The Answering Machine


It was good while it lasted.

As if all color had drained out of things. As if music were the bridge to take you elsewhere, and elsewhere turned out to be right where you were, where there was no such thing as music.

He was alone in the kitchen, listening to the hum of the refrigerator as it played against the swishing of leaves outside.

Then the telephone rang. But there were certain persons he was afraid to talk with, especially on a telephone. So he let the answering machine take the call, while he stood by, listening for a voice, his ear leaning toward the possibility of a voice.

As if the kitchen were growing smaller.

It was someone calling long distance, from across the country. Someone to whom he was, and still is, as they say, attracted. Someone with whom he has had some ambiguous sexual relations.

Just as he reached to pick up the phone the voice said: if you’re there, don’t pick up the phone…

And so, following the voice’s instructions, he retreated a few steps, to play the part of the sad listener, as the sad message squeezed itself out from the tiny speaker of the answering machine.

Nothing but stillness now—a photographic negative. And the dull voice, too familiar, lapsing into formalities.

You Might Also Enjoy

Magnitude and Bond

Taylor Johnson

We were, all of us, ethered
             when the window broke. Soon after, the floor



Aaron Smith

I worked in an office where we hired a good-looking man. It paid off in the hot tub at the office retreat.


Baffler Newsletter

New email subscribers receive a free copy of our current issue.

Further Reading

 October 29

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by David Boyd. New Directions, 119 pages. It’s not quite clear if the. . .

Heads Up: We recently updated our privacy policy to clarify how and why we collect personal data. By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand this policy.