Entanglements

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Joe is gone now, too.
At peace, they say,
with exhaled relief
that they can all move on.

They’d never admit to
wishing for his demise,
but it’s hard to deny that
it makes everyone’s lives
just a little bit easier.

O.K. A lot.

He was always strange,
upsetting every room
and life he entered.

The medication was supposed to help.
According to his dad, it did.
Of course, back then, he never
mentioned the side effects.
But there’s always a price to pay.

Maybe the world wasn’t ready for Joe.
He must have been born too early.
Given another decade, those scientists
surely would have come up with something.

Think of how much pain
could have been avoided
if his parents had known better.

Yup. Joe is gone now.
For the best.
It’s his mum that’s the problem.
She never would listen to reason.

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Harold at the Phone Company

Voices

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?”

A giggle.
Mine.
An apology.
Mine.
Then:
“I don’t like to complain,
and I can’t always explain.”

“Try, please.”

“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.”

Nothing.

“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.
“Harold?”

Throat clearing.
“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.”

Again, nothing.

“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
private conversations?”

“Oh!
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.”

“Ma’am. Ma’am.
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
phone trouble.”

“Since the day before yesterday,
thank you very much.
Can you fix it?”

“Yes. I’m sure I can,”
he told me.

A pause.
Then:
“Are you sure
she still loves her husband?”

Whispering

Whispering

Portia sliced her thigh
to make a point about secrets
and nearly died for her efforts.
Thankfully, our relationship
requires less extreme measures.
I long ago forgot your deepest darkest,
and you’ve never heard mine.