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Cold Calling

by Glen Donaldson


 


Glen believes just because he can't reliably spell the word 'Armageddon' it's not the end of the world. He blogs weekly and uniquely at both SCENIC WRITER'S SHACK and LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE

With a mind like his, Frank Dakota could only sleep when exhausted. This unfortunately was not one of those nights. After taking two sets of pills, one for sleep and one for blood pressure, he lay wide-eyed awake in bed, clenching and unclenching his fists and jaw, his lips moving soundlessly in the dark.

He had been grievously wronged at his workplace earlier that day and now his entire musculoskeletal system was crying out for justice. It would not allow him to sleep until balance had been restored.

Frank switched on the light and after a brief search began thumbing through the black loose leaf binder he kept in his nightstand drawer. He thought of it as his ‘medicine file’ for the times he needed to dish out some in order that he find a way back to balance, righting the perceived wrong. This alphabetized pick-me-up had never failed to leave him feeling less aggrieved in the past. Much as Frank hated to admit it, he’d come to rely on the folder’s magical restorative powers and the instant relief they provided. His black leather file was every bit the aluminum-foil-wrapped blister pack of happy pills he’d created it to be.

He picked a name and number from the folder, and then dialed. His finger hovered for a delicious moment (for him) above the final digit, not out of hesitation but in a gesture designed to fully savor the moment. He reminded himself he had the thread as well as the needle and now all there was left to do was bring them both together. Like he’d done so many times before.

Somewhere at 42 Ponderosa Place the phone rang. Suzie Fitsworthy shuffled sleep-stupid to the telephone wondering not just “Who has died in the night?” but also “Who thinks of silly old Suzie?” Picking up the phone, she aimed her voice squarely into the mouthpiece.

“Speak.”

The woman didn’t sound flustered to Frank. A good sign, though he couldn’t be completely certain from a monosyllable. Maybe she worked nights. “Miss Fitsworthy? This is I -Tracks Research Company calling with a brief survey questionnaire. I hope I didn’t disturb you?”

“No problem.”

It was one-thirty in the morning.

“All righty. Now repeat after me. #1 – Red Leather yellow leather.”

“Red leather yellow leather.”

“#2 – “I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit.”

“I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit.”

“#3 – “Willy’s really, really weary.”

“Willy’s really, really weary.”

“Excellent! Now listen hard, Suzie Fitsworthy. Here’s your question. Which of these three sentences - #1, #2, or #3 – would you have the most difficulty saying if I were to come over to 42 Ponderosa Place right now with a straight razor and cut off your upper lip?”

Utter silence. Not even the sound of breathing. Often they forgot to breath. Frank, grinning in the dark, repositioned the phone to his ear and mouth in readiness for the delayed shock and horror which by his own estimate was already several seconds overdue.

“Suzie darling, would you like me to repeat the choices?”

Silence.

“This isn’t a memory test, dear heart.”

Silence.

“All righty, let’s try a different one. #1 – What Suzie says of Sally says more of Suzie than Sally.”

“I guess number three.”

“What?”

“The one about Willy.”

The grin felt suddenly plastered across Frank’s face, his right hand contracting to a claw and the cords in his neck turning egg plant purple.

“Are you deaf woman?” he shouted. “Are you feeble-minded? You – you – I’m going to kill you, you half wit sow! Death by fire will seem like a month in the country by the time I –“

“Gotta go now. Bye.”

Click.

Frank Dakota, who in infancy had neither smiled nor cried, had never had a reaction as cool as this; one that was able so effortlessly and instantly to deflate his well-practiced ghastly routine.

 It took him the better part of an hour to calm down, part of which he devoted to upending his mattress and attacking his pillow with an icepick. By the end of the rage, with his breathing almost returned to normal, Frank knew just what to do. Reaching for his trusty permanent black marker, he drew an almost perfectly straight line through Suzie’s number in his folder, obscuring it irreversibly.

As he sat on the end of his bed, Frank tried consoling himself with logic. Surrounded by scattered foam and feathers lying on the floor at his feet, he was forced to admit what was by now painfully obvious even to him: an update of his records was long overdue.

 


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