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.