Essays

Idylle McLaughlin Murphy

My Telephone

I am a friend to my telephones. I love my telephones. I have call waiting so I can immediately find out who else might be calling me. I have three way calling so I can spontaneously dial a third caller and three of us can talk at once. I love my answering machine and I love other people's answering machines and giving messages back and forth through the machines. I love using star 69 so I can get the number of who hung up before I had a chance to speak to them. I love my portable phone so I can talk and do all sorts of mundane things at the same time.

I have a friend who loves her phones too. She never says "hello", but instead starts with the word, "Just two sentences and then I'll let you go, because I know you're busy. Then with both of us holding tightly to our phones with one hand, gesturing with the other, until one of us interrupted by our call waiting, we talk and talk. She loves her phone as much as I do. One time we were in the middle of a lively discussion, and we heard the ring of a telephone. It came from her TV program. We both stopped for a second, and then I asked, "Do you want to answer that?" Without a pause, she said, "No, let it ring, we need to finish this conversation."

I have trouble hearing a phone ring without answering it, even if it is not my own. I have been to dinner parties where the host refuses to answer the phone during dinner. When this happens, my muscles contract, I can't concentrate on food and my blood pressure goes up. I have to force myself to stay in my chair. A phone should always be answered.

One of my favorite spots in the house is on the couch, with the TV on mute, my feet up on a hassock, where I can talk and talk and talk on the phone. I have six phones inside my house, and two outside. I am to each, a most devoted, loving, friend.

 


Short Stories

Idylle McLaughlin Murphy

Gertrude Was Black

Gertrude was black, really, really, black - and beautiful. I loved her with a passion. No one understood me as well as she. I knew because of the way she looked at me, cocking her head when I talked, or wagging her tail a certain way, or sitting in a dignified manner and posing, as still as a model with her eyes fixed on me.

She was a perfect dog, a perfect companion, very gentle, very, very, well behaved. She could be fierce, showing her teeth, growling, and hurling herself against the front door, to the discomfort of strangers. I was so proud of her. I talked about her constantly to everyone. I let them know how sorry I felt that they did not have a dog as smart and wonderful as Gertrude. A lot of friends seemed to think I overdid it, but I was just stating a fact. There definitely was not another dog like her.

One day, Gertrude and I received a birthday invitation. It was from Daisy, a Golden Retriever, celebrating her second birthday. Gertrude barked and wagged her tail as I excitedly read her the invitation. As we walked into the party, I gave her a new bone, beautifully wrapped in daisy-decorated paper and tied with matching ribbon. I explained it was a birthday present for Daisy, and when we got inside, she was to give it to her.

There were three other dogs, plus Daisy, and some women and children. Daisy seemed excited, and bounded up to greet us, but my well-mannered Gertrude would have nothing to do with her. She growled and turned an unwelcome shoulder. She would not give up the present, she would not play, she growled at the children, and would not even eat birthday cake! Gertrude was acting like a spoiled brat. The other dogs were congenial and well behaved, and the contrast was horrible. As I struggled with Gertrude, I saw smirks on faces. It was humiliating. One woman asked if this could really be the absolutely most perfect dog called Gertrude.

I was annoyed with everyone, certainly including Gertrude. I apologized for her behavior, muttering that this was not like her, that she must be ill. I tried to act nonchalant as I headed toward the door with my growling dog still clutching the present in her mouth. The other dogs were all sitting watching, and I actually saw grins on the faces of the other women. I was so angry, I even forgot to wish Daisy a happy birthday or thank her for the invitation.

As soon as we were out of earshot, I really scolded her, which she certainly was not used to. When we got in the car, she stuck her nose in the air, and so did I. I drove right to the Vet's office. I knew something had to be wrong.

Well, there was. She was pregnant, and I hadn't had a clue. I was so delighted. Even later when the living room was her nursery and a complete mess with her eight puppies, I didn't care. My wonderful, gentle, intelligent, dog really did have a good excuse for being rude and unhappy at the birthday party. After all, who would want to party with a bunch of dogs if they were pregnant with eight babies. I joyfully explained her party behavior, over and over and over, to all. But - she never did tell about the who, or the where, or even the when. I did try to find out if anyone had seen her run out of the yard when I wasn't looking.

And when I tried to question her, she pretended she didn't hear. I guess at a certain age, girls just do not confide everything to their mothers.

 

A Murder?     (an excerpt)

Anne pushed the crossbar that gleamed on the front of the dark door under the exit sign, knowing the fire escape was there. It had long ago been replaced by enclosed staircases, and was kept for the historical significance. The door could only be reached through a small room which could be entered around the corner from the elevators. The exit sign was not noticeable from the hallway. Each floor used the small room for different purposes and as she raced through it, she was dimly aware that this was a coatroom and was not her floor.

As the cold wet mist hit her face, her knees buckled and she knelt on the rigid iron bars, hanging with clenched fists to the narrow railing. A wave of nausea swept over her as she looked through the iron maze below her to the street, twelve floors down. Struggling unsuccessfully to control her panic, she closed her eyes and leaned against the building. What was she doing her, she who was deathly afraid of heights? Less than half an hour ago she had been happily heading for her car in the lot below, when, on a sudden impulse, decided to dash into her office to pick up the lipstick she'd left in her desk.

A new wave of horror washed over her as she remembered her purse. It had caught on the door handle when she'd turned to run. She tried to focus her thoughts on what that meant. She wanted this to be a dream; she wasn't here; it hadn't happened. But the fury of the man's face when he'd seen her was too vivid. Her breath caught in her throat and her body went limp. Only the cold win swirling around her helped maintain her consciousness, plus the dim realization that she had to keep clutching the railing.

Pain in her hands forced her back into reality. She had to get control of herself. She had to think what to do. But fear would sweep through her body as the violence in his face flashed into her memory. She tried not to remember the limp woman around whose neck his huge hands had been encircled.

She felt she couldn't open her eyes. The light mist had turned into a soft rain, which was welcome on her skin. There was no question but that he would have started after her. She had a head start since he was behind a wide counter. What if he knew of the fire escape?

She had to move from this floor. Slowly she loosened her grip. Her hands hurt and her knees seemed numb. She carefully eased herself into a sitting position, and leaning against the inner side of the fire escape, she opened her eyes. Again she felt the panic of being drawn over the side of the railing and looked away. Her new yellow suit was a mess of rust colored stains. Her body jerked as she sobbed.

Suddenly she thought she heard a thud from the fire escape door. Her eyes glazed in fear as she waited for the door to open. As the minutes passed and nothing happened, a strange calm came over her and she felt she had a chance. Ignoring the pain, she put her hands behind her, and still sitting, edged herself over to the stairs. With horror, she realized the pitch of the stairs was almost straight down. The turn at the next landing was sharp and short, and from where she sat, she felt she would fall off into the wet space below.

After what seemed an unbearable length of time, she forced herself to open her eyes again and start down. Leaning heavily toward the inside of the escape, she lowered herself toward the next stop.

By the time she reached the first landing, sliding slowly from step to step, she was almost lying down on the stairs. Without looking, she turned her body around the narrow bend, and was grateful for the slight security of the fire escape showing through the grates. When she reached the next floor's landing, she turned over on her side and with her back against the building, shut her eyes with a moan. She fought the desire to sink into unconsciousness. With a wrench, she turned again to the next set of stairs and saw that dusk had arrived. It helped, as now she seemed apart from the rest of the world, and the street below did not seem to have any meaning. It was as if she were suspended somewhere on this iron monster that had no bottom or top, just stairs and more stairs.

Lights began to twinkle through the mist and she turned to look at the door against which she leaned. It was tightly closed. There was no way to open it from the outside. This would have to be the 11th floor, she thought. His office must be directly above hers. She must have hit the wrong button in the elevator. She had to keep moving and slowly started to inch her way down the next set of stairs, still clutching the inside railings. She lost count of the floors, only opening her eyes when she reached an exit door and could lean against it.

She realized dully that if she ever did reach the bottom, she would not be safe. Her purse was gone, and she knew he must have it. Her keys, her driver's license, her address, would be his. Remembering his hateful look, she knew he would not rest until he had caught up with her.

Her terror consumed her and she often felt her self-control vanishing. At times the dark chasm on the other side of the stairs seemed to draw her and she thought she should just let go and slide over the edge. Then she would clutch the railing harder, sobbing with fright and pain.

Her legs reached another turn and she knew she was coming to another landing. She was nearing the end of her endurance and couldn't comprehend her future. Turning the corner, she changed to the railing closest to the building, tightening her grip in panic as a bird flew close by her. She heard the sound of more birds flying away and forced herself to look down. Dully she tried to focus her eyes on what seemed like a box of bird seed below her, when the exit door to the fire escape blow opened. She saw the shadow of a man stepping out. Fear overcame her as she let go of the railing and felt herself falling towards him.

 

My First Date

I think his name was Bill, but I'm not sure. I do know, however, that he was my first, real, date. He was tall, lanky, and good-looking, and often hung around with his friends at the entrance to the large, recreation area we had in our town. When my gang of gals would come to take part in some activity, we would stop, chat, act silly, flirt and then walk with them into the field house.

We tried to be clever in maneuvering so it would appear we were each actually walking with a boy. To my surprise one evening, Bill made this come true. We were walking together. Then one day he asked me if I would go with him to a movie. I was deliriously happy. Since he did not have a car, we would need to walk about five blocks to the movie theatre. Just the two of us.

It was to be on the next Friday night, and I spent the whole week with my friends planning what I would wear, buying new makeup and trying my hair many ways. After school on Friday, we started on my face, with my new black mascara and red rouge. We ate supper in a hurry, and worked feverishly. I was ready when he rang the bell, very aware that my friends were hidden on the upstairs landing, watching. It was fall and I felt very stylish in my cardigan sweater worn backwards, my saddle shoes and school jacket. He looked extra handsome with a shirt collar showing over a blue sweater and his school jacket adorned with his basketball letter. We matched.

Off we went. We had popcorn, candy bars, and held sticky hands once in awhile. The movie was romantic and I was in heaven. When we left the theatre and stepped outside, I felt even more excited. Beautiful, big, flakes of snow were falling very slowly. As we moved from out of the theatre's lights, we were encompassed in an unreal white world. He held my hand, helping me as we crossed streets. I was alone with him in a dream. Too soon, we were back at my house. A light was burning brightly in the middle of our wide front porch. a glaring contrast to the soft white snow. He leaned over and gave me my first, romantic, long kiss. Then he stood back and looked at me, and quickly hollered goodnight as he grinned and dashed down the stairs. I drifted into the house absorbing how my self image had suddenly improved because of the kiss. I danced over to the big hall tree, and smiled at myself in the mirror. I looked closely, and then even more closely.

Large black globs of black mascara had run down both cheeks, making little dirty paths in the thick red rouge. On the one side the black had moved to below the chin. I stood transfixed. Romance disappeared in a hurry as I realized he must have seen it. The light on the porch was much stronger than the hall light. The snowflakes that were so glamorous as they touched my face walking home had left me looking like a clown and I came down to earth with a thud! I couldn't take my eyes off my face as I readjusted my assessment of the evening. Suddenly I started to laugh. I couldn't stop looking at myself in the mirror and laughing, until tears started to run from my eyes, making more dark patterns in the rouge. I could hardly leave the mirror to walk upstairs. Bursting into the room I shared with my cousin, I turned on the lights and with shrieks woke her up.

"Look," I whooped, "Look how our week of making me beautiful ended!"

When I told her he had kissed this face under the front porch light, we rolled on our beds, shaking with hysteria until we were exhausted. I was so grotesque we couldn't stop. Finally I washed my face, but sleep did not come quickly as one or another would start silently shaking with muffled laughter and then we would burst into loud gales.

That was my first real date and my first, romantic, kiss!

Copyright © 2002 by Idylle McLaughlin Murphy

About the Author

Idylle McLaughlin Murphy grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, having a wonderful time driving friends around in an old 1929 seven-passenger Buick, running the elevator for Marshall Fields, and having so many funny, exciting, experiences she will never have to make up any stories.


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