by Michael Loveday
Do I really have to read it out? Couldn’t I just give you the general idea?
I thought maybe if I wrote something about how this guy phones up BT technical support and he doesn’t really need help with his wifi, he’s just — you know. I mean, yes, he does have a problem with his signal (that blue light is flicking on and off to orange every now and then, and it’s irritating for the whole household). Still, it’s simple, fixed in moments — a loose connection and a reset.
But he stays on the line. Either he claims something else is faulty (like all the blue lights are now uninterrupted but the web pages on the family desktop keep freezing as if they’re permanently downloading — maybe that’s what he says), and then it’s one problem after one problem after another, and can’t BT understand how fucking frustrating this is. Or maybe he simply pretends he hasn’t got the blue lights — he’s holding the modem in his hands and it’s blue as a rock pool but he says no, no, it’s still orange — even though he’s staring into the blue.
It could be either of those. I think there has to be some shift. It has to be evident to the reader that now he’s just dragging it out for some reason. And here’s the thing — he’s lonely. Not like he’s in his fifties sobbing alone in his dressing gown in front of, I don’t know, When Harry Met Sally, in his Clapham bedsit. Because he’s got a wife and three growing-up-too-quick children. But I mean instead that silent, sickening abyss you feel when you have plenty of people right up close but they don’t know the half of you. I say you, which means us, but I don’t mean to imply you. You’re the tutor after all.
Maybe his thoughts get blindsided by certain things his wife has no idea about. Howard, you know you’re staring off into space again? Howard, were you listening? Maybe his children have no inkling this intricate theory of living he’s constructing for them might as well have been scrawled on the back of some Lidl receipt. Or on his way home from work maybe he thinks to himself: what if I kept right on walking? What if I decided to let another tide take hold of me and I washed up in some other life? Would the world notice something was out of place? That kind of lonely, you know.
So he’s going to confide in this BT technician, because it’s a faceless exchange, and he wants to wipe it from his memory tomorrow. And he’ll draw out the long splinter from his heart and lay it across his palm and see if the guy says Gosh, yes, I can tell that must have been hurting; or if he offers not a word back, is plain freaked out. Or maybe the ending — I’m not sure, but maybe the ending is that the splinter’s in Howard’s palm looking pale and newborn to the world and now he wonders was he supposed to have plucked it out after all, and he quits talking to see if his heart is still beating. And while he’s listening for it, the man on the line says Oh, I see, you’ve got one of those. No no no mate you weren’t supposed to take that out.
Michael Loveday’s debut pamphlet collection of poems, He Said/She Said, was published by HappenStance Press (2011). His short stories, poems and book reviews have been published in Ambit, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Iota, Magma, The North, The Rialto, Sonder, Stand and other UK magazines. He lives in Hertfordshire and teaches in adult education. Website: www.michaelloveday.co.uk.