Excerpt from Chat Line



© Clare London




“Jerry?”  The man was calling my name.  “Are you still there?  Look, if I’ve taken the wrong tack, please give me a chance to put it right.”


“Ah… no.  My fault.  I keep getting distracted.  I think I’m just tired.”  Of many, many things, I thought, weariness mixing with sudden, bone-soaking honesty.  “You know how that is.”


He chuckled, humor restored.  “I do indeed.  It’s difficult to cope with the stresses of daily life when your body’s telling you to take it easy.”


I nodded.  “Yes,” I added, suddenly remembering he couldn’t see me.  “Or you lack the energy and motivation to do anything about it all.”


He made a sympathetic sound, as if he knew exactly what I meant. “So what do you like to do, Jerry, to get your energy back?”


I sighed again.  “Me?  Well, I like sports as much as the next man.  I used to play a lot, though nowadays I don’t often have the time.  Is that what you mean… uh…?”


“Sean,” he said, softly.  “My name’s Sean.”


“Sean.”  I found myself nodding again.  He was right about names fitting voices.


“That sounds good in your voice, Jerry.  You say it with such warmth.  Thank you.”


I laughed, embarrassed for some reason.  His tone was gentle, never jarring.  It did make me feel warm.


“I like sports too.  Contact sports, of course.”  He laughed.


I laughed along with him, although not exactly understanding why.


“So tell me what you need, Jerry.  Why you’ve called today.”


I cleared my throat.  Of course.  Back to business.


“Jerry?”  Sean sounded gently encouraging.  “We can just chat if you’d prefer.  It’s your time.  It’s all up to you.”


Customer service to the extreme, I thought wryly.  “I called up to ask about booking some help.”


“Of course.”  He paused, waiting for me to expand on that, I suppose.  I wondered if he held a pencil, poised over a diary or notebook.  No, Jerry, I thought.  That’s just how you’d play it.  After all, I was the epitome of efficiency, according to my last appraisal; ever the fastidious accountant, even when I was on vacation, obviously.  On the other end of the phone, Sean cleared his throat quietly and I felt an unusual anger.  Not with him, a man just doing his job.  With me.  With my boring, predictable, unadventurous, dead-end life.  I was disturbed in some inexplicable way.  Maybe it was a result of having had Alice and her boisterous family to stay; maybe it was the tail end of my depression after Alan left.  Maybe it was something more significant than that.


I wasn’t really used to such introspection.


I cleared my throat again.  “I’m looking for something on an ongoing basis.  You know, weekly.  Maybe extra sessions over the next couple of months.”


“That’s great.”  Sean sounded really pleased.  “You can have your choice of times.  Any time.  I’ll put it in the diary.  Some people like a regular slot late at night, when they’ve finished work.  Just before they turn in for the night.”


I frowned again. “No, I can’t see how that would work.  I’d like it inside office hours.”


Sean made that sucking-breath noise.  “Of course.  Whatever you like.  I have to admit that’s a favorite of mine.  In daylight hours.  Flexi-time.”  He chuckled again.  “Maybe it’s the challenge, the business happening all around you, the potential for people finding out….”


I coughed more deliberately.  “No, you obviously misunderstand.  I’m not looking for something in the office.  It’s here I need it, at my home.”


“Yes.  Sorry.”  Sean sounded flustered now.  His voice sounded younger; a bit nervous.  “I… look, Jerry, can I be honest with you?”


“I suppose so.”  Why did my heart start to beat faster with the anticipation of what he’d say?


“I’m sort of new at this job, Jerry.  I’m still getting used to the switchboard girl, and her accent’s rather thick.  I didn’t get that you worked from home.”


“No.  Well, there’s a reason for that.  I don’t.”


“Oh.  Right.”  Sean cleared his throat again.  “Sorry again.  Well, whatever you need, I’m sure we’ll arrange it to your satisfaction.  We have people here for you, whatever the hour.”


“No.”  God, I seemed to be saying that a lot.  “It’s important that it’s just one person.  The continuity, you know?  Someone reliable, someone I can explain it all to, just the once.  Then leave them to get on with it.”


Sean sighed, with obvious relief.  “That’s good.  Great, Jerry.  We can do that, no problem.  I thought I’d lost it just then.  Lost you.  Well, you know.”


I didn’t really, but I reassured him.  “No, you’re fine.”  It seemed I was the one doing the encouraging now.  Maybe the poor man was on commission or something.  I wondered what his personal circumstances were.  Did he have a family to support?  A wife or girlfriend?  A sister with looting and pillaging kids, like me?  Maybe he was single.  He sounded young and attractive.  Just how mad was that? I laughed at myself.  As if I could tell such things from a voice on the end of the telephone!