The fecking phone rang just as I was skiing down that delicious, sweet slope towards a Sunday morning lie in. I ignored it twice but it came back like one of those itches by your shoulder blades that lets you off for a while but then sends you a three line demand for a scratch. I stretched an arm out into the cold air and picked it up.
‘Hello, can you speak up please, I can’t quite hear you.’
‘Can you hear me now?’ I said, louder, ready to hang up.
‘Is that the Samaritans?’ asked the voice which vied with mine for timidity. I had been afraid it would be another of those bullies who demand you change your gas or electricity supplier, but it was just some eejit winding me up.
‘No, this is a private number,’ I said, about to put the phone down. The quiet weeping from the other end of the line dissolved my anger at being woken up as I rubbed my throbbing head. I waited for a moment then said ‘Can I help you?’
‘I’ve got no one to talk to. I can’t do it on my own and now I can’t even call the right number. I’m useless, I’ve had enough, I’m going to end it for both of us.’ I recognised the desperation in the voice. I’d been there myself. How could I now just hang up with a cheerful ‘Sorry, wrong number’ and then get on with my life?
‘Who is there with you?’ I asked.
‘It’s just me and Eleanor.’
‘Who is Eleanor?
‘She’s my baby.’
‘You can talk to me if you like,’ I waited. I now suspected the telephone was the only tenuous lifeline this poor soul had left and I knew I should choose my words with care. My gaze became fixed on my favourite set of darts, left on the hall table after returning from last night’s victory at the Hen and Chicken. I noticed then, just outside the window to the side of my front door, that the drain at the bottom of the stone steps was covered by leaves. That would mean a flood during the next rains unless I remembered to clear it. Rats, how could I think about trivial things like this when a life was at stake? I sighed and then …
‘My name’s Susan, what’s yours? ‘said the shaky voice.
‘I’m Mary. Can you tell me what the problem is Susan? I promise I won’t tell anyone or do anything you don’t want me to.’
‘Hello Mary. I can’t talk for long. I’m in a phone box and I haven’t got much change.’
‘That’s no problem, give me the number and I’ll call you back.’
I rang her back, quickly, would she still be there? Had she got the right number this time?
‘Hallo Mary,’ said Susan.
I sighed with relief.
‘Can you describe yourself, Susan, so that I can picture you while we talk?’ I asked
‘Well, I am sixteen, quite short, I suppose, at about five foot two, slim err, well apart from a bit of a bump, with long blonde hair. I’m five months pregnant. I went for the tests and a scan last week and everything is OK. I asked them and they told me I’m going to have a little girl. Her name is Eleanor.’
‘Why are you so upset then, Charley, sorry, Susan? It sounds like everything is fine, both you and Eleanor are healthy and you obviously mean to keep the baby or you wouldn’t have given her a name.’ I could hear Susan crying at this.
‘Of course I am going to keep Eleanor. How could you possibly think I could kill her?’ she said ‘ I’m upset because, when I told my Mum and Dad about Eleanor last week, they kicked me out and told me they didn’t want to know me any more. “How could you do this to us?” They said. They even took my mobile. They said I wasn’t their daughter any more.’
‘Erm, I’m sorry Susan, I didn’t mean to upset you. Where have you stayed since then?’
‘I’m sofa surfing with my school friends at the moment, but I can’t do that for ever. I need to find somewhere permanent’.
‘What about Eleanor’s father, can’t he help?
‘He’s a complete waste of space so forget him. He just took off when I told him and I haven’t seen him since.’
‘That sounds just like what happened to me, men are useless aren’t they?’ I said.
‘What do you mean? What happened to you?’
‘Err, well, I was seventeen and still at school when I fell pregnant with Charlotte. My boyfriend, Kevin, disappeared and I haven’t seen him since.’
‘How did you manage then?’ asked Susan
‘Mum and Dad were great. They really helped me and made sure we had everything we needed. It was still difficult but I worked part time in Boots while Mum looked after Charley and I managed to buy a small flat and save so that she could go to university if she wanted. The hardest part was being totally responsible for someone with no one to share the load with.’
‘That is exactly how I feel, but at least your mum and dad helped you and you had someone to talk to.’ I realised then how alone Susan must be feeling. I was starting to feel responsible for her now, or perhaps she was beginning to fill the gap in my life which had been there since Charley had left?
‘Well, err, perhaps you would like to come around here one evening? We could have a chat and a cup of tea.’
‘I would really like that, Mary, you are so easy to talk to. I’ll have to go now, there is some guy hammering on the glass again’
‘OK,’ I said, ‘but please ring me tomorrow evening or anytime during the night if you need to talk. Promise me. Please.’
‘OK, I promise,’ said Susan.
I went through the rest of the day in a brain fog. I still don’t really remember what I did but the day passed and hunger came so I made a scratch meal of cheese on toast as it was too late to prepare any complicated food and I had missed the buffet at the darts practice. I sat there in my tiny kitchen, thinking about Susan’s story and her desperation. She was all alone. The cheese grew cold, unnoticed, as I relived part of my own life twenty years ago, when I had fallen pregnant. How different it had been for me.
I had thought my boyfriend, Kevin, was my soul mate and life partner but he disappeared as soon as I told him the news. I was closest to Mum but I broke the news to Dad.
‘I’ve got something to tell you, Dad’ I said ‘I’ve been trying to get the nerve to tell you all this week.’
‘What’s up then love,’ said Dad, ‘have you got some problems at school?
‘I, I, I’m having a baby, Dad.’
‘Wow, that is a surprise. That’s wonderful Mary, I’ll be a Granddad.
‘I love you Dad,’ I said, through my tears.
‘I love both of you,’ said my hero, with a hug.
‘But, you and Mum will be ashamed of me now, won’t you.’
‘I’ll show you how ashamed I am,’ he said, ‘we’ll go and have a chat with your Mum, tell her the good news and then you can come down the Hen and Chicken with me and we will have a drink while we play’ I had forgotten it was practice night for Dad’s darts team, The Clifton Arrows. ‘I can tell all the lads I’m going to be a Granddad.’
It was a good night at the pub, several toasts were drunk to Declan’s forthcoming promotion to grandfatherly status. I was even allowed to have a go and was acclaimed as having a natural talent on the oche.
Kevin wasn’t seen again but I wrote his details in my baby diary as I wanted her to know who her father was, perhaps even meet him one day. Yes, my baby was a girl. I named her Charlotte, after my favourite Gran.
I bought the tiny two bedroom garden flat in a cheaper part of town so that I could save for Charley’s future. It was facing up a hill so the front door was in a basement but the kitchen door led out into a garden I called my sanctuary. I filled it with marigolds, foxgloves and phlox.
It was difficult without her now she was away at Southampton studying environmental science. I enjoyed life although, of course I missed Charley, but I had always known my beautiful daughter would one day grow up and leave.
My social life has been mainly based around the weekly darts practice down at the Hen and my membership of the pub team who still call me ‘Declan’s lass’, even though Dad died nine years ago. I sometimes wonder if my team mates even know my real name.
It was getting dark now in the flat so I roused myself, placed my untouched meal on the side, ready for the birds in the morning and made a mug of cocoa. I would have trouble sleeping tonight because of all the emotions Susan had stirred up and the memories running around my head. I fetched a blanket from the cupboard in my bedroom, wrapped it around me and put the phone nearby on the coffee table so I would be certain to hear it during the night. Susan didn’t call.
I managed to get through the next day at work although my heart wasn’t really in it and my thoughts were elsewhere. I got home early and wondered what time Susan would ring. I waited by the phone to make sure I would hear it. When it got to ten o’clock I started to wonder and by midnight I was very worried. I eventually dozed off in the chair by the phone and awoke, stiff and cold, at six next morning. What could have happened? Susan had promised and I was certain she would have called if it had been at all possible.
I struggled to get ready for work and eat some breakfast, hungry after missing my meal the previous evenings. I set off for the twenty minute drive across Bristol to the Avixa insurance offices. I listened to the news, as usual, on Heart FM. The second headline was a local item. A young woman’s body had been found on the river bank far below the Clifton suspension bridge, a ‘popular’ suicide spot. She was described as five foot three , slim with long blond hair. There was no mention of her being pregnant but I thought they would keep that private until she had been identified. Her clothes were also described but by this time I had stopped listening, stopped the car and stopped worrying about Susan.
I knew she was dead, Susan had no troubles now. All my talking and listening had been a waste of time, I had failed my new friend. I had thought I was a good listener but now I knew I was useless. I should have persuaded her to stay with me last night, she could have slept in Charley’s room. She had died because I hadn’t helped her. I couldn’t face work now so I turned the car and meandered home.
I made a mug of tea, took it out to my sanctuary and just sat there in the morning sunshine. I could smell the phlox as I watched a bumble bee make its rounds. Susan would never enjoy the warmth of the sun on her face again. Eleanor would never have a chance to enjoy these delights. What had made her do it? The stupid, stupid, girl, why hadn’t she called me or rang the Samaritans from one of the special phones on the bridge? She had seemed quite cheerful when we finished talking. She was thinking of ways to deal with her problems and could even see a future for them both. What had changed after she hung up? What a terrible waste of two lives. She hadn’t given Eleanor a chance of a life by cutting her own so short. I had failed them, let them down. It was all my fault.
The phone rang. I didn’t want to answer it but I knew they would only keep on pestering me about my gas supply or some such nonsense so I answered it.
‘Hi Mary, it’s Susan, sorry I didn’t call last night, it all got a bit hectic yesterday, sorting things out after our talk, then I couldn’t find the piece of paper I had written your number on until this morning and I knew you wouldn’t mind if I left it until today, it was wonderful talking to you, you really made me look at things differently and helped me see a way forward, you are a real life saver, I’ve found somewhere for us to live, will you be Eleanor’s Godmother, you’ll never guess what I have done now after your advice …’
I couldn’t speak, the tears rolled slowly down my cheeks.
© Richard Kefford 2017 Eorðdraca
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