by Jack Galmitz
The phone rang at 1:00 AM. I go to sleep early. The sudden ring of the phone startled me. I got up, drowsy, but angry.
I picked up the receiver. “Who the hell is it?” “Do you realize what time it is?” I shouted.
“Mister, please, don’t hang up.” He had an accent. Spanish maybe.
“What. Are you kidding me? Who the fuck is this?”
“Mister, you don’t know me. But I beg you don’t hang up.”
I was about to slam down the receiver, but there was something so soft and pleading in the voice that I instinctively refrained from what I would have normally done.
“Mister, are you there? I need to talk to someone. Please. I need help.”
“Hold on a minute.” I went and got my cigarettes. “Wait. I need to get coffee,” I found myself explaining to a stranger. I kicked myself for showing too much consideration under the circumstances.
“Okay, I’m back. You have exactly two minutes, not a second more, to tell my why I shouldn’t hang the phone hard to break your eardrums. What do you want calling here so late?”
“Mister, I’m sorry. I really am. Forgive me. I just dialed a number. I have no one to talk to. No family or friends.”
“Is this a joke? Do I know you or are you a friend of someone I know?”
“I swear, Mister. I just dialed a number and got you. Don’t hang up on me. My wife left me… I got home as usual around 12:00 AM after work and Rosa was gone.”
“Why are you telling me this. Don’t you know I’m a sick man with more problems than I can bear? Who are you to me?”
We don’t know each other, but can’t you just take a little time to listen. It might help me. I’m thinking of killing myself, Mister.”
I thought of telling him that would just be one less person in a world of billions, but I thought better of it. No reason to be the final cause of his jumping from his window or something…
I was beginning to waken. I was a bit frightened. A perfect stranger randomly reaching me, or so he claimed. Maybe, he was a thief or murderer, part of a ring, and they were tracking where I was by my phone circuits.
“Where are you?”
“In the Bronx.”
“There isn’t a store-keeper, a neighbor, the janitor to speak to? You have to pull me out in the middle of the night from your damn hat?”
“No. I have no one. No one speaks to me or cares about me.”
“Join the club, buddy. Maybe, you’re better off now.”
Then it occurred to me. “Have you called the police?”
“No. She’s been threatening to leave me for a while. Nothing happened to her.”
“Listen, buddy, I don’t know you, but you might want to notify the police anyway, in case something did happen to her.” The husband is always suspect, but I didn’t explain this to him.
“What should I do, Mister? Besides, the police. The police are no good. They’ll make fun of me; say behind my back I couldn’t keep her. I know what they’re like.”
I thought for a while. I knew I should hang up. He could never remember the number he dialed and that would be it. I mean, what did I care about this stranger’s problems. Wives leave their husbands all the time.
I tried to dodge the whole thing. “Look, why don’t you get some sleep.
You’ll be able to think clearer in the morning, or, well after you’ve slept, and you can keep me out of this. I’m not really a very charitable person, you know. No one in their right mind would come to me for help. I don’t even like a moustache, maybe still in a work uniform of some kind. I thought he must live in a small one bedroom apartment with old furniture, probably garish, with paintings on velvet on the walls and surely a number of images of Christ scattered throughout the house. I thought maybe he was looking at a crucifix on the wall as we spoke. I imagined his neighborhood of low squat ugly buildings, graffiti all over the outside walls, the buildings built on angles as the street inclinded downward steeply. Maybe a bodega. Maybe a liquor store, although probably not. Too expensive and dangerous. I imagined no one outside. It was too late for drug sales.
Maybe a streetlamp or two.
There was a long silence.
“It’s not my fault,” he pleaded with me. “I come from a small village. I have no education. She wanted more than I could afford to give her. What could I do? I wasn’t going to become a criminal to buy her things. You understand that, don’t you, Mister?”
“Yes, I understand.”
“She was always flirting with the neighborhood big shots. Los hombres grandes. With their fancy cars and clothes. None of them worked. Criminales. Nada mas.”
“It’s that way sometimes. So, why do you want her if she’s like that?”
“I married her. In my religion you don’t divorce. We were supposed to have children. Both of us would work, save money, and the children would have a better life, maybe. But, she would stand on her feet all day and be disrespected by people. La gente puede ser tan cruel. Sorry, I meant people are “I know. I know better than most, senor.”
“It’s getting late. I’m sorry I called you. Pueden ver a los santos después de. May God watch after you. You called me senor. It helped. It’s what I needed.”
“I’m glad I was able to give you some support. Don’t worry, senor. Maybe everything will work out. Maybe, it’s temporary and she will come back.”
“Yo no contaría con ello…I don’t count on it. But anything is possible no? I mean who would have thought you would have talked to me so long, right?”
“Dios se lo pague..God watch over you.”
“Goodnight, Mister. Thank you for not hanging up on a stranger.”