A Short Story I'm Working On
You don’t know me beyond my voice, and no one does, but I know you and I know what you’ve done.
Last year you graciously contributed $25.00 to the families of burn victims by means of the “Fire Fighter’s Charitable Foundation.”
When I mention how last year you also cheated on your wife with her best friend, I put you down for an additional $25.00 and you say nothing.
The children thank you.
You live at 37409 Palm Terrace Way. I tell my headset about how your husband Marty died of a stroke last year. I tell my headset about how you wish you could join him, but you fear the end because of that kid you ran over and killed three months ago, and how it means you’ll go to Hell and never see your sweet Marty again and burn for eternity if you go on letting others suffer. My headset says nothing back so I continue by explaining how the “Woman’s Breast Cancer Association” kindly thanks you for your $50.00 contribution this year and how we look forward to your continued support.
I am the modern priest in his modern confessional. I’m listening, but not entirely anonymous. Offering a sliver of your soul back for a simple nominal fee. A small price, granted you’re willing to pay cash money.
If not… you may just find yourself losing more than just a few bucks, because I know where you live.
Glowing on my screen I see you all.
I know where you live, and I know what you’ve done.
At 2765 E. Ocean Ave. Javier Vasquez beats and bullies his elderly mother Maria out of her Social Security money each month and spends it on Speed and booze. My headset explains how it doesn’t have the extra $14.95 to spare on some fucking dying “Make-A-Wish” kid’s final smile, that and to stop calling and to fucking go to Hell.
Thank you for your time Mr. Vasquez, I tell my headset as I jot down the name and address on my screen.
“Fuck you,” my headset shouts back. “And take me off your fucking list you piece of shit parasite.”
You just made the list Mr. Vasquez, I breathe deeply into my headset.
The sound echoes throughout an empty, unfurnished third-floor apartment. It bounces off of the yellow smoke-stained walls with their spider-web cracks and various tie-dye Technicolor blotches of only God knows what. It reverberates between the splintered hardwood floor and only-half-there ceiling.
But nothing happens.
The sound is tossed down the long hall that leads to the only other door, which is slightly ajar. Beyond the door the sound, although still quite loud, goes unnoticed in the darkness. An enormous figure stands before the only window, aiming a telescope through a broken pine of glass.
Still, nothing happens.
The figure doesn’t move other than the slow heavy rise and fall of its shoulders and chest as it draws in oxygen, holds it, then releases in a low growl. The telescope is an extension of its silhouette, moving along with its sluggish owner, both seemingly inanimate yet disturbingly emotive in the dark room.
Ring - - Click.
The figure tenses for a moment, holding itself as still as the air. Listening, the figure leans in towards the window, grasping the scope even tighter and (somehow) even closer into its eye.
The answering machine’s voice off in the other room down the hall is that of a concerned young woman. When the figure hears it, it begins to quiver.
“Mars?” The speaker calls out. “You there?”
“It’s me… c’mon Marshall, I know damn well you’re home.” The voice sighs deeply then inhales loudly. “Fine. Anyway, I was just calling because I,” the voice stumbles for the right word. “Josh wanted to have a word with you so go ahead and just stop on by whenever you get this… were having spaghetti if you’d like to join us.” Another deep sigh breathes out of the speaker. “So yeah… see you then. Bye.”
The answering machine clicks off and stops recording. The figure stands frozen in place like just another shadow there in the dark cold room, blending in with all of that nothing. Without concern the telescope is peeled from the figure’s face and goes flying across the empty room, as if nothing in the world caused more pain than standing there holding it against ones skin. Before it hits the ground the figure is already halfway down the hall, each footstep stomping harder and faster than the last as it advances towards the exit. If the door had conscious thought and the ability to move itself, it would be stupid not to swing itself open at the sight of such a charge. Lucky for it the figure throws an arm forward taking hold of the knob, tearing it open and free from his path. The door slams shut and the stomp-stomp-stomp slowly distances itself until the dark apartment’s silence is restored.
Then, there is nothing once more.
You know that feeling you get when you see a dog get hit by a car? The way your stomach wants to remind you of what you ate for breakfast and how, for just an instant, you wish it was the driver bleeding and broken, lying in the road panting and dying?
Have you ever felt like that?
You know, like being helpless?
Have you ever wished you had the power to restore life to that innocent creature? The power to take away its pain, even if it meant that you had to bury the hurt deep inside yourself in exchange?
Have you ever wanted to take those damned selfish drivers, with their bitching and complaining and cursing about their damned dented bumpers and dump everything you took from all those dying animals on them… even if it meant that you might have to sacrifice everything you care about?
Have you ever felt like that?
Not many do.
But I do.
Everyday. That’s how I feel when I listen to you people tell me about all the petty issues that prevent you from helping someone in worse shape than yourselves.
Everyday. I want to cover my computer screen with what I had for breakfast when I hear what my headset is telling me.
As if confessing ones own sins and shortcomings in life could possibly excuse one from doing the right thing and helping, even if only a little. Just once.
Everyday. It grows as I shrink and blackmail only works for so long before the Robin Hood idealism of taking from the driver and giving to the dog fades, changing from petty extortion to something more permanent and destructive.
Do you understand?
Everyday. The list grows as my restraint shrinks and more and more I find myself ready to swallow down all the hurt this world has created… even if the price that power demands is everything I’ve ever loved.
It used to be enough, sitting here at my station, listening to my headset give its life story one phone call at a time… one sick sad confession at a time. Then selling salvation and forgiveness for next to nothing. Sitting here, playing the part of modern priest in his modern confessional, only instead of saying Hail Mary ten times before I hang up, you shell out some cash for someone who needs it.
That used to be enough.
That is until I realized that you aren’t really helping anyone by dumping a few bucks on them here and there. It only masks the problem while allowing the guilty to feel better about their crimes. You allow the disease to spread unless you completely sever it from the body. Cut it out like a tumor or it can only grow until it consumes and destroys everything vital.
Have you ever felt like that?
Silence is finally broken.
My headsets silence is replaced by a dial tone and my screen goes blank before I can finish copying Jerome Willis’ address. From across the room a voice shouts.
"Marshall! Get your ass in here now!" My boss screams as half of my co-workers jump in their seats, each one turning around just long enough to shoot me a nasty glance before returning to their headsets and monitors and potential percentages… granted they score a donation.
Have you ever forgotten that your boss occasionally listens in on random calls?
This time the vomit creeps up my throat for different reasons as I make my way towards the angry eyes of my employer. The way they beam at me as the space between us closes, I can't help but feel something like a dog about to be struck by a car.
Nobody seems to care.
Not many do.