On the phone and breathing, just breathing

by Geoff Schutt


Eleanor makes a phone call to nobody she knows. This is a number that somehow works. She makes it up from a combination of lucky numbers on the back of today’s fortune cookie. The fortune reads Seek Peace. The person Eleanor doesn’t know answers after three rings. “Hello?” Eleanor is quiet. She is more interested in the numbers, and that collected they are able to make contact with somebody – anybody, actually. “Hello?” These numbers really must be lucky, she thinks. I can talk to anybody in the world. I can say anything to anybody who answers.


Eleanor always has words, but sometimes she wants to keep the words to herself, especially the good words, like saving them for a rainy day. She doesn’t want to use up the good words on just anybody she found in the numbers on the back of the fortune from inside a cookie.

I can talk to anybody in the world! 

It’s a revelation.

I can say anything to anybody who answers! 

This makes saving the good words even more important. Essential, in fact, that she doesn’t speak.


It is perhaps amazing that the person she has called is still on the line. Anybody else would have hung up. Anybody else would have said more than just “Hello?” As in, who is this, who are you, why are you calling me, please don’t call me again, I know who you are, I have your number and I’m going to give it to the police and now you’re in big trouble. As in, now I’ve got you, you crank caller, you beast, you child molester, you criminal. As in, you’ve been calling me day and night, using different phones to be sure, but I know it’s you, the same person. I know who you are. I know. And I’m going to get you.

(Or, perhaps, I need you?)


Eleanor thinks about using enough of her good saved-up words to make a sentence. Just one sentence, that’s all. Eleanor thinks about saying something, anything really, not even with the good words but with insignificant words, words that are like passersby, words that are less than small talk words.

Eleanor thinks, I’m on the phone and breathing, just breathing. She can hear the other person breathing too. Breathing means you don’t need to talk. Breathing is really the same thing as listening. Save the good words until tomorrow, or the next day, or next week, or next month, or next year. Save the lucky numbers in case you want (in case you need) to breathe again. And then listen.




Geoff Schutt’s short fiction has appeared in The Quarterly (edited by Gordon Lish for Vintage Books/Random House), The Best of Writers at Work, The Wastelands Review and The Laurel Review, among others.  He has received three artist grants for his fiction-as-performance art from The Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. After living in Ohio for many years, he now resides in the Washington, D.C. area. His novel-length work is represented by James McGinniss of McGinniss Associates Literary Agency, New York City.   More about Geoff Schutt (and the character named Eleanor) is available at his blog, “This Side of Paradise,” at


Art by Ernest Williamson



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