The phone rang. Nothing about it stood out; it was simply the typical electronic bleating of a modern-day cordless. There was nothing different about the way I sprang from my seat as I always do when the phone rings either. I can never say no to a ringing phone. Who can? The unanswered ringing phone is the greatest mystery of them all.
So it rang. I sat up, and with a couple of hurried strides – we mustn’t keep the calling waiting now, must we? – I looked down at the orange backlit display. It read P-R-I-V-A-T-E.
“Aye”, I thought, “one of those.”
The chances are pretty remote that the P-R-I-V-A-T-E call is anything other than an over-eager eighteen-year-old telephone monkey reading from a hymn list of carefully scripted phrases designed to lull the receiver into an verbally incapacitated state by which the words, “no, I’m not interested, sorry” are somehow lost from your vocabulary as they bombard you with open questions and well-crafted one-liners.
Anyway, in short, I wasn’t expecting much. But then why would I?
“Ben?” to which I hmm-hmm’ed.
“It’s me. I…I need to talk to you.” The voice was quiet, somewhat nervous, but I knew who it was.
“I’m here. Fire away.” Then I thought about it a bit. “Is everything ok?”
“When can you come over?” Her reluctance to give me more information as to her condition brought out the stubborn child in me.
“Depends on how important it is,” I replied. She changed tactics.
“Don’t worry about it. Look, I’ve gotta…”
“No, no.” I broke in, defeated – again. “What’s up?”
“Ok, I’ll be over in a couple of hours and you can tell me then, yeah?”
“Right, well, see you in a bit.”
“Got any fags?” I had.
I waited listening until she put down the phone. I didn’t know what I was listening for, or what I thought I would hear, but I’m sure I heard a male voice murmur as just before the phone went dead. The kind of muffled speech that could be the hollow sound of the TV bouncing off one of the walls of her apartment getting itself caught in my earpiece. Or, it could have been another man saying something in another room of the house.
Why would this bother me? She’s is free to entertain who she likes when she likes. Up until now, the only things that didn’t add up were that a) if it was another man, why call me and ask me to come over? and b) why not tell me the extent of what’s on her mind on the telephone? c) If I really don’t care then why am I caring?
There was only one way to find out. And unfortunately that required me to shower, trim my beard, deodorant, aftershave, shirt, pair of tight-fitting slightly faded navy blue jeans – not in that order. The mirror told me I looked semi-decent so I smiled broadly at it, and it promptly bumped my score from a merit to a distinction. It was easily bought. All mirrors are whores.
I considered getting my jacket on to the extent where I imagined putting my arms through the sleeves, picking up my car keys to actually sitting in the car and driving, but I thought a procrastinatory (is that even a word?) cigarette’n’sour on my terrace would ready me for the short ride to her flat.