November 11th

Hello from us on a grey Sunday morning in Kent. Brighten our day with your responses, posting via Comments as usual.


He doesn’t want to talk dirty. It’s not a sexual thing. He doesn’t care if it’s a man or a woman. He just wants to listen to them answer the phone and know if they’re happy or if the day has turned sour and cranky. He loves the anticipatory lift of a voice convinced of the call’s origin, or the bark of someone interrupted, imagines their homes according to the timbre and accent – gilt-framed mirrors, Parker Knoll armchairs, Sky TV, stone floors, white walls, the smell of polish, or dogs, or chips.

Most people hang up within the first ten seconds, after a few hellos. The timid ones squeak, Oh! Some spit down the line – Get lost you creep! slapping into his breath. Though he tries to breathe quietly. He doesn’t mean to frighten anyone.

He has his favourites. The woman who chattered, Hello, hello, hello, anyone there? I can’t hear you, talk to me. I’m going to hang up now so why don’t you call me back? If you can hear me call me back, okay? Bye then, I’m going now, really, that’s it, try again, byeee! He pictured her with long dark hair, about 50, wearing something purple and woolly, with dangling earrings (there’d been a tapping sound against the receiver), and standing in a kitchen where the counter tops were stacked with books and candles, where people came and sat around the table and drank red wine and talked a lot.

But the best one of all was a phone answered and only a sigh released – a single exhalation of breath meeting his. And then a silence gifted to him for nearly thirty minutes before the disconnecting blip. He could see it all – a pale yellow wall, bare feet resting on wooden boards, a curl of smoke.


  1. How dare you? How dare you come into my house like that uninvited, wanting to take my money, wanting some of my time, apologizing for interrupting me, pretending your name’s Shane when I know it’s probably something unpronounceable and you know it’s really OK if it’s Rajeish or something and you say that you’re not trying to sell me anything , a courtesy call well that’s not courtesy that’s just bloody rudeness and inconvenience how would you like it if I popped in, just when you’re putting out six dinners of pork chops, mashed potatoes, cabbage and gravy, tell me how would you like it?

    What gives you the right to phone my mother who’s eighty-one you know and not all that comfortable with using the phone and it takes her a long time to get there and lots of effort and you try to sell her a new kitchen or double glazing and force her to think about how at her age, just how worthwhile is it buying a new kitchen or you phone her and want to lend her money except that you don’t want to lend her money when you find out she’s too old and that reminds her that not only is it not worth buying a new kitchen but no one would lend her money because she won’t live to pay off the loan and she’s worried.

    And she worries me. Her friends are gradually slipping away one by one and every so often she gets a letter from a son or daughter with the news or upsetting phone calls and she tells me all about it and I try to understand and then you phone and she goes into so much detail about you, Shane, and I want to scream that you’re not important.

  2. Brrrrrrrrrrr Click Brrrrrrrrrr – Please hang up, the caller on the other end has hung up, please hang up…….brrr brrr brrr

    The phone dangled precariously over the kitchen table. He opened his eyes slowly as he wiped saliva from his mouth and neck then braced himself off the floor with his right hand. He held onto to the edge of the chair as he pushed his body upwards, grimacing as he did.

    He placed the receiver back in its rightful place and cupped his head in his hands, wet with saliva and white froth. He couldn’t remember much except that high-pitched scream and hysterical laugh…the sudden convulsion and tremor….blackness….

    He reached for a kitchen towel and carefully wiped his face and hands. He took another sheet and wiped the white froth from his mouth and chest as he recalled that last call, that voice in the distance that made him twitch at the first instance. He imagined a tall, slender girl with delicate features and fingers and a shrill voice to match. It threw him askew. It jolted him. Startled, he descended into a state he had no control of. His breathing growing intense as he clutched his chest and shook. He rocketed towards the low-hanging kitchen light which knocked against his head before he collapsed, the phone receiver flying in mid air before smashing against the kitchen floor. ‘Arggghhh……arggghhh……brrrrrrr……brrrrrrrr…..brrrrrrrr’

    Brrrrrrrrrrr Click Brrrrrrrrrr – Please hang up, the caller on the other end has hung up, please hang up…….brrr brrr brrr

    He never meant to scare her. He just wanted to hear that shrill voice which made him feel he had achieved something. It made him feel good a few times before as he breathed heavily down the line and felt her eyes looking down the receiver at him, unable to understand why.


  3. She listens to him breathing in the darkness. He inhales and exhales from the other side of the bed. He’s not asleep. The slow relaxation she usually hears is missing. She knows he’s thinking. Replaying everything that’s been said. Counting all the reasons for his decision.

    She remembers her first breath of him; the scent of toothpaste and aftershave, and the feeling that her lungs weren’t big enough to inhale all he had to offer. How she had to catch her breath after each kiss deprived her of oxygen and sent her head spinning.

    All that separates them is two feet of bed. And the duvet he has wrapped around himself. But she has never felt so far apart from him. She imagines the air leaving his lungs, floating across the distance and entering hers. She is sure he begrudges her that. And she can feel the air molecules dissipating over that vast distance, spreading out and losing their cohesiveness. With gulping breaths she tries to capture some of it. Tries to inhale what was left between them

    It’s so different from last night when their lips were so close that her inhalations consumed his outward breaths in one smooth rhythm. Now the air between them is scorched with recriminations and blame, words that can’t be taken back.

    He has turned his back on her. She thinks about reaching out and touching him. But he is too far away. She knows that even if her fingertips could reach his cocooned body, he is too wrapped up in blame to feel it.

    An iciness creeps up from her feet, she knows there is no going back from this. It would be too far to travel. He is just lying in the dark, counting his breaths until morning, until he can escape.

  4. The wireless telephone started it all. Now if she could just work out how to bundle her thoughts into those electric waves. They had to be in small packages. Ten words at the most. Something like: Help me. I’m at the corner of Smith and Weston. Or maybe: Help. Floodwaters rising. Can’t swim. If she got it completely right then there could be a GPS thingy. They did it in CSI, so it was possible. She wouldn’t even need an address.

    It really was the next step. But it had to be in the right hands, or minds. Like anything technological, it was just a tool. It was what you did with it that was important. But this would be more than a tool. She’d have to build in something that did a scan of the heart. That would make it a bit exclusive. She’d have to work out an algorithm that wasn’t judgemental. Ethics had to be a part of it, otherwise what was the point?

    It could all be channelled into a bangle, a sort of wrap-around Velcro thing that you could tuck under a sleeve. Or in places where it was too hot for sleeves, it could even be see-through, or invisible. Yeah. Make it invisible. But the heart thingy would have to work.

    When the bangle caught their help cries, it would relay them to a central in each city. She’d have to deal with the politics of the day. Go international. Some countries would make problems, of course, and it wasn’t always the ones that you assumed. But it was early days yet. At the central they could sound the alarm and help would be on its way.

    She scratched her head. Telepathy was the next step and she was determined to find a way.

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  7. He hates the phone, with a passion.

    It should be his lifeline to the world, yet now he can barely bring himself to lift up the receiver. He has recently taken to unplugging it so that the insistent ring can no longer pervade his tortured mind.

    It was all so easy when Lily was here. She was constantly engaged in social chatter with the many friends who dropped in and out of their lives, always bringing fun and laughter with them. They had brought him to life too.

    But Lily has gone and, with her, his whole existence. He can no longer set foot outside the flat. The anxiety grips him like a vice, churning his stomach and turning his legs to trembling jelly. He fears that everyone in the neighbourhood will know that he has been dumped, will be watching and gossiping, so he retreats back into the safety of his social isolation.

    The internet has been a blessing, a means of talking to others anonymously in a totally non-threatening way and of organising his life without leaving the house. His mother runs errands for him if necessary and the postman delivers parcels. A mental health worker is teaching him relaxation techniques.

    But he can’t control the phone. At first he used to pick it up quickly, hoping to hear Lily’s gentle voice. But she was never there. Instead it was usually a heavily-accented call centre operative trying to sell him life assurance which doesn’t cover suicide. He dreads not understanding what is being said to him, fears having to be assertive and put the phone down.

    Worst of all are the nightly silent calls. The ones where he can just hear light breathing on the voicemail message. He doesn’t know who it is.

    Could it possibly be Lily?

  8. Paula’s voice grated. It sounded like the strings of a violin being scratched by a beginner.
    ‘Sandra,’ she said. ‘Will you do me a favour? It’s very important.’
    ‘I have a patient who has a tortuous stammer. Could he ring one evening, just to practise. It would be a massive step forward, he has zero confidence.’
    ‘O.K. I wasn’t keen but at least it promised to be a quickie. He wouldn’t exactly have verbal diarrhoea, probably more like a strained motion getting stuck. I could cope with that.
    ‘Ah, that’s secret. I want you off guard; you’ll be more natural if caught unawares.’

    Weeks later I was enjoying ‘Autumn Watch,’ that Bill Oddie gets odder every second. Now he’s dyed his hair, he’ll be in drag next.
    Blast, the phone breaks into my concentration just as it switches to Kate Humble.
    Heavy breathing. Oh no, not one of those freaks. He’s hissing now.
    ‘Speak up.’
    He laughs and the hissing continues, followed by more heavy breathing.
    ‘Your type needs locking away. If you have anything to say, spit it out.’
    He laughs again. It’s not a joyful sound, more of a sob.
    ‘You’re nothing but a coward.’ I’m shouting now. I want to catch the owls ruffling their feathers, making their first attempt at flight. ‘If you’ve got nothing to say get off the line.’
    SSSSSS - that’s it He’s gone too far, I’ve had enough. I slam the phone down just as the credits appear. I’m not happy. People like that should be reported but what good does that do. I suppose they're just harmless, lonely misfits. Poor sods!

    Paula’s voice grates. ‘You mean cow,’ she squeals. ‘Poor Derek, you’ve set him back six months.
    ‘He was trying to say your name - SANDRA.’

  9. Ben loved his work with the Samaritans, listening to troubled people on the phone, helping where he could. Often he didn’t know whether he had helped or not, but he knew for sure that in seven years he had saved three lives. He had the thank-you letters.

    Ben was happy to listen. He liked being able to put down his usual biases and prejudices, to give as good a listen to the woman who ranted about her daughter’s stupid nigger boyfriend as to the tearful teenager whose dog had just died. In everyday life Ben didn’t like dogs or racists. At the Samaritans, that didn’t matter.

    But there was one aspect of the work that Ben found difficult, and that was the callers who could not or would not speak. He knew some things to say – ‘Some things are really hard to talk about,’ ‘If you don’t feel like speaking today, you can always call us back another time,’ ‘I’m still here’ – but without a single clue about who he was talking to, whether they were male or female, young or old, he didn’t know how to be silent. Of course there were often periods of silence in other calls, but being silent with someone he’d already spoken to was much easier, he could focus on them, project the reassurance they needed down the phone line. If the caller only managed to say ‘hello’, or even to sob once, he could deal with any amount of silence after that. But he found the completely silent calls intimidating. He didn’t know who to be.

    Time went quickly as he listened to people talking, weeping, shouting. But the silent calls slowed time right down. He had one that went on for 45 minutes, once. He was drenched in sweat by the end.

  10. She hadn`t meant to frighten him. She`d offered her mother`s maiden name like it had never been improved upon. He whispered, "Yes, yes I did know her once. Many years ago. I think I know who you are." He could see her wounded pink face, poking out of the blanket that they wrapped endlessly around her. He wanted to pick her up and hold her just once before he flew back to base.

    "Are we okay to talk?" Her hands and knees begin to tremble. Somebody shouts his name in the background, a woman. She slams the receiver down like an already forgotten dream. He probably has kids, a wife. What was she thinking?

    "You can`t leave the poor sod up in the air like that," her husband wailed. She can`t bear to ring back and have somebody else answer. Ask who is she? What she wants? Can she leave a message?

    An hour later the phone rings. His voice unsettled. "Is that you?"
    "It`s me. Sorry for hanging up. If this is going to cause too much trouble, we can forget it."
    "I heard them in the background. My nan gave me your name before she died. I`ve been going through the phone book that`s how I found you. I have children now, two, and I wondered if you`d like to meet us?
    " Your husband?"
    "Yes, I have a husband, Alan. It`s okay if you don`t want to, I understand. Things could prove tricky."
    "What are you wearing?"
    "I watch you sitting on the step in that mini skirt. The denim one."
    The phone slipped from her hand without permission. Alan looked up from his newspaper and asked her what`s wrong?
    "That wasn`t him! That wasn`t him at all! I`ve told him everything. And he can see me!"

  11. For ages now he had spoken to no one, not since she'd gone.
    There was no point. She was everything.
    The swirl of wind across a summer beach. Falling snow on a glass roof. The green flash just before the sun goes down.

    He'd tried to tell her how she meant everything to him.
    When she came close, the light from outside catching her hair as she bent over him.
    He tried to find the right word to thank her or just tell her how he felt.
    Sometimes she would pause as if waiting for him to speak. Once for what seemed like a minute. Usually just a second. Sometime two.
    But the right word wouldn't come.
    Then she was gone.

    For a while he wondered how it would be when someone else came.
    But they never stayed long enough for him to find the right word.

    He thought about trying the phone.
    That would mean he could take his time.
    He need not press the numbers until he knew precisely what he was going to say. He could have his little speech ready. Maybe even a big speech. He was sure there would be times when he'd have a lot to say. When he made contact. When some one answered that he could respond to. Some one like her.

    Sometimes the words did come. He knew exactly what to say.
    Then he wondered what their response would be and tried to imagine that too.
    If he said hello would they say hello back - or just be angry for being interrupted. Or think he was a stalker, a perv.
    He wouldn't want them thinking that about him.

    When those thoughts came he waited.
    Waited until they had gone.
    Then he would try again.
    Searching for the right word.

  12. Thea telephones from her bedside, we have the son we’d hoped for. They are both fine. I can’t wait to see him.

    The staff greet me as a celebrity, informing me that my wife has given birth to a giraffe; I’m reassured by the midwife’s calm ‘we get all sorts here’ and the Ward Sister’s ‘Congratulations Mr. Stevens, he’s beautiful.’ And he is. I look at my wife and ask ecstatically, ‘Is he really mine?’ My wife smiles lovingly, answers that of course he is. Our very own son, named after my father Gerald. The Doctor calls in a Specialist to check him. After a thorough leg massage, needed through being too cramped in the womb, he is pronounced to be in sound health.

    The tiny horns prove too hurtful for breast-feeding. Thea must be content with cuddling his big furry body for short periods, while he’s put on solids. Two days later, when we leave the hospital, Gerry is walking. Fearful of breaking his legs forcing him into the car, we walk home together, my hand on his back, stopping when necessary, never losing contact. Thea drives home, awaiting us anxiously. From that first night onwards, Gerry sleeps contentedly on a double bed.

    He speaks early, his first word “Daddy”. His voice and mine soon become identical. He is almost entirely self educated, local schools refused him. Later, we have none of the dreaded teen-age problems.

    His nature is gentle, his brain quite outstanding. Any initial apprehension on meeting him is immediately dispelled when he speaks, he inspires confidence and trust. His smile is radiant; looking into his deep brown eyes I see that they mirror my own.

    He goes up to Oxford next year to read Philosophy. We are so proud of him and will miss him terribly.

  13. He remembers how his mother used to do it. She’d launch into conversations, or rather, animated monologues. Later, she’d realize Harriot was not giving the cold shoulder to her husband Harold even to the extent of denying ever knowing him, but this silence on the line was not from mousy Harriot at all.

    Then mom would pivot tactics from the death by a thousand facts to full inquisition with pauses and parries, drag out the whole life story of this stranger who would start disclosing things that she never knew were in her because no one ever asked.

    Mom was a confessor priest who’d never reveal how Janet’s twin sister believes that Janet’ll try to steal her husband who is really a fun-loving man, flinching, whipped and furtive and everything’s more complex than it has to be and the stranger is crying and mom is there, concerned and baffled. “People just tell me things,” mom said with a helpless shrug.

    Mom lets most misdialed numbers fall back into the privacy of anonymity. There were women she’d called weekly for nearly 30 years, checking in on them. One was elderly. Mom fretted that she may have a fall.

    They never met. He thought once of a phoners getaway, go skiing at a B&B in Vermont. Mom could discover how Lois drops her chin off the side when she fibs, the reflexive flip of hair from her eyes even months after she got it shorn by Reb with that razor cut random length that felt so good at the time but got her chastised to not cut her hair herself the next time she went for a trim. How Janet at cafes wipes sweat with a smoothing gesture down her dress or pants.

    Before he moved out he said…nothing. Silence vexes her.

    pagehalffull@yahoo. com

  14. Diggle's, I think this one's lovely!

  15. There had been weight in the phone handset in 1982 and an appropriate catch of the other person’s voice before he had pushed the two pence coin into the machine and balanced the 10 pence piece in its slot. Waiting. Hoping for one more word, one more sentence winding its way through the wires across the Pennines. The experience was physical. He would stand on the stone floor of the phone box at the end of Huntingdon Road and sometimes she would answer the phone and say “This will have to wait til tomorrow, Alan.” That was when she was pretending for her husband’s sake. Alan was her boss. Sometimes they would use only words of intimacy, words of the body, like impotent pornographers shouting descriptions of desperation across a crowded room. These were different times and much, he thought, had been lost in the immediacy of communications. He thought of that last handwritten letter. The deep blue ink on turquoise paper, like a wound. A mere curled elaborate D at the beginning – like a teenager writing to a popstar. D for dark and death, for darling, dear, dare, don’t, don’t, definitely. Days too numerous to count had passed since then. Now he turns off his mobile phone as soon as he leaves the office every night but can’t help typing her name into his search engine. She will have a new name now. A new life. One in which all calls are monitored and no one stands in the rain, in the Winter waiting in a queue to make that urgent call in the night. He cannot imagine her death in spite of a quarter of a century. A long time since he heard her name, saw her hand, pushed that 10 pence piece into its tight slot.

  16. There’s no absolute justification for the guilt you’d felt. A learned response to having a secret. Both conditions, secrecy and guilt, are inventions born of a Christian lust for revenge, martyred suffering itching under the skin of humanity. Would this new found obsession have felt so wrong before the invention of good taste, would it have become addictive had it not been a ‘guilty secret’? And at your age.

    It begun as a curiosity. Someone jokingly tucked the DVD into your ‘Independent’ after it fell out of some top shelf magazine..

    It became addictive. When the other half went to a weekly evening cookery class, in went the DVD.

    The established itinerary accompanying the voyeuristic intention became foreplay, locking doors, drawing curtains, pouring beer, putting the fags near, donning the comfortable trousers, your groin tingled in anticipation.

    Primarily it seemed crass, you wondered what other blokes saw in it.
    Yet, somehow it became exciting. Being lost in ‘the act’, rather than any particular role was deliriously horny. Eyes hungrily devoured the pornographic penetration; Skin gliding over skin: that warm pink fleshy orifice, receiving, gripping and shuddering under the impact of each pounding thrust.

    Arousal, initially a surprise, became difficult to ignore. Consequently tentative caressing and apprehensive rubbing gradually soared to a faster rhythm. It was hard to hold back, especially when you imagined the actual physical sensation experienced by that huge steely swollen member; when you imagined sliding into that sweet, neat, tight little cunt.

    The climax came when the whore on the screen moaned to be fucked harder, you let it go, cried for her to “take that bitch”! You were seized by the ultimate, a toe curling spasm you’d never known before. It didn’t make sense.

    Afterwards the DVD was hidden, like a secret lover, your lesbian lover.

  17. response message for Sun 11 Nov (2)

    ... a curl of smoke that starts to bring back some wispy memories I'm trying hard to forget. Dr Hetherington at the Unit says it's much better if I try very hard to remember. I get confused here. I think I'm trying hard to remember to forget.

    There was smoke everywhere. It was a miracle no one died. Everyone said it was a miracle that she didn't die. The dog died. I thought it was a bleedin' miracle that she lived - that she lived at all. On this earth. That she lived at all on this earth with THAT attitude. That attitude which made me wet my pants at school and be the laughing stock of primary one, two and bleedin' three. Fuck me.

    My primary goal then was to let her see that I was not affected. Unaffected. To that effect, I think I succeeded. The effect of constantly being 'unaffected' had a profound effect on me in later life. I realize that now. I didn't realize it at the time. All that holding back, holding in, holding out. Holding out for a new mummy, that's what. I did my level best to get rid of the old one but she ... held out, shall we say.

    As if she was fashioned out of blocks of concrete and bulldozed into that Parker Knoll bleedin' chair where she ruled the world - and me. She's supposed to be made of - what is it again - puppy dogs' tails (or have I got that wrong, bet I've got that wrong)? And talking of puppy dogs' tails ...

    Her mantra for all those miserable years was always 'don't touch' ...

    don't touch the television

    don't touch any matches

    don't touch the dog's tail like that

    and don't touch the telephone.

    Who's touching now, mummy dear?

    written by Louise Laurie

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  19. They had another listener before us, Mrs Colquhoun, but she died and we moved into her house. So now we’re the listeners. All day and sometimes at night too, we hark and heed. You can go, or be taken, a long way from an armchair. One of them yesterday, a poor sad girl, she couldn’t stop crying. Cheer up love, I told her, nobody’s worth that much grief. Of course, I should have buttoned it. Not a squeak, ought to be our motto. But it’s easy to forget, a moment’s impatience can do centuries of damage. She wailed off down a long echoey corridor. Then I heard water dripping in an underground cavern. I came up so fast, it gave me a psychic asthma attack. Worse than a real one. Oh Joe, I gasped. But I saw his eyes were closed. He was smiling, amused. I hoped it wasn’t that 1920s girl, a shocking flirt she is.

    A tiny voice close to my ear says hello. I’m Leonard. Toast and Marmite? Oh dear dear, there’s no Marmite left. Leonard used to be a civil servant, then he retired to Eastbourne and hung himself. He’s a sweet man. A floater-around, very lonely, just the kind of person this house tends to attract. Because it’s not haunted, as such. Just a place where ghosts can be heard. Oh dear, oh dear, Leonard says. No marmite left. Everything seems pointless.

    Sometimes when I’m very tired, between listening to the ghosts, I hear wind sighing in the grass far away and beyond that, the sea. And beautiful voices, talking and when they fall silent, I know they’re listening to me. Which doesn’t frighten me at all, in fact it’s a great comfort. But I know I mustn’t go where they are, not just yet.

  20. Some people love the sound of speech—particularly their own. Given half a chance they are the ones who will seize the microphone to add something unnecessary. The ones who relish the after dinner speech and give a long list of thanks to the ones who did the flowers, arranged the band, the band itself, the members, previous speakers, past and present presidents. If fact all the bladder torture that can be inflicted before suffering men sidle uncomfortably for the door nearest the loo, penguinlike with their knees clasped together.
    Others, like me, are unfitted to the performing arts. I can spot soulmates infallibly. They agreed, in a rash moment months ago and have been regretting ever since. Draft after draft read to a mirror. Hard to think of a more unappreciative audience than one’s own reflection. Leave the draft6 to mature for a few day and return to find it totally misses the points you want to make, and it does so with a wealth of clichés and non sequitors
    We sit down to our dinners with little enthusiasm. Dry mouth and tight stomach. A drink may help, but watch it or you will end up babbling nervously and forgetting when to stop. Realise after a few minutes that you have ignored the people on either side and your side plate is covered with little grey balls of kneaded bread. The food arrives, but is as enticing as ashes and tastes just the same.
    Inevitably, the time arrives and you stand clutching much shuffled notes in damp and trembling hands. Afterwards you can feel the blood running back to the extremities from the core where it was keeping the body alive. Peckish, thirsty and talkative now.
    Overheard after in the loo. ‘He wasn’t as bad as the last one.’iltppw

  21. Hello? – Hello-o? – Anybody there? – Ben? Is that you? – Oh Ben, you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to – but I know it’s you. I’ve been waiting for your call. We miss you so much, Ben –

    I’m sorry, don’t mind me. I’m just being silly and you know what I’m like after a drink or two – a big old sissy. I can picture you on the other end of the line – you’re in the same green parka you had on the day you left. You hardly ever take that thing off so it wasn’t hard to find a photo of you wearing it for the poster. It’s gone up everywhere, even down in London – perhaps you’ve seen it? We’ve not had many responses though. I wonder where you are, Ben.

    We’ve been sick with worry, your father and I. Of course, he doesn’t know why you left. He blame’s himself, thinks he’s a bad father. And I’m too much of a coward to tell him. I’ve come close once or twice but in the end I think it’d only make him more wretched. And telling won’t bring you home.

    I keep seeing your expression that moment you caught us in the shed. I have never felt so utterly exposed or pathetic. I don’t need to tell you that it’s over. The irony is that he’s been a pillar of strength to your father throughout all this. So you understand why I could never confess, don’t you? Your father would be destroyed.

    Ben, are you still there? I’m not asking you to forgive me - I have to live with this for the rest of my life. But for your father’s sake I’m begging you. Please come home. We miss you, Ben.

  22. He had a method for choosing his calls, perfected over time, till it was an art form. When he started it was just random numbers, but this led to many unknown and sometimes unhelpful calls. Then he got a set of phone books delivered each year. He would chose an area first. Then, flicked open a page, and looked for a name, only an initial, he liked the suspense of not knowing, to choose male or female would spoil the suspense. This was how he found his favourite.

    Looking back, his logbook had everything, dates, times, numbers and how the call went, for him and them. He was methodical about it. He thought it paid to be scientific, he was different, no doubt. Not just making sexual comments or breathing provocatively, he really listened. Maybe this was his downfall, buy mostly it was his logbook. He still wanted to make one more call, but they control his calls now, from the open prison he currently resides in, and he feels the psychologist just doesn't take him seriously.

    One call, that was all it took to change everything. Picked like many others. The phone was picked up and one word “Help”. Listening, he heard the sound of a knife drawn across skin, the gurgling of a throat cut. And then, quietly, the thump of a limp body.

    The rest, the police, the questions, how did he know the victim, all that, it was only a matter of time before they found the logs, all the calls. Well he did the right thing I suppose, he called them in the first place. he spoke to them, told them the number he had dialled.

    I just never expected them to find my wife so quickly, and then me, with blood on my hands.

    Jim Barron

  23. Just a connection that’s all he’s looking for. The loneliness has overtaken every part of his being. For brief moments here and there we escape it but for so many those moments become further and further between. After awhile the search ceases and there is a settling on a life without it, the connection.
    He will not settle, he knows it is out there. One time he was walking through a store and felt it, somewhere there. But he could not find it.
    He dials another number and waits. Hello? Hello? He hears laughter in the background and then click. Sigh. How to find it? The answer to the waking dream of belonging. The answer to the nightmare that is aloneness and separation.
    He goes to work. He comes home. He dials the phone. Hello…. He goes to bed. The pattern continues. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. The result remained the same and unable to break out of the routine it continues week after week after week.
    “Come with us tonight.” One of the men he works with invites him out with some friends. This one time he goes. Together the men laugh and talk and although he doesn’t truly feel as though he is a part of them something changes. Something shifts ever so slightly.
    He goes home that night. It’s late and he showers and goes straight to bed. In the morning things are somehow slightly different. He makes his way to the office and there’s a new girl at the reception desk. Just as he’s walking past the men from the night before come up and greet him. She smiles at him as he walks by and he feels a bit of a connection.

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  25. I walk into our bedroom and he jumps, stashing his mobile phone beneath his back … a look I haven’t seen since accidentally finding our thirteen-year old clutching a well-thumbed Penthouse in his left hand.

    “You’re hiding your phone?”

    “Nah, just slipped out of my pocket.” He’s clever as ever with spontaneous cover-ups.

    “Such a lie,” I tease, lying down on the bed. The handset was flipped open and lit up. “What’s going on?”

    “Nothing, I told you.”

    My mind flies into overdrive. He has been awfully affectionate lately. Just like before. I’d never have known unless I pried. And it’s not really hacking when it’s your tech-adverse husband (especially when you set up the accounts), right?

    “I’m just stressed,” he said three years ago. “It’s just a game, fantasizing online.”

    Odd how bi-curious fantasies come knocking on the door when one’s wife’s on a business trip. Too bad it was cancelled at the last minute.

    “Sorry, you were supposed to be outta town,” was the best he could do. Part of me wanted to shoot him, part of me wanted to march him to an improvisation class.

    We made mistakes. We went to counseling. We re-evolved.

    “Are you having an affair?” My words spill onto the pillow before I can swallow them.

    He says certainly not. Which means to me he’s just having sex, it’s not really an Affair.

    It’s out of remission, isn’t it? If I push, I’m a paranoid bitch. Ignoring it makes it my fault if goes too far.

    I can’t bear the loneliness.

    “So, are we doing Christmas in Mauritius?” he asks. A kiss on the head and a change of the subject.

    “Let’s get through Thanksgiving first,” I sigh, and head back to the kitchen.

    Dinner won’t make itself.

  26. ‘He phoned again today.’
    ‘Who did love?’
    ‘Who do you mean?’
    ‘You know, that creep I’ve been telling you about. The one that keeps phoning. I timed him. It was thirty minutes.’
    ‘What was?’
    ‘Him on the phone. That was all I could stomach, I can tell you. Listening to him breath and everything. I had to put the phone down.’
    ‘You mean you held on for half an hour?’
    ‘I wanted to see how long he’d last.’
    ‘What on earth did you do for all that time?’
    ‘Nothing. Had a fag, that’s what.’
    ‘For God’s sake Eileen.’
    ‘Well,’ she mashed her cigarette out in the overflowing ashtray, ‘I was hardly going to speak to him, the nasty pervert.’
    ‘No, don’t speak to him. Just put the phone down, get a biro, jot down the time on the back of an envelope.’
    She bent down to reach into the oven, noticing as she did so greasy spots on the carpet tiles. They’ll need moving to the edge soon, she thought, as she lifted out a baking tray and placed it on the hob. She held the foil edge of an individual pie case with a tea towel and eased the contents onto a plate. She piled up chips and placed the plate in front of her husband.
    ‘I’ve a good mind to report him or something. Ketchup or brown?’ She filled a similar plate for herself. ‘Fair spoils my appetite he does. Here’s your cuppa.’
    ‘Thanks love. Look, just don’t answer the phone for a bit, hey?’
    But a week later when the phone rang and all she could hear was breathing, she replaced the receiver, dialled one four seven one, and when she was given a number and he answered she blew loud smoke rings into the mouthpiece.

  27. It was morning nine , you can imagine the very busy hour for a housewife , to get ready
    Children for school, packing their lunch, getting them dressed up in their uniforms and giving
    the iron box to the forgetful husband who hurries you to do things in the eleventh hour, and
    if you are a carrier woman, no need to ask the mounting tension: to aggravate the situation,
    a phone call from somebody, just enact your reaction. One such phone call I received a
    fortnight ago and the boy as if he knew me for ages proceeded testing my patience, eager
    to know all about me. I just simply cut the phone, and went to my college.
    The story repeated the next day being Sunday , I threatened to call up the police, whereupon,
    The caller in an endearing tone addressed, “ aunty , I am calling from the same colony ,
    And my name is Sam , working in the electricity department “ and so on and so forth,
    and he had such a magic and mesmerising tone that instead of getting angry as
    I did the other day, I became drawn towards him and he becomes the best friend of my
    Children and my family.

    These days we do have anonymous calls and phone tapping and also caller id facilities
    by which one can trace the source of the calls. In a rare case in the matrimonial
    prospect a marriage was fixed over the phone and the bride and the groom without
    even seeing each other, gathered all information and the wedding was solemnised.

    Recently I dialled up my third generation nonagenarian uncle as a courtesy call and his
    Response was a shivering, shaking prolonged silence, the impact of absence and longing either side.

  28. Karen sighed as she picked up the phone and cradled its breathy silence to her ear. She knew already who it was, and why he wasn't speaking.

    She examined her face in the mirror. Her nosebleed seemed to have stopped but her left eye felt puffy and sore. Karen looked at the red wine stain trickling down her yellow wall to the broken glass on the wooden floor beneath her bare feet. She lit a cigarette, her hand shaking slightly as she raised it to her mouth, and slowly puffed a curl of smoke into the phone. She knew he was listening.

    The very first time they'd played this game, it had been exciting, sexy, like when he'd described his fantasy of a threesome with her best friend Mel, not that she had ever told Mel. But this time she knew it was not about sex but power: and he was waiting for her to apologise.

    She focused carefully on the breathing on the other end of the phone: heavy, fast but regular.

    It was like this every time they rowed. Karen looked at her watch. Fifteen minutes, he was normally shouting by this point. She frowned. Obviously, he was still waiting for her to grovel. But Karen knew now that it was better to keep her “ dirty whore's” mouth shut, as he always told her. Anything she did say would be wrong. Besides, silence suited her.

    The only time Mel had ever mentioned Karen's frequent 'accidents', she had advised her friend to talk to someone, go to the police. But silence was Karen's best weapon, her means of fighting back in the battle to see who would give in first. So she kept quiet, kept breathing; waiting for the bone-breaking crash click blip of his receiver into the wall.

    Sarah James

  29. lcgjoc“Who is it? - Who is it?” He was shocked by the fear in the voice whispered into the phone, almost hysterical. “You’ve got to help me, please, please help me”, a sob right in the back of the throat!
    He couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman, emotion strangling vocal chords, corrupting the delivery.
    He sat up quickly holding the phone now with both hands, complete attention. This he had never anticipated, and was suddenly catapulted from voyeur into collaborator. If he didn’t respond, played his usual game of silence and control – he by omission became a player!
    “They will find me soon, oh my God! Oh my God help me. They grabbed me and I don’t even now where I am, why I’m here – ssssshh, oh God, what’s that?”
    Stunned, he held the phone away from his ear and stared at it. Then realising this was not helping he pressed it again to his ear, mouth open and eyes wide, panic gripping him, throat dry and paralysed. His remit of remaining silent, visualising the reaction to his call bought graphic and frightening scenes into his fertile brain – not what I’m looking for his mind wailed, stop it, stop it.
    “You know this number, get the police to trace it, get them to find me - answer me for pity’s sake. You must know the number!”
    Suddenly the voice begging to know why, what they wanted, shrieking, then other voices, “She’s been on the phone, bitch she’ll pay for that alright!” A clatter as the phone went down hard.
    He was standing by now, rocking in misery, immersed in the terror of sharing those harrowing moments. He sat heavily, replaced the phone on its cradle. It was a random number, no redial.
    “Never again”, he vowed, “never again”.


  30. It was a purple day. A mauvish, smudged purple, blurred round the edges. I was content to be nestled in the imprecise space between dream and reality. It was an OK feeling – like opting out but not quite. From my place in today’s colour spectrum I could carry on almost as normal.

    I sat in the café with my friends peering out through steamed up windows to the street outside. Anna, John and Murray were talking animatedly about a film they’d seen the previous evening. I’d seen it too and had my own views but I just sat there in my bubbled observatory. The purple haze that lay between us prevented me from speaking out.

    I wondered if this is what it would be like to be dead, whether one could look down on the world but not participate. Like a fly on the wall. What colour would death be? Black like a fly. No, not black. Anyway black’s not a real colour, it’s a catch-all colour, serving a number of purposes. It’s the colour to wear if you want to be safe, be slim, be sad, be smart, be steady.

    Anna kept giving me odd sideways glances as if to say ‘What’s got in to you?’ and ‘Why aren’t you joining in?’ but I think she knew somehow it was pointless to actually ask me. Maybe she thought I was in a bad mood, or just maybe she has purple days too and recognises the signs. She goes back to concentrating on what Murray is saying – he’s trying to recall the name of the director. I know his name – I remember looking it up on the internet but it’s a purple day so I won’t tell.

    Purple days are better than blue ones - now those are something else.

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  33. Hello? Hello? Is that you? Darling? I can’t hear you…

    Your words echo in your head as you put the phone down. The hand gripping the receiver is pale and shivering. You leave it there. It doesn’t look like your hand. It should be in a Van Gogh painting. The phone doesn’t ring again.

    You keep it close all the time. At night, you unplug the cable, coil it about your arm like a snake and take it to bed. You have to sleep on his side now. That’s where the socket is. You haven’t slept on the left hand side in nearly twenty years. It’s colder and the light is wrong but it doesn’t matter because you can’t sleep anyway. You’ll go back to your side when she comes home and then you’ll sleep.

    He’s been gone six years now. You didn’t miss him until she left. Now it’s him you miss. He’s here every day checking you’re looking after yourself and now you miss him.

    Every time the phone rings, it’s her. Her voice is in the ringing. She calls out to you; she needs you… you crash across to the phone. She’s gone. It’s no one. Or it’s someone.

    She set out in the snow. You saw her footsteps in the morning: soft hollows across the lawn and down the path, disappearing into ice at the gate. You looked down from your bedroom window, your eyes falling into footprints bigger than yours. You thought you might make lasagne for dinner: her favourite.

    Two weeks later and the mince is still tucked in the freezer. When you open the door, you see her footprints in the frost growing smaller, smaller.

    Her fingerprints, dark and clumsy, climb the sides of the ice cream tub and skip across the lid.

    (Jenny Adamthwaite

  34. The worst one of all was the disconnecting click that came a quarter of a second after the connecting click.

    He frowned, at first thinking that it was a fault on the line; but when he dialled again, the same thing happened. This time, he caught some background noise. Music? A TV? Someone had definitely picked up the phone and put it down again.

    He was confused. That didn’t happen. They all said, hello? All of them. No exceptions. He tried the number again. Same thing: picked up, put down. And, boy, was it a put-down. He was annoyed now. Little beads of sweat forming on his palms.

    He tried again.
    Click, click.
    Shaking with anger, he dialled a fourth time, and a fifth.
    Click, click.
    Click, click.

    ‘You can’t do this,’ he screamed at the phone. ‘No one does this to me.’
    He couldn’t back down now. He needed to know. He needed some clue. He tried again, and again, and again.

    Eventually, reason settled on his heaving shoulders. He must have stumbled into a lovers’ tiff. She (he assumed it was a she) thought that he was her husband/boyfriend/whatever. She didn’t know it was him. He didn’t need to take it personally. He could try again another day.

    He tried on many other days, nights, weekends, weekdays. The phone just clicked and clicked.

    Until one day, it kept on ringing. He got excited then, thinking he might get an answer-phone. A ‘hello Mark and Jill can’t come to the phone at the moment…’ then at least he’d know their names, the sound of her voice, or his. That would be something.
    But nothing happened. There was no answer-phone.
    There was no one, nothing to acknowledge his call. Not even a click, click.


  35. He can feel the nylon of the carpet irritating his buttocks. He always got a sweat rash, but it'd be eczema if she didn't get a move on. How long did she need for goodness sake?

    She can feel her hip grating as she squats. The left one, from when they were still doing them in tin. The new plastic one is lovely.

    His breath frosting the glass he writes with his nose - 'I Love You' complete with phony-pony styilised heart, slap bang in the middle - improvising a ruffle surround with the wire of his eyebrows.

    He really should do something about those curtains. Vera wouldn't have been happy about the way he'd let himself go, and the stains on the carpet - my - she'd be spinning if they'd buried her.

    He rattles the 'cuffs for effect, gaining only an annoyed tutting sound for his professionalism as the coffee table moves a couple of centimeters, causing her to splash her latest pair of Jimmy shoes.

    Thirty seconds; that was quite a decent effort for an old bird. She'd been drinking tea all morning of course, but the pelvic floor must really be paying off.

    He watches the shower hit the glass, flinching slightly as a droplet passes through some previously unnoticed, microscopically small flaw, hitting his cheek, dribbling down his chin.

    Ooh, that was a good one. She reaches for a Tenor Lady and gives herself a quick joosh with a lace hanky from up her sleeve.

    The alarm clock sounds and Norman sighs as he is released.

    Daphne hands him a towel along with a slim brown envelope 'for his efforts'.

    'Same time next week, love?'

    Norman raises an eyebrow, he'd nearly got enough for the Stannah, but wasn't sure his arse could take the punishment.

  36. Despite meticulous planning and organisation, the oversight courted catastrophe.

    Staring intently at the specially invited group of senior managers, her muttered curses drew ignorance from an already disorientated audience.

    Anger boiled. Ignorance of close allies was intolerable; punishable through extreme prejudice once current proceedings concluded. Her professional outlook acknowledged this unnecessary predicament a disgrace.

    She condemned her own naiveté. Trusted colleagues promoted belief that every inch of the room was accounted for. Set up underwent intense scrutiny; place settings, table symmetry, writing materials and presentation media all obsessively reviewed in the pursuit of perfection.

    At 8.30am, activities commenced perfectly. When covering protocol required for such a gathering, all mobiles (excepting one) faced recalcitrant muting, ‘confiscated’ to the facility’s secure lock up to which she possessed exclusive entry. Whilst executive backsides brushed the undersides of carefully arranged seats, the lobby receptionist remotely locked the room’s electronic interior doors, entombing the group, ensuring compliant concentration until release for lunch.

    By 8.45, anarchy prevailed. Usually, the normally intense, stretching subject matter obliged to deliver such difficulties. Today, a car park opposite was provider, its panoramic, disturbingly detailed view afforded by an unreported window constituting the room’s fourth wall. Whilst they stared, she discreetly dialled.

    Assembled throngs of armed police, military and emergency services cordoned immediate external areas.

    As a professional business facilitator, she routinely faced candidates seeking validation of her presence. Today’s classroom of antagonistic naysayers would soon wish they’d never known her.

    The mobile buzzed angrily in her hand. Flipping it open, simultaneously reaching for the hand bagged .45; she left no angles for interpretation.

    “Is this the negotiator?” Steely intent shackled her ragged emotions.

    “Have you spoken with the board? Good. Tell them if my demands fail to materialise within the hour, I start shooting, one at a time, every fifteen minutes.”

  37. A hotel somewhere in Mid-West America. Grand Rapids, maybe, though it isn’t too grand and nothing’s moving at all. Snowbound. Casual chat with the other few guests dried up after the first night, with nothing to talk about but the weather, and that has stayed the same. On the TV, there are sit-coms, so broken by adverts that by the time the programme comes back on he’s completely lost the thread. They’re rubbish anyway. The other option is the news, which is all about the weather, and that has stayed the same. On balance, the ads are the best thing on, full of false hope and cynicism, with slogans almost haiku-like in their sadness:

    own a piece of America
    and see your life change
    for the better

    The airport is tantalisingly close, but who knows when the next plane will leave? So here he is, watching adverts on TV and blank snow through the window, trapped in a small piece of America, where the dream has become recurring and everything stays the same.

    He is running on two timescales, eight hours apart, phoning in the gaps between disjointed patterns of work and sleep, making tired conversation with nothing to say. But now, in early evening, it is the small hours, and she will be sleeping. There are no voices and he feels more alone than he has ever felt before. On a whim, with something like recklessness and something like desperation, he picks up the phone, pushes 9 for an outside call, and hits the numbers at random. What will the response be? Confusion? Indignity? Fear? It doesn’t matter – any voice would be good.

    A ringtone, then silence. But not true silence. Instead, it is a silence crackling with distance, the echo of falling snow, and everything staying the same.

  38. It was the silences she enjoyed the most. The times when their tongues had run out of words but their hearts continued speaking. It had never been that way with anyone else. With previous partners she always talked too much. Sometimes she heard the words fly from her mouth before they had entered her head. She knew it was not an endearing quality. She wished she could accept silence: silence across a dinner table, during a walk, or after sex. But she couldn’t. She feared that if she stopped talking she would realise that nobody was listening. Or worse, that she would hear her heart murmuring a truth she dared not acknowledge. With these men, words helped form a temporary bridge across the impenetrable space between them. Without words this space would expand, solidify, until eventually she found herself suffocating under the weight of its emptiness.

    But with D it was different. She no longer needed words to protect her, to fill an intolerable void. The space between them had evaporated the first time their eyes locked. Even from across the room she could feel the intimate caress of his mind as it brushed against her own. Of course, they spoke. Mostly at the beginning whilst they were still getting to know each other. But much of the time now they did without actual words. With D she had discovered a new language. A language hatched from the union of two minds. A union as natural as a baby’s mouth against its mother’s breast. They spent hours communicating in this way: a tilt of the head, a flicker of the eyelids, a crinkle of the brow. A slow solitary sigh. And in between nothing but an intoxicating silence. With D she had discovered what it was like to truly connect.

    Sarah Charsley

  39. He hated talking on the telephone, taking calls from people. Hates it with a passion. Does it every day and hates it more with each passing second.

    “Hello sir. Can you spare a few moments of your time? I have a fantastic opportunity to talk to you about…”

    He expects the hang ups, the curses, the yelling. He’s been called all manner of names. Telemarketers are some of the most hated people. He doesn’t mind being hated, likes it in fact. It gives him power.

    What he doesn’t expect is to hear his fathers voice in the background.

    “Who is it Ernie?” his fathers voice.

    “Some jerk telemarketer.” This from the voice on the other end of the phone.

    “Tell him to go away so I can suck you off some more.”

    His father sounds impatient. He breathes in and out so he does not sound excited. “Sir,” he tries again. “Are you there?”

    “Yeah,” the voice is gruff. “What is this fantastic opportunity?”

    “You say nothing.” He says to the man. “You’re with my father. I know it’s him. I know it’s his voice. Do you think of my mother at all?” He can’t believe that he blurted it out, can’t believe he’s says what he did.

    “Do you think of my mothers mouth around his cock? Do you think of my mother at all?” He’s angry now and can feel the rage in him building to a crescendo.

    “Look, who is this?” The man sounds worried.

    “I’m his son.” He says. “Ask my father about my cock. He likes mine the best.” He doesn’t know why he said this, why he said this to a stranger.

    “You’re his son?” the man laughs. “I find that hard to believe.”

    The buzz in his ear sounds like bees.

    Jamieson Wolf

  40. .....If you can hear me call me back, okay? Bye then, I’m going now, really, that’s it, try again, byeee!

    Her hand lingered after she put the phone back in its cradle. But it didn’t ring again, though she knew for certain another call was on its way. It might not occur to him straight away (and yes this one was definitely a he) but some time later he’d replay her words in his mind, analyse the tapping sound again and then he’d realize. Then he’d try again.

    When he did make his next call he would still just listen, that’s all most of them can cope with at the start. It would take him a few calls before he believed in her, only then would she invite him to speak. She’d become good at reading the signs, somehow the silence would warm up, her ear would tingle and then she’d know the time was right. In the early days she sometimes got it wrong, she asked them in before they were ready and they would panic and suddenly hang up, lost forever. But she will know exactly when this one is ready to admit to his presence.

    She’d long since stopped wondering whether it was simply serendipity or a crossed wire that led these empty souls to her ear, it was just a part of her life now.

    Once she got them talking she liked to ask them what colours they could see. Most of them saw white, they were blank canvases who needed to be guided towards their own pallet. She dreaded getting an orange, they were overloaded and hard for her to reach. But it was the ones that saw purple she enjoyed the most and she had a feeling this one was going to be purple.

  41. Jane hated answering the telephone. It was mostly a hang-up from her old job at the Agency where a phone call would turn a busy afternoon into a suddenly-manic one.

    Jane hated answering the telephone. Since her breakdown several years ago it had become the symbol of everything that was wrong in her life. Now she was mostly happy – except for the agoraphobia, the claustrophobia, the social phobia and the telephonia – except for the calls from the debt collectors.

    “May I speak to Deborah Reynolds?” Deborah. Never Debbie, or Debs, except for the Scots lady at the call center in Glasgow who pretended to be a mate of hers until you said “I’m sorry, she’s not in,” at which point she’d become snarlingly professional. This one was a regular, who took her inability to bolster her meager wages with some commission from a payment out on Jane. “Would you tell Ms Reynolds-” every syllable spat into the mouthpiece- “to contact Mr. Crivens at the BFUCA by 8:00 PM at the latest?”

    Jane especially hated answering the telephone to her. This time she recognized the voice. “May I speak to Deborah Reynolds?”

    “Can you hold?” Jane was businesslike. Efficient. She could hear the commission-crunching smile on the other end. “Certainly.”

    A minute stretches into three and she picked up the handset. “Are you still able to hold?”

    “Certainly.” Mr. Crivens’ gopher smirked a reply.

    Three minutes stretched into five minutes. Ten. Jane could hear the impatience and picked up the phone. “How long will Ms Reynolds be?”

    Jane was non-committal. “An hour. Two perhaps. I asked if you could hold. I didn’t say she was in.”

    “Oh! Aren’t you the funny one?” The line goes dead.

    Jane smiled to herself as she replaced the receiver on the cradle. She thought so.


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