'No Message' by Alison Wassell
She answers on the second ring. Her line manager is a stickler for this.
‘Margaret’s phone,’ she says, in her office voice. The caller launches into his rant before she has time to ask how she can help. How many times has he told her to check all the windows before she leaves the house? Anyone could have broken in and helped themselves.
Her stomach lurches as she acknowledges her own carelessness. She sinks into the chair as she offers an apology, covering her free ear against the noise of the printer. She feels herself blushing.
‘Stupid bitch,’ he says. She offers no resistance. Her eyes flick anxiously around the room. She senses the pricked ears of her colleagues, searching for gossip.
‘Sorry,’ she whispers again.
‘Sorry,’ he mimics, in a high pitched voice that sounds nothing like hers.
‘What good is sorry?’ he asks. There is a silence that she is unable to fill. When he speaks again the anger has gone. There is just hopelessness now. He supposes that she’s sorry about all the other stuff too.
The phone is damp with perspiration, and almost slips from her hand. She swallows several times.
‘What stuff?’ she asks. He sighs, and she imagines him covering his eyes with his empty hand. He tells her not to pretend she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The late nights, when she said she was working, but wasn’t; the underwear she bought on their joint credit card, but never wore for him; the lies. He is crying now. It’s all the lies he can’t take.
A tear trickles down her cheek. She can’t believe that this is how it ends. She apologizes again.
‘It’s over, Maggie,’ he says. As she processes this she feels slightly drunk with relief, the way she feels when her fingers finally close around her purse after minutes of frantic rummaging in her handbag.
‘I’m not Maggie,’ she says. She was just passing Margaret’s phone when it rang. Margaret seems to have slipped out of the office for a few minutes.
‘Can I take a message?’ she asks, having recovered her office voice.
‘No message,’ he says.