Hi, it's me — Christine. I can't believe you still have this number. That I still remember it. But there's your voice on the machine ... like no time has passed. I'm so sorry for your loss, Nick, for your mom. Can anyone else hear this? [PRESS # TO ERASE AND RERECORD YOUR MESSAGE]
# Hi Nick, it's Christine. Christine Williams. Remember? It's been a long time. I called because — I know it's tough right now. I'm sorry to hear about the death of ... that your mom passed — try and say something real. [PRESS # TO ERASE AND RE-RECORD YOUR MESSAGE]
# Nick, it's Christine. Hey, long time, no anything. Too jaunty. [PRESS # TO ERASE AND RE-RECORD YOUR MESSAGE]
# Hi Nick, it's Christine. Stacy told me about your mom. It was in the paper here, too. How are you? What a thing to say, I'm sorry. For everything. Your mom and I — well, whatever, you know, but I was still fond of her. Is that what I was? [PRESS # TO ERASE AND RE-RECORD YOUR MESSAGE]
# Nick, it's Chris. I'm so sorry. I'm in town, and I wanted to come over—bring you dinner or something. Stacy said you're single again. I left that guy—you called it, ha! Maybe now we can—no, please no, let me press the right button here [PRESS # TO ERASE AND RE-RECORD YOUR MESSAGE]
# Nick, it's me, Chris. Christine. I'm sorry about your mom. I've been thinking about you. About her. For some reason, about the time she picked up the phone and said, "you two are too young to be this serious." Remember how we laughed when she spit out the words, "two and too"? I tried so hard to get her to like me. It's weird, I have a daughter now. She's the same age as we were. Can you imagine? Can you imagine? [PRESS # TO ERASE AND RE-RECORD YOUR MESSAGE]
# Christine, it's Nick, love of your life. Nice ... [PRESS # TO ERASE AND RERECORD YOUR MESSAGE]
# Hi Nick, it's Christine. It's been so long. I'm in town. Listen, I'm sorry to hear about your mom. I'll never forget the house on del Cielo. Her garden — those ocotillo with the octopus arms and the squat prickly pears in front of the gate? How we said she planted them to keep girls like me away? [PRESS # TO ERASE AND RE-RECORD YOUR MESSAGE]
# Nick, it's Chris. I'm in town, would love to see you. I'm sorry about your mom. It's so hard to find the right words. I'm rambling — nervous. So much to say. I keep thinking about the old days. It's weird, I have a teenager now. A daughter, the same age as we were. I think about us, and it's hard. I think about skiing and finding that circle of pine trees. About pretending the clouds were our kids and giving them all Greek god names. About sitting at dinner with our faces bright red. Your mom thought we were up to something, but we were just burned from the sun and the wind and the future shining down hard all around us. [PRESS # TO ERASE AND RE-RECORD YOUR MESSAGE]
# It's me. I'm in town. I'm sorry. [PRESS # TO ERASE AND RE-RECORD YOUR MESSAGE]
# It's me. Call me back. Please. This is Christine. [PRESS * TO SEND YOUR MESSAGE]
Did you leave a message after our prompt? For Round 10 of Three-Minute Fiction, we asked you to submit a short story in the form of a voice mail message. For this contest, the original fiction must be read in about three minutes, no more than 600 words.
After four weeks and more than 4,000 stories, we have a winner.
Graduate students at 14 different writing programs across the country helped read the Round 10 submissions. They passed the best of the best along to our judge this round, novelist Mona Simpson.
"There was a great variety, and it was surprising voice mail messages ... some were hilarious," Simpson tells Guy Raz, contest curator and host of NPR's TED Radio Hour.
Aside from the winning story, a couple of other entries stood out for Simpson. In Eric Bronner's "Everything's Under Control," a zookeeper has released an elephant for unknown reasons and uses his one phone call from jail to explain how to correct the situation. The voice mail left in Jacqui Higgins-Dailey's story, "After the Tone,"is from a girlfriend to her boyfriend about their incompatibility, and she uses a dog pulling away from its owner as a metaphor.
"It's funny at moments, and yet it's very strikingly yearning," Simpson says.
The story is a series of attempts at leaving a voice mail, which gives a rare perspective, Simpson says.
"I love the way she considers these various things she wants to say but erases them and what she finally comes to," she says. "Even though it's a vocal story, we get the privilege of hearing her thinking as well to herself."
Rubenson says she was excited by the prompt, and her idea came from the challenge of finding the right thing to say.
"There's always things that need to be said but aren't, or things that get said that shouldn't," she says. "And I struggle with that a lot, and I think it's kind of a universal thing."
Rubenson's story will be published in the next issue of The Paris Review. She will also receive a signed copy of Simpson's latest book, My Hollywood.