Note: This is my third entry in the weekly "Spohn Challenge" project... and there's a bit of a story behind this one.

A number of years ago, when I was still first getting acquainted with the Internet, I ran across a story someone had written about a housewife forced to contend with pesky telemarketers and unwanted visitors while trying to serve her family dinner. It was badly written - as I recall the writer was a horrendous speller who didn't seem to know even the most basic rules of punctuation - but I thought the idea was kind of cute and I've had it in my head ever since to some time try and write my own version of the same scenario. Agreeing to participate in the Spohn Challenge gave me the extra kick I needed to finally do so, and so here it is.

By the way, I should point out that the real Dave and Julie Mills and their kids are old friends of mine who I've "Tuckerized" into the story; look it up if you don't know what it means...

It never fails, Julie thought as she set the ham platter down in the center of the table and rushed back toward the kitchen. Everybody’s actually home together at the same time for a change, we’re all just sitting down to dinner, and the lousy telephone rings. It’s like they’ve got a camera hidden here in the dining room or something...

She stood there for a moment just staring at the phone on the wall, hoping that maybe if she didn’t pick it up on the fourth or fifth ring the caller would give up. By the time the phone rang for the ninth and tenth times, Julie decided that particular plan hadn’t worked. Not that she was all that surprised. It never did.

She took the phone off the hook, gave it the briefest of dirty looks, and said in the nicest tone she could muster, “Hello?”

An all-too-chipper voice – Julie figured it was probably some bouncy little college co-ed trying to earn a few extra bucks – bubbled over the other end of the line. “Hello, is this the head of the house?”

“Only when he’s not looking,” Julie said sweetly, winking at her husband as he shot her one of his best “I heard that” looks. David just grinned at her as he started dishing dinner onto the kids’ plates.

If the caller got the joke, she gave no sign of it. “Well, my name is Amie and I'm calling on behalf of Great America Village Resort and Estates...”

A telemarketer, Julie groaned inwardly as Amie launched into a well-rehearsed and oft-repeated spiel about how wonderful the Great America Village Resort and Estates is and how everybody wants to live there and blabbedy-blabbedy-blah...

She almost hung up on Amie in mid-spiel, but nixed the idea almost as soon as it had occurred to her. The last time she had hung up on a telemarkter he had quickly called back, certain that it had simply been the result of a faulty phone connection and quite willing to pick up right where he had left off. And simply jumping into the middle of a telemarketer’s pitch never seemed to work, either; tell one telemarketer you’re not interested and you might end that particular phone call, but another representative from the same company was bound to call you sometime later. Sometimes even that same night.

Even so, she had no intention of allowing Amie to blabber on at length, extolling the virtues of living in some housing development where all the houses look alike and all the neighbors look like characters out of Children of the Damned. But she wasn’t sure just how to go about extricating herself from this most calamitous of situations – that is, until she glanced back at her family there in the dining room and, for some reason, thought of some of the odd questions her two oldest children had asked during those early days of childhood when they were curious about everything.

She didn’t know what made her think of that. Quite frankly, she didn’t much care; she was content to merely be grateful for the inspiration that memory had provided. 

And so, just as Amie had gotten to the point in her spiel about the Great America Village Resort and Estates’ close proximity to Stanislaus Jablonski High School, Julie assumed a deliberately absent-minded tone of voice and asked, “Do you have any idea what causes hiccups?"

In the dining room she could see David and the children look up from their plates and give her a quizzical look. Julie simply smiled as she heard Amie’s voice falter on the other end of the line.

“Uh... well, I think it has something to do with the digestive system, but I’m not really sure,” Amie answered after a second’s hesitation. “Anyway, as I was saying – ”

But Julie cut her off. “Really?” she asked. “Then why are boxing rings square?”

Amie thought about that one for a second and offered a possible explanation. Julie didn’t hear it, though; she was too busy watching her kids fight off the urge to giggle at their mother’s queries.

After a moment, Julie threw out yet another question. “If the plural of tooth is teeth, then why isn’t the plural of booth beeth?” This time she didn’t have to turn around to hear her son Steven laughing – which meant she was spared the sight of the milk shooting out his nose. 

“Well, I don't really know,” Amie admitted. “But I can tell you about the great rates if you decide you might be interested in purchasing – ”

By this point Steven had taken to shovelling spoonfuls of corn in his mouth as fast as he could to keep from laughing again, while his little sister Mallory tried nibbling at her bread to keep from giggling. David just chuckled to himself as his wife continued to shoot question after question at the poor girl at the other end of the connection: Does it really matter if the light goes off when you close the refrigerator door? What makes up the other 98 percent of 2 percent milk? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if the minimum wage was raised?

At first Amie had at least made an effort to offer some sort of answers, only to be interrupted with another question. Eventually, though, she gave up any pretense of trying to help and began looking for a way to bring the conversation to an end. Finally, after Julie asked how many research papers the typical college student could write before the left hemisphere of his brain explodes, she finally surrendered.

“Ummm... thank you very much for your time, ma’am,” Amie muttered sheepishly as she hung up. By that time, Steven had fallen on the floor and Mallory was having trouble holding her glass of milk; even the baby was laughing.

“All right, kids, that’s enough,” David scolded playfully in between bites of mashed potatoes. “Mom’s had her fun, but the show’s over...”

As if on cue, the telephone began ringing again. Julie simply smiled and said, “Maybe not.” She’d actually enjoyed giving that pesky telemarketer a taste of her own medicine for a change. It had given her a sense of power she hadn’t realized before. So she picked up the phone again. “Hello?”

“Good afternoon, ma’am,” a new voice on the other end sounded. My name is Roger, and I represent Encyclopedia Galactica...”

“What?” Julie demanded in a voice that sounded at once angry and mournful. “What is this, some kind of joke?”

Her tone caught poor Roger off-guard. “Excuse me?”

Julie stifled an imaginary sob. “How could anybody possibly be so cruel? What sort of sick, twisted individual put you up to this?”

By now, Roger was positively alarmed. “I don’t understand...”

“Don’t give me that! Everybody knows what happened. It was in all the papers!” Julie was now on the verge of hysteria – and so were her kids. ”Twelve years ago... twelve years ago this very day... your lousy books killed my baby!”

Roger gasped as Julie continued sadly. “Poor little Hanna Lee. So young. So innocent. There she was, minding her own business, crawling along the edge of the living room floor looking for the little rattle her daddy had brought home for her just the day before. And she found it – right there where she’d tossed it, under the bookshelf mounted on the wall. Just as...” She fought back another sob – or was it laughter? “Just as the shelved collapsed from... from the excessive weight of Volumes A through K!”

She let out with a sustained moan then, as David just rolled his eyes again and poor, dumb Roger made a feeble attempt to comfort the grieving mother. “Madam, I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am...”

“It’s all your fault,” Julie raved. “If it weren’t for your stupid two-inch thick books with their heavy, hardback covers, little Hanna Lee would still be with us...”

By now Roger was almost in tears himself. “I... I don’t know what to – ”

“How can you people live with yourselves?” Julie demanded to know, her body convulsing with sobs. “Oh, my baby! My poor baby...”

She hung the phone up then and smiled as her family applauded her performance. David rose from the table and presented her the ketchup bottle as if it were an Academy Award. “Thahnk kwew, dahlings,” Julie preened in her best Gabor sister imitation.

“Very lovely,” David told her. “But I’m a little confused... Which one was Hanna Lee?”

“Oh, you remember her,” Julie responded playfully. “She was my illegitimate child by the mailman.”

“Ah, yes, the mailman. Isn’t that who we’re having for dinner tonight?”

“No, silly, that’s the refrigerator repairman. We had the mailman last week. He was the pot roast, remember?” They both giggled at the joke, and so did the kids, as Julie finally made her way to the table to join the family for dinner.

She’d only managed a couple of mouthfuls when the doorbell rang.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” David complained as he tossed down his fork and rose from his chair. “Can’t a family enjoy just one meal together without everyone in the world interrupting...?”

“Sit down and finish your food before it gets cold, honey” Julie told him. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Yeah, let Mom get it,” Steven said. “I want to hear what she comes up with this time.”

“Yeah, so do I,” Mallory chimed in. “This is fun!”

“Looks like this meeting of the Julie Mills Fan Club has come to order,” David deadpanned as Julie moved into the living room. She opened the door and found herself facing a young man – maybe 19, 20 years old – wearing a white button-down shirt, black pants and boring black tie.

A Mormon. 

The poor guy never had a chance...

“Hello, ma’am,” he said politely. “My name is Donald, and I was wondering if I might have just a moment to talk to you about — ”

That was as far as he got. Julie quickly put one hand on Donald’s lips to quiet him, and the other on his shoulder to pull him closer to her. “My God, what are you doing here?” she asked melodramatically. “I thought I told you never to come here this time of day!”

“Uh... Excuse me?”

“Don’t you get it?” Julie asked. “My husband is right in there in the other room! If he catches us together... well, I can’t be responsible for what will happen.”

“But – but – ” Donald looked positively confused, and perhaps a tad frightened. Back in the dining room, Steven and Mallory were fighting so hard to keep from laughing that they finally had to excuse themselves and go back to the family room in order to recover. David just sat there at the dining room table listening as his wife continued giving the performance of a lifetime.

“I told you yesterday,” Julie went on, “it’s all over between us. It was fun – I loved the hours we spent gazing into one another’s eyes, feeding one another marischino cherries while we listened to your Marie Osmond albums – but it has to end, right here and right now.” At this point she assumed a harder, almost threatening tone of voice. “And I wouldn’t be making any more threats about blackmail if I were you, either. After all, I’m the one who made that video tape of us together on the kitchen table!”

David was having a hard time keeping a straight face as he listened to Donald stutter and stammer. “Video? Kitchen table? Lady, what are you talking about?”

“My mind is made up!” Julie snapped. “You can keep the Lambourghini, and all those presents I bought you that day we spent at the Woodfield Mall. You can even keep those pictures you took of me in the snake house at the Brookfield Zoo – they’re certainly not anything I can ever let my husband or children see. Well, I might keep just that one…”

Donald’s mouth twitched once or twice, as if he were trying to respond but the words just wouldn’t come. That was all the opening Julie needed to finish him off. “I can’t see you anymore, baby. It’s over. I’m sorry. Now get out of here – before I change my mind and take you up on that offer to run away to Sydney.”

That did it. Donald’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head as he considered what this crazy woman seemed to be suggesting. He threw up his arms and made a mad dash down the sidewalk, leaving a trail of Mormon literature drifting to the ground behind him.

Julie laughed out loud as she watched him run down the block and around the corner. David snuck up on her from behind and wrapped his arms around her, locking his fingers together over her belly. “Poor kid doesn’t know what he’s missing,” he joked as he kissed her ear.

In response, Julie twisted round and wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck. “Mr. Mills, I’m surprised at you,” she scolded playfully. “After all, I’m a married woman!”

He grinned and hugged her tighter. “Boy, don’t I know it!” He kissed her then, but the smooch was interrupted by - naturally – the ringing of the telephone.

“You know, I’m starting to think maybe they’re passing the number around to see what kind of crazy story you’ll come up with next,” David complained. 

Julie gave him a playful squeeze. “Tell you what,” she said. “Let me get rid of just this one more, and then we’ll disconnect the phone for awhile and go upstairs to our room for a little dessert, if you know what I mean.”

“Dessert? Young lady, you haven’t finished your dinner yet.”

She smiled. “I’ve got a sweet tooth. So sue me.” She gave him another quick kiss and raced over to answer the phone one last time. “Hello?”

Another woman’s voice responded – not a kid, like Amie had been, but apparently a woman around Julie’s age, probably even a few years older. “Hello, is this Mrs. Mills? My name is Delores, and I was wondering if I might be able to talk to you about the possibility of making a contribution to The Old Ladies’ Christmas Endeavor Society…”

“Well, it all depends,” Julie answered in a friendly tone. Then she lowered her voice and asked seductively, “What are you wearing right now?”

Delores harrumphed rather loudly and hung up without another word. Julie pulled the phone jack out of the wall and ran towards the bedroom, giggling like a schoolgirl as her husband chased her up the stairs...

(Copyright 2013 by John Allen Small)