By: Kevin Criscione
Like ghost ships passing in the night or dark-hued mountains in the distance, each call a portal to a different untouchable world into which I was only offered a brief and unsatisfying glimpse.
I was thirty-two. I answered tech support calls.
One moment I would be staring into space, reflecting on childhood smells or my life or whatever fleeting images crisscrossed my unkempt mind, and the next I would be comforting Berta, a seventy-year-old recently widowed café waitress from Naples, FL. She called about the remote (almost all of them called about the remote), but within a minute she unfurled herself, letting out raw undigested sentiments in the anonymous shelter of comfort that only a stranger on the telephone can provide. Berta loved him, even if she didn’t deserve him, and now she’ll have to live with the fact that their last words to one another were a half-attentive argument about who was supposed to buy milk. As the call ended, she cried a Thank You, and I told her to keep well before getting back to my Tetris.
There was a tantalizing mystery to this job that the rest of my adult life had so far failed to deliver. I had visited every neighborhood in my city, felt and lost love, explored different religions, known the pleasures and pains of life, seen every Scorsese film, and found myself on a track I would probably keep with until I retired. These callers were riddles. They kept me wondering, long after the calls ended and late into the night.
After ten seconds of heavy breathing, a soft-spoken baritone named Craig told me I had the voice of his ex-wife. An earlier caller, June, told me I sounded like her grandson. A few weeks later, a jittery caller told me he had to hang up, I sounded too much like the past. He didn’t give a name.
Some called from the drive-thru, others called in the middle of loud arguments with their children. Some had scratchy, wavering voices and struggled with each word, like they hadn’t spoken to another soul in months.
Ella, a fast-talking middle-aged woman, asked me if she could be directed to a line for gifted callers. I told her that unfortunately this was the only line, and she laughed curtly and said of course, nothing in this world is made for the truly gifted. She was an Artist, with works in the MOMA in New York. I supposed she told this to everyone within a minute. I helped her turn on her TV. The power button is actually the only button on the front side of that model. She hung up without saying goodbye.
Other calls just wanted to get to the point, but even those made me wonder. Each caller had a life that led up to that call, and an ever-burning life afterward.
On an evening shift, I received a call from an unidentified number, meaning no hint of a location. A low feminine voice greeted me, asking How Are You in a perfunctory, lifeless way. Something stirred in the depths of my memory. After I gave my spiel and asked her name, she paused.
You remind me of someone, she said. Someone wonderful.
Oh. Who might that be? I asked.
Well, she laughed, if you insist, it was someone I loved dearly, and thought I was going to marry.
Her voice softened: Someone whose heart I broke for no reason at all. Someone I just ghosted one day, who I want more than anything to call back, to just talk to again about ordinary bullshit. Someone who might have passed away recently, who knows?
There was no way, I thought. No. Freaking. Way.
Funny how my mind works, no? You’re the second person I’ve met this week with the same voice. She laughed. I guess I really have to trust you about the TV set, then.
I whispered: Rebecca?
A long silence followed. The line cut out, and I went back to sitting alone in my room in the deep quiet of the night.