‘Rrriiing, rrrriiing, rrrrriiiiiing!!’
That persistent, shrill tone of the phone really irritated me. I was doing my best to ignore it. It just would not stop. For some reason it seemed to be ringing longer than normal today. For the umpteenth time.
Why won’t they leave me alone, I muttered crossly as I walked deliberately slowly towards it, willing it to stop. But no, it was still ringing when I reached it. Reluctantly I picked up the handle expecting the tell tale voice of a telemarketer. That’s the kind of calls I usually got on the landline, especially this time of the day. I expected to hear a foreign accented voice cheerfully asking me ‘How are you?’ Feeling my anger rising just at the thought of this, I yelled in the most unwelcoming voice I could summons ‘Will you just stop bothering me!!’
‘Is that you Susan,’ a tearful voice said at the other end.
My heart lurched in my chest. It was my so called best friend. I hadn’t heard from her in ages. In fact, it had been so long I’d decided she had abandoned me. Selfishly I had relegated her to the pile of ‘used to be best friends’ and tried to forget about her. That would serve her right, I’d thought, not bothering to get in touch with her myself. After all, our friendship had always been based on her getting in touch with me first, not the other way around. I couldn’t just go ahead and change the time honoured traditions of this particularly complicated friendship! We’d set the rules right back at the beginning. It would change everything if I ignored them. So instead, I sullenly nursed my wounded pride and felt miserably abandoned.
Susan lived life on the edge. She always had. Dabbling with drugs was just one of her foibles. Many a time she had called me in the depths of despair. Always with the same old litany. ‘This is the last time, I promise you! If you could just help …’ The help of course was usually a solid injection of money to get the dealers off her back or pay overdue rent or bills. Despite her short fallings, I loved her like the sister I never had. She was pretty. She was smart. She could do anything she turned her mind to. It’s just that life got in the way and derailed all her best intentions.
We’d had so many good times together in spite of all this. Susan and I first met way back in kindergarten. School years were spent studying and partying together. Mum used to complain that we were Siamese twins, that’s how close we were. When Susan’s parents divorced she was devastated. Her dad had had enough of the lies, cheating, arguing, drugs and alcohol that were a permanent fixture in her mum’s life. He never kept in touch with either of them. Living with her junkie mum was so bad for her. I’m sure that’s where she learnt all the bad stuff. After the accidental overdose and death of her mum, Susan lived with us until she finished uni. They were good years for us both.
Then she got a high profile job in a model agency. It meant long hours, lots of travel, hobnobbing with all the big wigs. And of course oodles of drugs and alcohol. Susan immersed herself in it all with gusto. That’s when our friendship started to teeter. I didn’t approve of what she was doing and she knew it. But whenever trouble was brewing, she’d be in touch. So my expectations of her story now were not that different to her past history. I steeled myself and answered.
‘You know it is,’ I said gruffly and waited. I wasn’t about to let her off the hook that easily.
I almost hung up the silence was so long.
S – u – u – u – s – a – n, she said between great heaving gulps of sobbing. I… I … I haven’t been able to call you. I’m in hospital….
Another lengthy silence.
By now I was going through all sorts of loops of guilt, regret, confusion. But I just had to let her get over this idiotic sobbing. She’s such a drama queen sometimes!
Then a different voice came on the line.
Hello. My name is Jonathan Silver. I’m Susan’s doctor. She’s unfortunately not able to talk more to you just now. Your friend is in intensive care at the St Alfred Hospital. She’s been here for the last two months. Ever since she regained consciousness yesterday, she has been asking for you. Eventually her social worker was able to find your contact number and organise for her to speak to you. However, what you heard is as much as she could manage. Given that she has no relatives or other contacts that we can ascertain, we’re hoping that you would be able to come and visit her. If you decide to visit, we will be able to fill you in on as much as we know about what brought her into hospital. Susan has agreed to that. And perhaps you could give us some much needed context to her circumstances.
Tears streaming down my cheeks, I thought of all those other calls I’d deliberately ignored. I promised to visit immediately. How could I have got it so wrong !
© Raili Tanska
Written for Class 4 assignment ‘How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women’ offered as an online course by Iowa University. The brief is to ‘write a short story in which a disastrous or momentous change has recently happened. In your story, show the reader some glimpses of what this world is like now *and* some glimpses of how it used to be.’