I was having telephone trouble,
so I contacted the phone company.
A garrulous voice that called itself Harold
let me know I had found what I was looking for.
“How may I help you?” he asked.
“I’m hearing voices,” I replied.
“What the hell?”
he muttered not quite quietly enough.
Then: “Excuse me?”
as he wiggled a finger in his ear,
like that would somehow get him better reception
or maybe change the words I had just placed in his tubes.
(At least, that’s what I imagined.)
“Let’s start again,” he told me,
in a tone too many use with children.
“You do know that you’ve reached the phone company,
and that I can only help you with problems involving your phone?”
“Yes,” I replied,
in a tone not enough use with the smarmy.
“I know who I called and why.
As I told you, I’m hearing voices.”
“Geez, lady. Can’t you give a guy a break?”
“I don’t like to complain,
and I can’t always explain.”
“When I pick up the phone,
I hear other people’s calls.
I know that Heather is leaving Philip
because she thinks she’s in love with Harold
—oh my gosh, Harold, not you;
I’m sure it’s another.”
(But I swear I heard him
choke on his own spittle.)
“Betty has cancer,
Joe lost his job because he drinks too much,
and Martha is having a crisis of faith.”
“Harold? Are you there?
Do you know who you work for
and why you answered the phone?” I asked
in a tone doctors use with the head injured.
“Yes. Yes. I’m here. Sorry.
How long has this been going on?”
“Well, how should I know?
I’ve never even met Heather.
But I don’t believe she loves him
—Harold, that is. The other Harold.
She’s just feeling neglected by her husband,
who works too much and talks too little.”
“Harold? I thought you wanted
to help me with my phone problems.
Are you still there?”
“Yes. Yes!” he barked.
“How long have been
listening to other people’s
I don’t think I like your tone.
But if you’d like to know
how long I’ve been subjected
to other people’s problems—
well, that would be my whole life.”
That is not what I meant.”
(His voice was filled with
all the contrition he could pump into it,
and that wasn’t much.)
“I simply want to know
how long you have had
“Since the day before yesterday,
thank you very much.
Can you fix it?”
“Yes. I’m sure I can,”
he told me.
“Are you sure
she still loves her husband?”