The Calendar Is Nobody's Friend
The second woman Wilson spoke with said she would be sending something out immediately. Her tone was much friendlier than the first woman's. The connection seemed cleaner, less buzzy, no background voices.
"How soon," he asked, believing she, the second woman, meant help was already on route, heading straight to his house.
"By the end of the day, sir."
The first woman had made Wilson suffer. After keeping him on hold for nearly an hour she'd been no help at all. She had repeatedly addressed him as Mr. Wilson, his first name. His surname was Wilcox. Had she assumed his first name was his last name and vice versa?
"So," Wilson Wilcox said to the second woman, "to clarify. Someone from your office will be delivering assistance today. Is that right? Do I have your word on that?"
In the silence that ensued Wilson heard the woman inhale slowly and deeply. The sound reminded him of the first woman's frequent, heavy sighs. "No, sir," the second woman said. "Nothing will be delivered today." He could almost feel the tickle of her breath in his ear. "We're located in Texas, sir."
"I know where you are!"
His crankiness hurt his head inside and out. He could feel pressure on his crown, like a hand squeezing. She'd kept him on the phone too long, the first woman, asking a million questions, taking down his life story. He'd missed his walk. Skipped his lunch. Postponed his nap. Lost all sense of time.
The second woman said, "Rest assured the package is on its way. And I'm sure you'll find the information useful."
"You do, huh?"
She coughed two short coughs. Wilson couldn't tell if the coughs were real or fake.
"What will you be sending to me, exactly?"
"Well, as I indicated earlier in our conversation, the package is self-explanatory." She had an excessively polite southern twang, overly friendly, deeply persuasive, and the horrible habit of stretching syllables. "It is basically (bay sack alley!) a starter (star tear!) kit, to get you up and running immediately. It should pretty much answer any questions you might have."
"Can't I just ask you my questions now and you give me—"
She increased the volume of her voice. "But if you have difficulties or should you have any additional concerns on any further issues, just give us a call."
"I thought that's what I was doing," he said. "Right now. I believed I was involved in that call."
"You've made that point and it is absolutely clear, sir. It's right in my notes. I'm underlining as we speak. I've made it a permanent part of your file. And as I've previously stated, I'm happy to assist you in the capacity I'm allowed."
Wilson stared at his feet and asked how long before he would receive the package.
Fatigue had set in. His tone had grown weary. No doubt the woman detected his weariness, because there was an extended silence before she spoke again: "It's really difficult to say, sir. And by that I mean it's hard on you as well as on the people on this end, at least until you're in the system. And I apologize for any frustration you may be feeling right now. Fortunately, for all of us, you sound like a highly intelligent, capable individual, so I’m sure you well understand the intricacies of the situation."
Wilson pressed two fingers beneath his jaw, feeling the pulse in his neck. "Understand what," he said softly. He feared his blood sugar was low. He required a bite of food and a few hours of sleep.
"Every case is different," the woman said. "There's a list. Thousands of names. People in worse shape than you. Our services remain in high demand. We're either nonstop busy or straight-out swamped. And since the people upstairs aren't hiring anymore, everybody downstairs, including me, is stretched thin. Meanwhile the clocks whirl and the calendar isn’t anybody's friend. Do you want my best advice,” she said without pausing. “The thing to remember is this. You've taken a big step. You've reached out. Now it's our turn. We'll do all we can to get you up to speed. That's our job. And we take pride in helping others. It's what we're designed for. So no cause for worry. From now on your anxieties, all your cares and woes, are firmly in our hands. We do all the work, brainstorming on your behalf, and we provide all the problem-solving solutions. We make any necessary adjustments on our end. You won't be required to lift a finger. You can just sit back and relax and enjoy life. Treat yourself to a nice lunch. Take a nap. Dream a new existence. Stretch out on the bed or the couch with your shoes off and your clothes on and your hands folded like a corpse and appreciate your rapidly fading life infused with a steady decline in cognitive function. After all, this is your life, not ours. And we want you to fully enjoy the experience of your final days among us. God knows, you've earned every moment of your failure."
Wilson asked when he might be hearing something, one way or the other.
She said, "I told you sir." Her voice had moved up a full octave. "I'll explain it again. First thing we need to do is get that package in your hands. Then we can get your case assigned to a social worker. You know how things work. Everything in life takes time. Moments collide and break into moments. Relish your golden years. Watch the gold melt and flow and spread thin as flake, coating all the things around you, covering everything you've touched or known. Now hang-up the phone, please."
Wilson asked a different question, a better question. He heard the woman cough and clear her throat.
"Do it. Sir. Hang-up the phone."
Wilson pulled a deep breath and waited. He held on, hopelessly.
Bob Thurber is an old, unschooled writer widely published in literary journals, magazines, and on the Internet. This is the thirteenth time his work has appeared in The Cafe Irreal. “The Cat Who Waved,” appeared in Issue #5; “Shuteye” appeared in Issue #15; “The Bartender Story” appeared in Issue #32; “You Don’t Belong Here” appeared in Issue #34; “A Woman on the Bus” appeared in Issue #38; "Crackers" in Issue #40; "Mister Fumble Bumble and The Merry Widow of The Shoemaker" in Issue #43; "Old Sharp Photo" in Issue #45; "The Manufacturing of Sorrow" in Issue #51; "No Sequels, Please" and "The Chief Deacon's Report on the Rumored Return of the Broken Boys" in Issue #56; and "Blankets" in Issue #60. Bob is the author of six books, including Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel and his latest story collection, If You’d Like To Make a Call, Please Hang Up. For more information visit www.bobthurber.net.