Johnston

Too Late for Phone Calls
by Joseph Johnston

I am there on the sofa and my father is scared. He’s just hung up the phone that hangs in the kitchen. It’s too late for phone calls because I’m in my pajamas. My brother asks Dad what’s wrong and he says something about a refinery explosion. I don’t know what a refinery is beyond the place Mom goes to work when I get home from kindergarten.

I am there on the sofa and I’m scared. And my brother is scared though he pretends he isn’t. We never go to bed. The Zenith is on and we watch some show about the police. My brother covers me with a blanket and lays down and begins snoring and my father stares into a car chase and I close my eyes.

I am there on the sofa and Johnny Carson strides through a rainbow curtain and Mom strides in with her coveralls soaked and her hardhat covered in soot. She opens up her tough lunch box and hands us each a candy bar she got from the machine at work.

I am there on the sofa and I eat my Kit-Kat way past my bedtime and no one is scared anymore.

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: The photo is from birthday three, 1978, around when the events of the story would have taken place, about to tear into a tower of Hostess cupcakes.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This is a piece based on one of my very earliest memories. My father worked briefly at the local oil refinery which was a very scary looking place and he always came home very late and I fondly remember one night when he arrived with candy bars for me and my siblings that he’d gotten from the break room candy machine. It may as well have been Christmas. While fictionalizing this memory, I thought it would be interesting to reverse the roles and have a house full of scared men and boys waiting for news about their matriarch after an emergency at the plant.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Writer and filmmaker Joseph Johnston made his first movie at the age of 11, an industrial espionage thriller that continues to play to excited crowds in his parent’s living room every Christmas. His prose, poetry, and video literature have appeared in Old Northwest Review, Arcadia, and the Iron Horse Literary Review. He currently resides in Michigan, where he is working on a documentary and book about the history of boxing in Detroit.