The Good Samaritan* ** (excerpt)

“Samaritans. How can I help?”

Soothing, sympathetic, supportive; the way she was trained to answer.

A thin voice quavered down the line. “Hello dear, it’s Doreen. Who’s that?”

“Hello Doreen. It’s Mary here. How are you?”

“Not too bad dear. I’m just ringing to say I’m going to bed now. I’m very tired.”

“Are you darling?”

“Yes, I am. I don’t know why. I haven’t done anything today.”

Poor old thing. She was more or less housebound and if it weren’t for Social Services, she’d never see anyone except her next door neighbour.

“Have you had your Horlicks, Doreen?”

“Yes dear, I have. Shirley’s just been round to make it for me. I had two custard creams as well.”

“Oooh, I love custard creams. You’d be lost without Shirley, wouldn’t you?”

“Oh yes dear, I would. She’s been so good to me, has Shirley,” said the old lady.

Mary heard the break in her voice, signalling imminent tears, and hastily changed the subject.

“Is Mr Bones in yet?” Doreen’s cat was as ancient as herself.

“Yes, he’s fast asleep already.”

Mary pictured a mangy old tabby curled up on a faded pink eiderdown.

“That’s good. Well, night night then, darling. You sleep tight and mind the bugs don’t bite.”

“Yes dear. Night night. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.”

The line went dead and Mary hung up. She wasn’t on duty the following day but it didn’t matter; they all knew Doreen. She needed a reassuring voice three or four times a day and more if something went wrong in her flat or she couldn’t remember if she’d taken her pills. They had Shirley’s number, just in case.

Doreen was one of several habitual callers. People whose lives had taken a wrong turn at some point. The old, sick, desperate and rejected. Each shift had a different set of regulars.

Then there were the sex callers who tried the patience of even the most seasoned volunteer. Having established that they were in no danger, they were told pleasantly but firmly that other callers, in more urgent need, might be trying to get though. The first time Mary received one of these she began to describe what she was wearing, thinking she was establishing a rapport. It was too late by the time she realised her mistake.

“You live and learn,” she laughed, when her colleagues teased her about it. She hadn’t been caught out a second time.

***
Draining the last of her coffee, Mary pushed her chair back and glanced round the room. Finding herself alone, she picked up her mug and crossed to the kitchen, passing the other three stations on the way. Each comprised a desk, swivel chair and a small booth, just big enough to accommodate the listener’s head and shoulders. The effect was plain and would have been austere, if not for the elegant full height windows and glorious stuccoed ceiling. It was Mary’s favourite place. There she felt wanted, needed, loved.

She opened the Diary in which each call was recorded with as many details as possible, especially if someone was thought to be desperate and crying for help. In Mary’s eighteen years’ experience, this had happened many times. Actual suicides were mercifully few. Once a caller had taken a fatal dose, it was shattering to realise there was nothing she could do except be there, a caring voice at the end of the line.

Mary logged her conversation with Doreen, noting it was the fifth time that day.

Mary found her duty partner, William, in the kitchen. “Thank God for Shirley. That woman’s a saint, bringing up five children on her own and looking after Doreen as well.”

“Yes, we’ll have to recruit her when her kids have grown up,” he laughed. “Tea?”

Tanned all year round from working in his garden, with twinkling eyes and long, pianist’s fingers, William was Mary’s image of the perfect husband. He’d nursed his wife through a savage illness with great tenderness and he radiated happiness since her recovery.

The two experienced volunteers were frequently on overnight duty together and Mary cherished their quiet chats over a mug of cocoa. Her stomach did a tell-tale flip whenever he entered the room and she had to remind herself constantly that he belonged to someone else. When the phone lines went quiet, they got out the camp beds and rested. Lying in the dark exchanging reminiscences, Mary experienced an intimacy she had never known before.

If only I could have met William, she wished, instead of that cheating bastard Charlie.

***
The complete story is published in Triclops. To order a copy, please go to the link below.

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