I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is T for telephone torture.
Out Through the In Door
Neil sat next to his wife in the crowded lobby of the California Pacific Medical Center, in San Francisco, more than an hour early for his wife’s appointment, and prepared to wait. He went through this same exercise almost every time she had an appointment, simply because it was inevitable. If they arranged their arrival closer to the allotted time, then they would invariably hit commuter traffic and be late. So they arrived early and prepared to mark time. It reminded him of the old army mantra, “Hurry up and wait.”
Today, as he sat there, beside his sweet Marie, he noted with a certain relief that the lobby did not seem as overwhelming as it usually did. There were plenty of people-make no mistake about that-but at least they were not hemmed in on both sides by the other patrons of the health center. Neil opened up his computer and accessed his email account, telling himself that he could at least make good use of his time. Marie worked on her embroidery, a past-time she reserved for doctors’ appointments, of which there were many.
Marie had health issues, ones that were time-consuming and required constant attention, but Neil was more than happy to accompany her on these occasions, because he would have done anything on earth for her. He had been scared out of his wits when the first of her problems had surfaced, realizing the fragility of life and how lost he would be without her. She was his everything, the center of his universe, and he could not conceive of life without her.
“What! What the hell are you saying?” The voice had rung out through the lobby, irritated, raspy and loud. It was the loud part that made the biggest impression on Neil. What had begun as a fairly mellow wait, had suddenly taken on a different look.
“Don’t try to hand me that line of crap,” the voice continued, “because I ain’t buying it. I didn’t come all the way to San Francisco to hear you feed me a bunch of bull shit.”
Three sentences, three profanities. Neil squirmed, conscious of his sweet Marie beside him. Why did people feel so free to impose their private phone conversations on others?
“Listen here, you bunghole! You better get your facts straight. Why do you think I called you for in the first place? I have got to get this taken care of before one this afternoon, because I will be boarding a plane at that point, and I damn sure can’t take care of it from 30,000 feet in the air.” The speaker now materialized out of the crowd, a florid-faced man, in his late fifties/early sixties, with blown-dried silver hair and a tailored suit, tight-fitting, covering a white shirt and tie.
The lobby was filling up now, the available seats becoming fewer and fewer. From his vantage point, off to the side, strategically placed so as be a little more secluded from the rest of the herd, Neil simmered. He resented it when others chose to use their telephones in a loud, obnoxious manner, with absolutely no regard for anyone else.
After the shortest of pauses, the voice burst out again. “Son of a b**ch! I don’t need this sh*t! I need to talk to Troy about those f***ing invoices. And you’re telling me that you have no record of them?” If anything, the speaker was more agitated than ever, and his use of inappropriate language had drawn more looks, as the conversation proceeded.
Neil had closed up his computer, after the most recent diatribe, focusing a withering look on the man as the most recent profanities had spewed out within the hearing of all in the lobby. He twisted in his chair, so that he was almost squarely facing Marie, and said quietly, “If that joker keeps up with the potty mouth, I am going to have to do something about it.”
“Oh, posh, Neil. This is a lobby-not a library.”
“But what right does he have to thrust his agenda on the rest of us? And where does he get off using such foul language?”
Again the raspy voice rang out. “You’re an ass***e!” Even Marie squirmed.
Neil quickly stood up, set his computer in the now-vacant seat, and walked over to the loud-mouthed cretin, who seemed oblivious to his presence. To be honest, Neil had no idea where he was going with this; it was just a matter of principle.
The telephone tormentor seemed to become aware of Neil’s presence slowly, as if awakening from a deep sleep. He spoke into the phone abruptly, saying, “Hold on Phil. Some twit is standing in front of me, and I need to send him on his way.” He had emphasized the pejorative word, used to describe Neil.
Neil felt his hackles rise as the word “twit” but waited for the man to say something else. “What’s your problem, Elmer? You need an engraved invitation to return to your seat?”
“My problem is that your language is offensive to me, and to my wife. I need you to curb your tongue.” Neil spoke calmly, but his tone left no room for conjecture, as to whether or not he was serious. The people in the immediate vicinity stopped what they were doing, and sat transfixed.
“Who died and made you king?” retorted the loud man, rudely. He accompanied the question with a sneer.
“No one had to die, for me to address your rudeness. You need to respect that this is a public place, and I-and others-do not have to be subjected to your foul-mouthed invective.”
The rude man guffawed loudly. Into the phone he said, “This buffoon thinks I’m rude. He hasn’t seen anything yet.” Putting his phone down, he gestured toward Neil, and spat out, “This IS a public place, and as such, I can say whatever I want. You’re a mealy-mouthed pussy. What are you going to do about my invective? Tell your mama?”
“He doesn’t have to. Now that I’m here.” The speaker was a uniformed security guard with a tight-lipped smile and his own cell phone balanced on his hand.
Rude-Dog looked at him uncertainly. “I was just making a phone call and this jerk is giving me a hard time. He’s the one out-of-line.” He stared belligerently at the security person.
“I don’t think so. I’ve gotten five calls about you in the past two minutes. Can you see that door? The one through which you entered? Grand! I want to see you on the other side of that door.” As the rude man looked around, as if for support, the security man barked, “NOW!”
The man sputtered, looked around, stood up, and left.
The woman sitting closest to the scene rose, and started clapping her hands, slowly. One by one, every other person in the crowded lobby stood up and started clapping. By the time the rude man had gotten to the door, the room resounded with applause, and continued until he passed out of view, across the parking lot, walking with his silver-haired head bent forward, as if he sought some answer from the ground in front of him. Not until Neil had returned to his chair, did the clapping slow down, and gradually cease.
Apparently Neil was not the only person in the lobby who hated one-sided, torturous telephone calls.