Cold Call

By Vita Forest


“Hello?”

As Prue pauses and listens, the phone pressing to her ear, she smells the earthy scent of soil.

She should have worn gloves.

Who is it?  One of those cold calls?  One of those people from a call centre far away across the globe, sending out calls, fishing for callers, waiting until someone finally bit?

“Hello?  I’m going to hang up.”

She starts to move the phone away from her ear, then hears a tremulous, “Wait!”

She sighs and raises the phone again.

She is impatient to be out in the garden again.  She wants to get back to her work.  She wants to finish spreading the mulch around the camellias, smothering the weeds, suppressing the unwelcome growth.  Suffocating it.  Burying it.  Showing it who was boss.

“Yes?  Who is this?”

“Is that Prue?  Prue Glass?”

It’s a male voice, unfamiliar.  Uncertain.

“Yes it’s Prue Glass?  Who is this?”

“Chris.”  Another pause.  “Chris Leong.  Caitlin’s husband.”

Now it’s Prue’s turn to pause.

“Oh.”

She feels the blood rush to her face and her pulses start to pound, senses that all she has held inside is about to erupt.

“Can we… can we meet?  I think we have things to talk about.”

Prue hears the front door opening.  Luke returning from school.  A normal day.  Just like any other day.

This couldn’t be happening.

“Chris…”  What could he possibly say?  What could they possibly talk about?

She knows very well what he will say.  She knows very well what he will want to talk about.

“It’s really…”

None of your business!  Not necessary!  What could he hope to achieve from talking about it?

Luke walks into the kitchen, earphones in his ears, in another world, nods at her vaguely before dumping his bag down and opening the fridge.

Prue clears her throat.

Struggles to breathe.

“It’s not a good time.  My son…  My son has just arrived home.”

“Ok.  But we need to talk.  I think you know what this is about.”

I think you know what this is about. 

The blood burning her face.  Her skin on fire.  Knowing Luke’s eyes are on her, curious.  She turns to the window.

“Please call back another time.  It’s not convenient now.”

She hangs up.  Takes a breath.  Presses a hand into her belly.

Pressing.  Squeezing.

Tries to fling off the feeling of dread, of the floodgates opening, of her life coming crashing down.

She places a smile on her lips, turns to face Luke.

He is still standing at the fridge, one earpiece out of his ear now.  She hears the tinny beat pulsating from it, pounding out into the air.  The bright white light from the fridge sends a garish streak across his face.  The fridge breaks into a hum.

“Who was that?”

Prue blinks.

“No one.  Just one of those… silly call centres trying to get us to change who we get our electricity from.”

She presses the hair away from her temples, rakes it back again and again, goes to the sink and splashes her burning face with water.  Dousing it.  She imagines she hears a sizzle as the cold water meets the heat of her skin.  Feels steam rising.  She squeezes her hands against her cheeks, looks out the window, looks out to the pile of mulch on the lawn.

No matter how hard she tries, no matter how much she shovels and shovels and buries and piles it up, the weeds will still find their way out, still slither up into the sunlight.  She feels her breath catch in her throat.

Has it all been for nothing after all?

“Mum?”

Luke is still there, standing at the fridge.  Still staring at her.  The light shining on his face, the hum turning into a gurgle, the rows of jars gleaming in the coolness behind him. Olives, Strawberry jam, Tomato paste.

“Why is the fridge still open?  You’ll let all the cold out.”

Prue stumbles back outside, back into the air.  She rushes down the steps, past the place on the verandah where she had seen Martin and Caitlin.  Caitlin and Martin.  In the darkness that night.  She had wondered if it was real.

It was real.

It was all coming home to roost.

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