"Hello?" a sleepy voice asked in a low whisper.
Effie cleared her throat to get the woman’s attention. "May I speak with Mr. Roward, please?"
"Mr. Roward," Effie repeated as silence stretched across several states and entered her ear. Then a click sounded before the phone’s light went out.
"How rude! She could have just said it was the wrong number." Effie cleared out the dead air and dialed again.
This time a din of ringing phones and typing keyboards assaulted the receiver. The receptionist spoke, "Mr. Roward’s office. How may I help you?"
Effie swore it was the same voice from the first call. Startled by the similarities, all the pent-up irritation deflated on her tongue. In a hesitant rush, Effie gave the reason for this contact. In return, the receptionist asked her to please hold.
Now Effie was left alone to the background chatter. She heard the frenetic keystrokes that seemed too jittery to form actual words. She eavesdropped on the phone talk that seemed too rehearsed to answer random questions. The office noises reminded Effie of audience laughter in a comedy show on television. Canned laughter repeated in sound bytes to emphasize a gag.
Finally, the strange echoes clicked over to a man speaking. "Hello, Mrs. Watts. I understand you have some concerns today."
Yes, Effie did. However, before she could rebuild her steam, Mr. Roward was already halfway through his explanation.
"It’s common for publishers to take eight weeks to respond. That’s why the five rejections were with the last receipt. But, have no worries. I have high expectations in your work, as does a company called Darrow Press. With them Evelyn, you will see your work in print. With them Evelyn, you will have as many books printed as you want. With them, your story will fill every shelf in the world, for a price. And the advantages of foregoing a traditional publisher would mean no extravagant overhead fees and no greedy editors skimming at your well-earned profits. Simply put, it would be more money to go into your pockets - - minus my commission, of course."
Here fishy, fishy. Suddenly Mitch’s voice wafted through the den like the faint smell of his cigar smoke that lingered in the upholstery. See the pretty lure. It’s a tasty one. What? A hook? No, no, that won’t hurt you.
With the handset pressed hard against her ear, Effie lifted the picture frame. Its cold glass caused a creepy sensation that made her shoulders twitch. "I have to think about it," she hedged to the agent.
"Of course," Mr. Roward accepted, crestfallen. "Well, call back with your decision."
* * * * *
"Sure, Effie, I’ll do it. But I’m still trying to get a knack for this whole Internet thing," Gena agreed.
Two weeks after the call to Mr. Roward, Effie was still having misgivings about the conversation. At sea with herself over this, she decided to do some research by enlisting her neighbor’s time, and computer, toward the cause.
"I found a lot of negative comments here," Gena warned. Her slow key taps filtered into the kitchen where Effie poured lemonade into two glasses.
"Just disgruntled writers," Effie brushed the words off.
"I don’t think so. The Attorney General is investigating allegations against this agent and his other business."
Effie appeared at the kitchen doorway. "Other business?"
Effie’s throat choked up in horror. She dashed over to read the lighted screen. When she finally looked away, her shock had turned into outrage.
This man had duped her, and worse. With her checkbook lightened by his services, he now wanted more money to go to a printing company he owned - - minus his commission for finding it.
Shakily, Effie asked Gena for her cell phone and punched in the agent’s number. Not one ring answered her. Instead, three off-key notes played before a machine-created voice spoke. "We’re sorry, but the number you have dialed has been disconnected. Please call your local operator for further assistance."
* * * * *
This time the monthly letter Effie wrote to her children was a humble one, despite her efforts to keep its tone light. For once in her life, she didn’t want to get any return answer.
"Why did you get involved in all this writing nonsense?" her daughter chided over the phone. Effie imagined the eye rolling going on in the sterile office of this admired doctor. "You can’t make a career out of it. What were you thinking, anyway?"
What had Effie thought? She had so many thoughts, and she loved to write them down. The obsession held her like a siren’s call from a distant shore. Once she reached this shore, she hoped to find her grown-up kids there ready to finally notice her, to be delighted over her accomplishments, as they would drop their important papers and set aside their busy lives to talk to her if only for a minute.
"I just want to be remembered for something." Effie admitted before giving an embarrassed chuckle. "Never mind. I must’ve been going through a senior moment."
"Mom, you’re only 58." A pause came before her daughter asked, "Are you sure you’re all right? Wait, hold on." Effie heard a brief chat not directed at her, then her daughter’s voice returned. "A patient walked in, Mom. I’ll call back tonight."
Effie stifled her sigh. "Okay. Give the grand-babies big kisses for me. Bye."
* * * * *
The recliner thumps upward as the footrest disappears inside. The card in Effie’s hand crinkles down into a tight ball. Finished with reading it, she hurls the paper at the wastebasket, but overshoots. Instead, the ruined card bounces across the desk, rolls over the notepad that showed ink swirls of her latest thoughts, and comes to rest against a sealed envelope.
Oh my god! Effie leaps from the chair and hurries to the desk. She knew she had forgotten to do something this morning. Effie had been racking her brain trying to remember, even when she had walked down to get the mail, as she tapped her fingers on everything while hoping the noise would jog her memory.
She has a letter to send out.
"Another senior moment," Effie giggles while noticing the stamp peeling away. Pressing her thumb hard against it, she can make out her signature on the contract inside the envelope. Recently, she had submitted an article to a local newspaper. It was the same article that Effie had placed on the writing test months ago, and had been the cause of her bizarre experience.
"Misty Night." The newspaper wanted to print it.
Waiting for the stamp’s old glue to stick, Effie studies her late husband’s photo. She had written a particular saying on it that Mitch had followed in his life: Put your hook in the right place, and you’re bound to catch something.
Effie glances at the uncooperative letter. Pulling out a felt pen and another stamp from a small keepsake box, she picks up the picture frame and writes on the glass: But first you have to learn what’s inside the lake before casting your line in.
Then Effie sticks a shiny new stamp on the envelope.