You arrive at work; it’s sunny out and inside always feels dark and drab on days like this, but you know the stab of resentment will pass as the calls do. You log in. You can’t quite yet think of it as your desk or your computer. It’s been a year, but it still feels new, precarious. You greet your other team members as they file in. In another part of your brain, your imagination figures you have just finished a very late lunch, al fresco, at a little bistro on a near deserted cobbled lane in Rome. The shadows are lengthening in the golden light. Sales software populates your screen. You log in and wait for the updates, notifications, messages and emails. Then try and look like you’re concentrating on the usual stuff. You nod to hello to the manager as he trudges in. Meanwhile, the table now cleared, an old moped pulls up. The rider is self-assured; parks like a local. He strolls over, nodding at the waiter who sets down a second glass. You adjust your cheap headphones for the nth time, attempting to get comfortable. Microphone down. Seat just so. Ready. You pour wine for the rider and watch the sun flame redly through your own half full glass. The rider takes a seat, and then, your hand. The automatic telephone dialler starts on your first call. Hel- but it’s voicemail. You sigh. People somehow still have voicemail. It’s 2:30 on a Friday afternoon. People are too busy to answer. Call cancelled. Glasses empty, you both get up from the table. The two of you walk down hill to your apartment, so close together there is nothing but warmth between you. Hands brush each other, fingers find fingers and interlace. The second call: a child answers and says their parents aren’t home. You decide not to argue. You enter the details into the system for an evening call back. You lean your head into his shoulder; his arms wrapped around you. You unlock the door and pull him inside. Third call: a name appears on the screen. A woman answers; she doesn’t speak your language, you don’t speak hers. You apologise and hang up before entering “do not call again.” The late afternoon sun streams through the windows to the balcony of the main lounge room. You swing the windows wide open to lean over the railing. Traffic only a distant muffled rumble as you take a deep breath. Curtains billow on a breeze that wafts in, bringing with it a hint of jasmine among the city’s scents. Before the next call, you pause the system and get a drink. You wave at Margaret, who’s busy captivating colleagues with gossip about the manager of another outbound sales team. You don’t stop: you’ve heard the story before. You turn your back on the sun and drape yourself over the leather sofa. He lights candles; you nod as he whispers into your ear. The fourth call: a Mrs. Fitzgerald answers the phone, but she can’t hear you. After five attempts at introducing yourself, you learn her hearing aid battery is dead but her son can speak to you later. You apologise, this time more loudly, and hang up. He sits; you rest your head on his lap. He’s running his fingers through your hair. You watch as the sun sinks and the room loses its warm glow. You look up to study his face. He sees; shifts; bends to kiss you. The dialler starts on another call, only to hang up, then it tries another number before the computer screen shows the name. You are trying to run through your spiel, but your colleagues are swearing as systems freeze. You hang up. You grin at Brett and Carol at the desks opposite you. You can hear your manager yelling at IT. At the desk to your right, Kate gets out her real, old fashioned Scrabble board. Others return to social media and office politics. You get up to shut the window; he follows you and you lean back into him as he turns his head into your neck. You turn and smile, before swiftly twisting out of his grasp and skipping away. His eyes darken in return. He knows this game. Kate says it’s your turn. She just got a triple word score. The letters in the rack in front of you spell vdlpwqz. Typical. You lay a tile down. A w. The manager’s now yelling about rebooting. Kate lays down more tiles as she speaks into her mouthpiece. Multi-tasking. You sigh as you log back in − another voicemail. Who are these people who believe anyone will bother leaving a voice message these days? You try to work out if you can spell an actual word. Someone hoots as they close a sale: the first of the shift. You run lightly to the other side of the sofa: he follows, arms wide. You almost shout as he dives toward you and pulls you back over the sofa with him. Now he’s laughing. He draws you closer as your eyes meet; you both stop. Your breath hitches. Your lips meet, slowly. So slowly. The manager yells something again; Kate is finishing a call as she pushes the board under her desk. Game adjourned. You log out properly. The IT department haven’t fixed the problem. It’s official, you and everyone else in the team can go home. Full day’s pay guaranteed. You take off the headset. Kate says something smart about being the word champ. You scoff as she predicts the game will continue Monday. Your colleagues swarm from the building, bubbling with energy and hurrying to be free. You swing your bag as you emerge blinking into the afternoon. You wave to your colleagues and start towards the bus stop, alone. A sigh escapes at the prospect of an entire Friday evening to enjoy, without another call to a stranger. Before you know it, your relief sours as it occurs to you that it’s almost as good as a romantic evening in Rome. Ah now. There it is. That word. You blink away the tears in your eyes but there’s no one else to see. Almost. You look up.
Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram
Rebecca Dempsey is a writer located in Melbourne, Australia, who grew up in rural South Australia. Her short stories, poetry, and reviews have been published around the world. Find her on Twitter @becadroit and online at WritingBec.com