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Doing an Eva Hesse on a Man

Story by Vi Khi Nao (Read author interview) September 21, 2015

Art by Vi Khi Nao

She has been on the phone over an hour thinking about the sound of the shower running. She thinks that it is raining on the other side of the wall or rather on the other side of the line. But nothing that interesting ever happens to her during a tedious conversation, and certainly not during a conversation about a rebate on a phone she has recently purchased. She keeps on telling herself that another minute, just another and another and another and then fifty doors, no fifty dollars, will be sent to her mailing address. The man on the phone insists that she stay on the phone. He insists that he must take a shower first before continuing the debate. My office has a shower, he adds. She nods her head in approval. She nods. But he doesn’t know that she has nodded. On the phone, she whispers, I am nodding. Are you listening? But she hears the sound of water tapping. Meanwhile, she is on the last drop of her patience. Hello? Are you there? The hoarse voice of a man comes through the other line. She waits a moment in disbelief. She thinks that he has left his shower running. Running. When his voice comes through, it startles her. She isn’t ready for a human being to talk to her about the rebate. She was expecting a shower. The rain. She misses the rain. Yes. Long pause. I am here. She says, Hello. Hello. Are you dressed? Yes, I am dressed, he replies. I can’t offer you the debate you want. I don’t know what to say and I am not really good at convincing others. No. No. No. I meant I wanted my rebate for a recently purchased phone. I don’t have a debate for your phone. I am sorry, woman. Don’t let me go! She shrieks. She has waited for over an hour for her rebate. He is unable to hang up on her. The shriek jolts him awake. He calculates the consequences of hanging up on her. She thinks for a moment and asks him if he has seen Eva Hesse’s sculpture called Hang Up? He clears his throat to answer and she restarts the dialogue on her rebate. He presses the phone to his ears. What debate, lady? He asks. What? He wants to run his shower again. Return to it, at least. But her shriek haunts him. Together they cling to the phones. Strangers clinging to one another. Broken. You can ride me if you like? She hesitantly offers. Ride you what, he repeats? The phone. The awful phone. Does it ever translate right? Does it? The debate. What does she wish to debate about, he thinks? He considers various topics running through his mind. Before he can get anywhere with his thinking, he halts. And reaches for the phone. How about Eva Hesse? He knows nothing of Eva, but he is ready to debate her. There is silence on the other end. She hasn’t responded to him. He begins to worry when the silence is extended. Eva Hesse, he whispers. Finally, a voice rings through. Eva Hesse knows nothing about my rebate. She is dead. Do you know? She is dead. Died of a brain tumor. She won’t be able to help me. Can’t you understand? But he does understand her. She will only be dead temporarily, he attempts to articulate his argument. Some people, he begins, do not die all the way through. They get giddy and grow tired of dying so they never make it all the way through. Couldn’t she see that he was making a valiant effort? I do understand you, he says. I do understand you, he repeats. I am getting to know her even better and better. She thinks he is losing it. And that is charming. You are charming, she declares over the phone. Show me what you got? I have nothing. I got a debate going. Do not send my rebate to some stranger! Okay? I don’t want it to be at some random address. Are you writing down my address? I am giving it to you for the umpteenth time. I am getting sick of repeating my address to you. Shall I do an Eva Hesse on you? Oh please, don’t hang up on me, he begs. I can take a second shower. Or a third, he offers. He thinks she is capable of accepting his second shower. Okay, she replies. Go shower. Over the phone, she hears the tapping of rain. The shower is running. And he is in it. She hangs up on him. She has to. The time has come. When she is far from the phone, she throws herself off the balcony. Into the swimming pool. Closer to rain, she thinks. He picks up the phone. He hears nothing. Not even a buzzer. Absolutely nothing. And the man in the shower sits by the phone, waiting endlessly for her to come through the other line. He waits and he waits. Sitting by the phone, waiting.

About the Author

Vi Khi Nao was born in Long Khanh, Vietnam in 1979. In 2013, she graduated with an MFA in fiction from Brown University, where she received the John Hawkes and Feldman Prizes in fiction and the Kim Ann Arstark Memorial Awards in poetry. Vi’s work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, The Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review and elimae, among others. She is the author of two novellas, Swans in Half-Mourning (2013) and The Vanishing Point of Desire (2011).

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Nine

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