The Hotline (Flash Fiction)

With hesitation, Bob dialed the number in his phone book and waited. An automated response told him that his call was very important and to remain on the line, and the option to press one for spanish was given. He waited, and his throat tightened. Two rings later, a lovely and peaceful voice took his call.

“This is Catherine. Are you safe?”

Bob stuttered a bit. “What?”

“Are you safe?” she repeated. “Are you having suicidal thoughts?”

Bob’s voice was clenched by a hand of fear, and a weak croak fell from of his mouth.

“Are you there?” The words were so calm and pleasant, pleading and patient.

“I’m here,” Bob said. He coughed lightly and cleared his throat. “I’m here. I’m safe.”

“Good. That’s good. May I ask for your name?”

“Bob.”

“Bob,” she said, “I want to thank you for calling me tonight. Can you tell me what you’re feeling?”

No, he thought. It would take a lifetime to tell you that. “I guess I’m feeling tired,” Bob said. “I’m very tired of being here. I’m tired of life.”

“Why?” asked Catherine. Her voice was soft, yet bold, and filled with concern. “Please tell me.”

Bob laughed under his breath. He suddenly felt strange, as though he were calling in to some sort of twisted game show on the radio. “No special reason, I suppose. I’m in my late fifties and I’m alone. My kids won’t speak to me and I don’t blame them. I wasted their youth being a terrible father. My wife was right to leave me and take them with her. I’ve no money to call my own. No way of retiring, and I never will.” He shifted uneasily in his chair. It was wooden and wiggled loosely beneath him. “My doctor says I gotta do more tests, blood tests. He says there’s something going on with my liver. He says I drink too much.”

“Are you drinking now?” asked Catherine.

Bob looked at the empty vodka bottle sitting on the table. A small yellow sticker said $7.99 on the side. “I’ve had a couple beers,” he said.

“Bob, I don’t want to be rude, but I need to know. Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

Bob’s eyes glazed over, and he felt the air slowly collapse from his lungs. “When I woke up this morning,” he said, his voice now sounding a bit raspy, “it occurred to me that I’ve no more reasons to live for.” He coughed again, louder this time, and that fist of fear tightened around his throat. “I’ve got no money. I can’t work. My family’s gone. My health is going. What point is there?”

“What about your children, Bob? Have you tried reaching out to them?”

Bob scoffed. “They don’t need me pestering them. I’ve caused enough trouble in their life.”

“Do you have grandchildren, Bob?” Catherine asked.

Bob looked at the envelope sitting on his table. The postage marking was from three years prior, when his first grandson was born. The envelope, shaped to fit a card, remained unopened. “My kids won’t let me see my grandkids,” he said. “They do it just to get back at me. They hate me. They want to see me suffer.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that, Bob,” Catherine said. Her voice was still soothing, still calm. “Have you tried calling your children? Have you made any attempt to talk to them?”

“They left me.”

“I’m sorry?” Catherine asked.

Bob swallowed hard as the hand of fear strangled his throat. “They left me, I said. I ain’t calling them.” He coughed again and stood up from his wobbly chair. He opened the refrigerator door and grabbed a tall beer. He opened the can loudly.

“Are you having another drink?” Catherine asked.

“Yeah,” Bob said. He began to slurp from the can.

“Bob, how much have you considered suicide? Have you gone so far as to make a plan?”

Bob continued to slurp on the tall can until his head was titled back. Beer leaked from the corner of his mouth, and he swallowed until the fluid was gone. He let out a loud burp into the phone. “I dunno,” he said, looking at his car keys. He thought of the close call he had with the oncoming semi the previous week. He still wondered why he had jerked the wheel back into his own lane at the last second. “I haven’t really thought to make any kind of plan. I was just gonna see what happens I guess.”

“Bob,” Catherine said with a plea. “Please promise me you won’t try and drive anywhere tonight. Can you do that for me? Can you promise to stay home tonight?”

Bob glared at the request, and the glare fit well into the lines on his face. “I’m tired of being told what to do and how to feel. I’m tired of people expecting things from me. I’m tired of vampire doctors and vampire insurance companies leaching the last pennies I have from my pocket.” He shook his head. “No, I can’t promise, and I won’t. I’m opting out,” he said. “I’m tired of this stupid game.”

He hung up his phone quickly and grabbed another beer. His claw of a hand grabbed the car keys from the table, and the fist of fear wound ever tighter around his throat.

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