The Telephone Lady

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A woman hogs the public telephone in a public library.

Submitted: April 03, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 03, 2018




"I said I want to speak to someone responsible! Operator! This is important! Who am I speaking to? Who? No! Operator, I told you...don't get funny with me! I'll have your job! You people are public servants, you know!"

Even from the room across the hall, we could hear the shrill nasal voice of the woman in the public phone booth of the library.

"Who was that?" I asked, amazed.

"One of our regular `customers'," said Igor, Senior Librarian. The ‘Telephone Lady.’“

"Wow! Can she get away with it?"

"That and a lot more."

I had just started as a trainee in the reference room at the library. I went to

the doorway of the room and looked out to see a little runt of a woman, perhaps fifty, sloppily attired, in the hall phone booth, with the door open.


"I want to speak, I demand to speak to...O.K., but just a minute, you understand me? Just...Who is this? Oh, you're the one. Listen, I have a complaint. No, I want to complain about a product I bought. No! No! I don't give a damn about your refund policy! Listen, you people sell garbage and then...No! I won't be patient! I won't listen! Who do you think you're kidding? (Her voice was rising to a crescendo.) I wasn't born yesterday! I know you people are cheats! I want to speak to the boss--the big boss! I said...don't you dare! I asked you...No! I'm not putting up with...OK. OK for you! I'll tell you what I'm going...No! You take advantage of poor widows. Yes, you do! I know your type! No! Shut up! Shut your lying mouth! You know what I'm going to do? I'll show you! I'm going to sue, that's what I'm going to do!" She slammed down the receiver so hard that the phone gave an echoing jangle of protest.

There was a moment of silence, then dialing, then a moment of silence, then clicking, then the voice began again.

"Operator! Operator! I dialed and was cut off! No! I dialed the right number! No! I'm not going to lose a quarter. I did, too! Don't you dare call me names! You did, too! I'll have you know I'm a member of the public! I have my rights! I don't care what...! You called me...! Shut up! Shut up! Yeah? Well, I'm going to call the telephone company (your bosses) and I'm going to tell them how rude you were! Yes, and then we'll see how long you keep your job! Yeah? Well, you, too, bitch!" Again, the receiver slammed with an accompanying jangle. Then dialing began once more.

"Now wait," said Igor. "Just wait a moment and listen."

Other voices began to buzz and mumble.

I looked out again.


"Whew!" I said. "What a line! Wow, she's starting to dial again!"

"She has no right!" said a voice.

"Here they come!" said Igor.

"She always does this," said a female voice. "They ought to arrest her!"

"Hey, miss!" called another woman. "We have calls to make, too!"

"Come on, Lady!" yelled a man. It's a public phone!"

The Telephone Lady stopped dialing.

"I have a right to use the phone!"

"But only for a few minutes. Your time is up."

"Don't tell me what I can do! I'm a citizen! I pay taxes!"

"So do we all--and we're waiting, too. Can't you see? There are more than ten people in line?"

"Well, that's just too bad! They'll all have to wait their turn, 'cause I've got important calls to make!" She slammed the door of the booth shut and started dialing.

"It is our turn, Lady--now!"

She kept dialing.

"Call a guard," said someone.

"I'll get one," said someone else.

Her voice was so loud that we could still easily hear her.

"Operator! Oh no, not you again!"

She slammed down the receiver once more.

A uniformed man appeared.

"What's the trouble here?" he demanded.

"The guard," said Igor.


The other people pointed to the woman.

"She thinks she owns that phone."

He knocked at the door of the booth. The Telephone Lady ignored him. He knocked so the door rattled.

"How long have you been using the phone, Ma’am?" he yelled.

She opened the door.

"What do you want?"

"I said how long have you been using the phone?"

She fixed her beady eyes on him.

"I have a right to use this phone. Tell these people to stop bothering me."

"How long have you been using it?"

"It's none of your business."

"Yes, it is, Ma’am. You have to share the phone with these other people."

"Don't tell me what I have to do! I'm a tax-paying citizen. I know my rights!"

"I'm afraid you'll have to leave now, Ma’am. You've been on the phone too long."

She turned away from him and started dialing.

"Ma’am!" He took her arm.

"Get your hands off me! Don't you get fresh with me or I'll have your job! My cousin's a lawyer!"

The guard let go of her.

"Ma’am I'm only doing my job. You won't listen to reason. All these other people..."


"I don't care about them. They have to wait their turn like everybody else. You can't treat me this way! I want to speak to your supervisor."


"Lady," butted in a man, "Can't you just be decent and give over the phone?"

She ignored him.

"I want to speak to him now!"

"It's not a him."

She looked at the man suspiciously.

"Are you trying to be funny?"

"No, my supervisor's a her."

"I don't believe you."

"And she won't be on your side, because you're in the wrong."

"Have her arrested!" yelled a voice.

Suddenly the Telephone Lady picked up the receiver again.

"I'm not listening to any of you!"

She put in a quarter and started dialing.

The guard seemed at a loss.

"I'll have to get the police," he said. "I don't want to be accused of manhandling a woman."

The Telephone Lady was now pushing the coin return lever, then banging it, then banging the phone box.


"These people are cheating me!" she cried. "I won't let them get away with it!" She dialed again. "Listen operator, I know you have no manners--I know we had words--but this is important business. I lost a quarter in one of your lousy machines...What? Who? No! No! I won't spend money on postage! No! I want my money back--right now! Through the machine! What do you mean you can't send money through the machine? Listen, I'm going to stay right here at this phone--and not move--and not let anyone else use it--till you give me my quarter back. No! I don't care what you do! You'll see! You're not going to make any money off of this phone till you give me my...what? Oh, that's what you think! I'm going to...!"

But now two policemen appeared, and along with the guard, they looked pretty menacing. I had stepped into the hallway to watch. Igor, finding this old hat, had gone back to his work.

The Telephone Lady confronted them, trying to appear just as menacing.

"Well, what do you people want? Why are you staring at me? Don't you have anything better to do?"

"Get out of there!" said one policeman.

"No..." she faltered. "No...I..."

"Ma'am, if you don't get out right now, we're going to drag you out."

"Don't you dare! I know my rights!"

"We don't care about that. Other people have rights, too. We'll take you to the station and book you. Come on, either you get out on your own, or we'll..."

"My cousin is a lawyer!"

"Good for him! Now, I'm going to count to three and if you're not out...ONE..."


Suddenly, the Telephone Lady slipped out of the booth and lunged away from them.

"You'll hear more about this!" she screamed, turning to look back over her shoulder. "When a decent taxpaying citizen can't use the phone in peace...and when operators have the right to rob poor innocent widows..." 

"Watch out!" yelled a voice.

She turned forward to find her way blocked by a man in work clothes, painting the walls and entranceway. He, his ladder, and paint cans blocked the doorway to the street. He glanced at her approach, then continued his work. He was a tall, thin man with a sour face.

"Well?" she demanded.

He looked up.

"Well, what?"

"Get out of my way!"

He laughed.

"Your way? Your way is not a special way. It's the same as everyone else's way."


"You heard me. Man's way (and woman's way, too, of course) is the way of the world."

"Look, mister, I'm in a hurry!"

Aren't we all?" He didn't budge. "That's the trouble with the world."

"Let me pass!" She tried to push the ladder, but it was heavy and so were the 5-gallon cans of paint against it.

"Watch out!" he yelled. "You'll spill the paint!"


"I will if you don't let me pass!"

"You do and you'll look like a rainbow."

"I have to get home!" She screamed.

"I thought you had phone calls to make."

"I...I do! It's none of your business! Let me go!"

He continued to paint.

", business. We all have the same business. Our business is to..."

"Oh, shut up! I don't want to hear...!"

"How rude!"

"Do you think I'm just somebody off the street that you can block in this way?"

He stopped and looked at her. Now his eyes held menace.

She hesitated.

"I...I'm not just a bum off..."

"Oh, you aren't?"

"No, I'm a lady and you'd better respect..."

"Oh ho, a lady are you? I wouldn't have guessed."

"Look, I don't know where you come from!" she shrieked, "but I'm not used..."

"What are you used to?"


She tried to walk under the ladder, but bumped her head. Furious, she stared about wildly, then turned the other way and rushed up to the front desk. Nobody else was paying any attention to her. No one had tried to go in or out the door. The waiting people were thankful to have the use of the phone. The guard and policeman were gone. I was the only one who saw and heard it all from the hall.

"Hey miss!" she called to the woman at the desk, "that man won't let me out the door!"

The woman shrugged.

"Well, do something!"

The woman shrugged again.

"What should I do, Miss? He's painting."

"Is there another way out?"

"Only the emergency exit--and the alarm will go off."

While she was thus engaged, the painter helped three people, who had approached him, out the door.

In rage, the Telephone Lady rushed back to the painter, but found her way once more blocked.

"Look, I have an emergency at home!"

He shrugged.

"You didn't seem to care about that when you kept phoning over there."

Her demeanor changed.

"Please! I can't stay here all night!"

"Don't worry about that. I'll finish before night." He glanced at his watch. "It's only 3:00."

Her demeanor changed again.

"Alright, I'm going to get a policeman." She turned away threateningly.


"You already dealt with the policeman. I don't think he'll be happy to see you again."

"You have no right..."

"Just as much right as you had to use the phone."

"That was important!"

"So's this. It's for the public."

"You can't do this. I know my rights."

He pointed.

"See, the line is gone and the phone booth is empty now. Go make your calls."

"I...I don't want to. I need to go home!"

"When I finish."

He let two people through before she could stop him. All she gained was a paint smear on her coat from brushing against him.

She began to sob.

"People always treated me this way. You men are all animals. Look at my husband. I was in love with him and he left me nothing."

"That right? Well, I'm not surprised."

"He--he left me in a hotel room. Said he'd come back for me in a couple of days--had some business to take care of..."

"But you knew he wouldn't."

"I waited for three weeks--three weeks! Then they threw me out."

"Wow! It took that long?"


"Then I found he had taken my savings from the bank."

"Pretty clever. How'd he manage that?"

"We had a joint account."

"Oh great! You are smart!"

"Men! I hate you all!" She stuck out her tongue at him.

"You're welcome to hate me."

She broke down, sobbing.

"Now, my aunt..."

"Your aunt is a man?"

"Don't be asinine! My aunt has no one to take care of her. I have to do it. That's always the way with women. They have to do all the dirty work. And small thanks they get. Now she'll scream at me 'cause I'm late...and it's all because of you!" She started to cry again. She lay down on the floor and rolled over.

"Hey..." Now the man sounded concerned.

No answer, just quiet sobbing.

Finally, he came over...

"Say, are you really ill?"

"Yes, tell them at the desk!" she pointed.

He wavered uncertainly.

The Telephone Lady leaped to her knees and crawled madly--under the ladder...and out through the doorway. She scrambled up and stuck her tongue out at the man.

“You’re a creep and I hate you!” she shrieked. “You’re all creeps!”

© Copyright 2020 Godfrey Green. All rights reserved.

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