creative writing, fiction, short fiction, short stories, Uncategorized, writing

WAIT FOR THE NEXT CALL

‘Hello, is that repairs?’

A wavering, shy voice. Elderly. The kind who attempts to make conversation with strangers because it’s worth the risk to alleviate the crippling loneliness. They’re awkward or lovely, ghosts in dying skin who apologise for having something break down in their properties, or vicious isolated assholes who never pause to think that their lives are perfect projections of their own self-loathing. Mentally, I flip a coin.

‘Yes, it is, how can I help you?’

You want to get the information, then off the phone. They will have been waiting for ten minutes or more, so you give them the opportunity to be listened to.

‘I can’t get out.’

I look over at the planning table. Harry, one of the carpenters is off sick, there are three evictions scheduled for half an hour’s time and the afternoon is packed with people who have cried wolf about their upvc windows.

‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  Have you lost your keys?’

She pauses and I hear her trembling breath over the line. I keep the smile on my face, so that I sound bright, but truly, these ones are a double edged sword. They’re happy that they can get an appointment, but they give you the wrong information about the problem. You send a plumber when the issue really requires the roofing team and so on.

‘No, I can’t get out. They won’t leave me alone.’

If it is kids, then we have to tell them to call the police. Or their estate manager. The former are about as likely to turn up as the latter but it’s not our problem. I don’t mean to sound cold but it’s really about avoiding attachment. I don’t give my name because the odds are, you’re speaking to someone with nothing better to do than hassle the council about why your neighbour got a new kitchen and they didn’t. If you give your name, they’ll ascribe to you any number of promises.

Never mind that these are the people who either don’t vote or vote in the people who cut housing budgets but we can never discuss politics with any degree of equanimity anymore.

Ah, equanimity, another word we can’t use. Being clever is dangerous with these lot. They either feel insulted or kin, and the consequences are equally shit for both.

‘No, it’s not that. I’ve called the police but they can’t get in either.’

I ask Penny if she’s had any calls from the police about needing to force entry anywhere but she shakes her head.  She has another call come through, it is lunchtime, after all.  

‘OK, well let’s start at the beginning. What’s your address?’

She gives it, and I’m confused. There are certain addresses, which when confirmed, elicit a groan of sympathy. This is one of them. One of the worst ones.

The tenant there, Chelsea Harford, is at least sixty years younger than whoever this woman is.

‘And are you the tenant?’

She sighs and begins to weep. A woman crying makes my skin prickle with discomfort.

‘It’s okay. I’ll send someone out to you as soon as I can.’

Ken picks up the job on his PDA. An odd pang of compulsion has me calling him to give him the details. He chuckles and says it will be fine. Ease the door and then be on his way to the other three jobs to get done before five.

It isn’t until the following morning, that I notice he didn’t get to them. The planners are calling his mobile, his landline and the company PDA as Harry stands there, debating with Ian, about what might have happened.

I go to the disabled toilet and wretch up the three cups of coffee I’ve already sunk that morning. Much like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, but it all comes up, burning and stinking.

Then, I go back to my desk and answer the next call.

‘Hello, is that repairs?’

It’s her again. There’s someone shouting in the background though, and I can barely hear her voice underneath the desperate force of a grown man rallying against his imprisonment.

I feel her voice, though, I truly do.

‘I can’t get out.’

A glance around the room and seeing everyone typing, on the phone or trying to sort out a problem. No one looks up, no one sees the tears on my face and the desperate, savage panic that has me in it’s grip.

All I can do is finish the call, wait for the next one.

Wait for the next one.

 

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