Hello?”

“I want you to know that I hate you, and I never want to see you.”

He sighed. “Cheryl, this is Matt again. Goodbye.” The phone was barely out of his hand when he heard it.

Ring … 

Was it … ?

Ring … 

Should he … ?

Ring …

“Hello?”

“Don’t hang up” the now familiar voice squeaked.

“Cheryl?”

“Just let me explain …” He decided to let her. “Today has been very rough and filled with a lot of misdirected hostility. Then I heard your voice and your name, and something changed inside me. I knew. Matt Reinhart … do you believe it’s possible to hate someone you’ve never met?”

* * *

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Story by Gregory M. Fox
from A Breath of Fiction’s archives
originally published October 23, 2010