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.

Nothing, not much

By Vita Forest

Inner turmoil

Inner turmoil

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“What happened today?”

“Nothing, not much.”

But it was not fine and much had happened.  But not so anyone else could tell.  Only inside Sonia’s head was a tempest, a storm, a whirlpool, a tornado of emotions that miraculously stayed contained inside the box of her skull.  She wanted to tell her mother what her friend had done.  She wanted to tell anyone.  Was Mia a friend anymore?  Everyone thought so, even Sonia.  But was that really what friend’s did?

Sonia wished she could go back to when she was five years old when she told her Mum everything.  Every new sound she had learned at school, what other children had told for news, what Mrs Carroll had worn to school that day and if her nails were painted red or pink.

Sonia wished she could go back to when friends were easy to read, when they knew how to say to each other, “Stop it, I don’t like it!” when the other did something wrong, when their feelings were hurt, when they wandered off the “kind” path into “meanness”.  Back then it was OK to like the same thing – the same sport (soccer), the same books (Tashi), the same kind of lollies (Lemon Sherbets).

Perhaps it would still be OK if the “same things” were not boys.  When your best friend didn’t end up with the boy you liked.  And she knew!  How could she not know?  Sonia had kept it secret, she had told no-one, not even Mia.  It had been a strange maelstrom of suppressed emotions that bubbled to the surface whenever he was near, whenever he was mentioned.  For a while Sonia hadn’t even known herself, didn’t link the way her body seemed to react violently for no apparent reason when she thought about him.  The sticky tangle of highs and lows that were all to do with whether she even saw him.  Whether they spoke.

But Mia knew.  Like Sonia knew that Mia liked chocolate ice-cream but not mango sorbet.  Without being told.  Just by watching.  Just by paying attention.

She would have known.

Why had she done it?  Why had she chosen him?

Today at lunch they had suddenly appeared together, hands linked, laughing. In front of everyone.  Mia hadn’t even told Sonia first.  Mia and Ryan.  Ryan and Mia.  The whole group had stopped talking, stared at them.

“You all know Ryan,” Mia had announced in a new voice.  A simpering voice.  A sly voice.  A betraying voice.

“Yeah, we like, all go to the same school!” said Sam in a sarcastic voice as he checked his phone.  “We know Ryan.”

Sonia had been grateful for his response, her lunch turning to cardboard in her mouth.  She concentrated on chewing the bread, on her jaws mechanically opening and closing, her teeth pressing and grinding it into paste.  She had let her hair fall forward over her face so the others wouldn’t see the shame of this announcement, the shock.  How long had it been going on?  She and Mia talked everyday, all the time, yet she hadn’t even thought to mention it, to her best friend, hadn’t confided in her, hadn’t thought her worthy of anything more than this public announcement on the school oval after Maths.

Sonia hadn’t spoken to Mia after that.  She had walked through the rest of the day in a daze and had wondered, how many people out there were like her?  How many people were trying to adjust to major disruptions, catastrophes, while they went through the motions of everyday life.  Write down an answer.  Pack up a bag, Get on a bus.  Walk home.  Looking normal, looking like everything was under control.  When inside they wanted to scream and rage and tear their friend’s hair out.  How many people swallowed it down, kept their voice at a reasonable level, continued on their path that suddenly didn’t mean anything anymore?

How many people said it was nothing, not much?