The Last Call
By Sheela B. © 2013
Claire woke up with a sense of excitement as today was her birthday and her husband Tom had planned a special day together for them both. He had even arranged the day off work as he told her, “It’s not every day you turn thirty.” She slid her arm across the bed hoping to find Tom to snuggle into, but he was not there. In fact the bed on his side was cold which meant he’d been up quite a while.
“Tom?” she yelled out then waited for a reply and got none. “Tom?… Tom?…” where was he she thought. “You better be cooking me breakfast in bed if you know what’s good for you,” she shouted again but still didn’t get a response.
Looking at the clock it was just past 7:30 am and feeling the growing urge to pee she reluctantly climbed at out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Once she had done her business she walked to the basin and began to brush her teeth looking at herself in the mirror. Pulling her T-shirt up she examined her belly, even turning sideways to see it in profile.
It still didn’t look any bigger but it was early days yet. She rubbed her hand over it and said in whisper, “He thinks he has a day of surprises install for us, but we have a big one for him too.”
Claire came downstairs hoping to find Tom busily cooking eggs, bacon, and pancakes with freshly squeezed orange juice ready to drink. She entered the kitchen calling out loudly, ‘Tom?” However he was not there, and what was worse nothing was cooking either. The only signs of anyone being here was an empty coffee mug in the sink. She sighed to herself and walked to the breakfast bar to find a note in Tom’s handwriting left for her.
It reads: “Dear Claire, Happy Birthday! Sorry I’m not here but Harold called me late last night after you went to bed and there’s an emergency at the office. So I’m going in for the morning to help out and I promise I will be back for lunch and then your special day will begin. I have booked you in that spa you love The Peninsula for a morning treat, and I will meet you at Cafe Lalo at 1pm for lunch (it’s all booked). Love you. Tom”
Claire felt her chest tighten and then she screwed the note up in her hand and threw it across the room with a gasp. He always does this to me, she thought angrily. Why is he always hurting me like this? I don’t ask for much, she reasoned with herself. Just one day out of his life where I’m more important than the office. On the counter her phone lay charging and she picked it up and pulled the cord out, hitting Tom’s number and held it to her ear waiting.
After a few rings he answered, “Oh hi honey, happy birthday.”
“Don’t give me that happy birthday crap, you’ve ruined it already,” Claire answered curtly.
There was a pause and then a sigh. “Look, Harold really needs me this morning too. A lot is riding on this deal we’re doing at the moment. You know how the global economy is right now,” Tom tried to explain.
“The global economy is always teetering on some disaster or another. This day was meant to be special, Tom. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages, and now you’ve ruined it.”
“It can still be special, Hun. The spa treatment this morning and I have some surprises lined up for the afternoon. The only one making a federal case out of this here is you,” Tom was sounding annoyed at her.
“But I know you. Your morning at the office will turn into the afternoon, and pretty soon all we’ll have is dinner. You always do this to me. You don’t love me, that’s the problem. You just don’t love me,” Claire said feeling her cheeks turn red as she said it.
“Ohhhh,” Tom said with a sigh, “This again? What is wrong with you lately? Look I really don’t want to have this conversation right now. Why don’t you have some breakfast and I’ll call you later. I left a surprise breakfast in the refrigerator for you. Talk soon. Bye.” and so he hung up.
“Don’t tell me… Claire?” an older grey-haired man dressed in a black suit holding a briefcase said beside Tom as they shuffled through the crowded train station.
“Isn’t it always? God she does my head in sometimes,” Tom said to him then grimaced.
“I’m the one she accosts at dinner parties for overworking you. Even Margaret comments that she’s overbearing, and that’s saying something,” Harold said stepping onto the escalator going up to the surface.
“Oh your wife’s a saint compared to Claire I suppose,” Tom joked.
Harold looked behind him at Tom on the lower step and said, “I think you’re the saint putting up with her moods. She’s lucky to have a man like you. God, I’m lucky to have a man like you. Thanks for coming in this morning, I really do appreciate it.”
“Just remember that when you’re giving out the Christmas bonuses this year,” Tom said and both men smiled. The truth was if they didn’t land this deal with a powerful emerging foreign economy, there may not be Christmas bonuses this year at all. Harold’s company had taken a hit in the stock market recently and it needed fresh capital to underpin it, or else the heat may turn into a fall. A fall would be terminal and so in effect they were fighting for their own livelihoods.
“You should tell her. Tell her about just how close our asses are in the fire right now,” Harold said.
Tom shrugged saying, “No point in worrying her. She gets upset when she’s worried.” Harold started to say something then thought better of it. Tom knew his friends thought Claire was crazy. It was his job to look after her and he did that to the best of his ability, even if it meant he had to manage her moods to keep their lives in equilibrium sometimes.
They walked to the office building chatting about the deal and how they plan to tackle this latest crisis in the figures. Tom always liked the walk from the subway station to the office as it kind of got him in the zone, ready to do his job. This morning though he couldn’t help but feel worried about Claire. Something was just not right with her lately and it nagged at him.
Claire couldn’t relax though. There was so much she had to talk to Tom about. This new life growing inside her had her one moment feeling on top of the world, then the next having an anxiety attack about the fact she knows nothing about being a mother. Pacing up and down the living room all the worst case scenarios flooded her mind about giving birth and being a mother. What if I can’t lose the weight afterwards and Tom stops loving me? What if it hurts really, really bad to give birth? What if the child is born deformed?
What if I’m a horrible mother and the kid grows up damaged and turns into a serial killer? It was all just too much for her and so she pulled her phone out and called Tom.
“Claire? If you’re going to keep interrupting me this morning then your prophecy will come true won’t it?” Tom answered clearly annoyed at her she thought.
“What prophecy?” Claire asked trying to think of any prophecies but came up blank.
“The one where I cannot make lunch and all we end up doing is having dinner.”
“You always try and blame me for everything don’t you. Well I’m not the one who broke their promise here am I?” There that’ll put him in his place, she thought. History was after all on her side and she could remember all of it.
“I haven’t broken my promise at all. I mean it’s barely gone eight-thirty in the morning so there’s still a long way to go before the day is over.”
“This day meant so much to me Tom, you have no idea. You’re always too busy doing things for other people to notice anything about me.”
“That’s not true. I notice you more than any other person on the planet, apart from myself. But we don’t live in a world where it’s just the two of us, do we. Sometimes we have to help others, let others into our lives. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you, or you’re not the most important person in the world to me. Can’t you understand that?”
“All I understand is that you’ve abandoned me on this day for work once again. How can I know you’ll be there for us in the future. How can I trust you to take care of us?” Claire said wiping the tears from her eyes.
“That’s why I’m here this morning, Hun. I’m trying to take care of us, our future together. This in some ways is all about us. I wish you could see that.”
“I don’t know… You always try and talk your way out of these situations. You put up your wall and I feel like you’re hiding your real feelings from me. Telling me just what you think I want to hear.”
“I wouldn’t need a wall if I wasn’t attacked all the time,” Tom said as a half-hearted joke but the gasp he got from the other side of the phone told him he hit his mark.
“That’s an awful thing to say, Tom. I’m not attacking you. I’m trying to be part of your life. But…”
Tom cut her off, “What is wrong with you? The last month you’ve been near on impossible to live with. Everything I do just causes you to lose it lately. Now I know you’re insecure normally but lately it’s become impossible. I feel like I’m living on a volcano that’s constantly erupting!”
“How dare you be so cruel!” and so she hung up on him.
How could she bring a child into the world with such an obnoxious father who will never be here. It’s not her that’ll be the bad parent that will cause untold psychological damage to her child, it’s the absent father that will ruin her child’s life. She seen a picture of Tom smiling at her from the mantle and she picked it up and threw it smashing the glass and frame against the wall. However on the floor Tom’s photo lay looking up at her, still smiling. She bent over and picked it up and looked at it with tears running down her cheeks. Her phone rang startling her. It was Tom. He sounded very worried, “Claire? You there? Claire? Honey?”
“I’m here,” she said looking at his photo as she spoke. “I’m sorry, you’re right I have been awful to live with lately.”
“I’m really worried about you, Hun. I know you, and the only time I’ve seen you this… Extreme… Was when you thought I cheated on you a few years back. I promise I only love you, there’s no-one else. You’re the centre of my universe. You’re my everything.” Tom’s voice wavered as he fought to hold back his own tears but to his surprise Claire’s response was to laugh, and she laughed hard like someone told her the best joke ever. “Claire? I tell you I love you and you laugh at me?”
She battled to control herself and finally blurted out, “No! No… I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at me. My stupidity.”
“Can you just tell me what the hell is going on?” Tom begged exasperated by her sudden mood change.
“I promise at lunch today I will tell you what’s on my mind,” Claire said fighting the urge to just tell him there and then. It just didn’t feel right to blurt it out after an argument. She wanted Tom to find out in a nice way. That’s why she hasn’t told him yet because all the arguing lately had created a tension between them. Today was going to fix that until she woke up to find he had gone back on his word about working again. She noticed a noise in the background that seemed to be getting louder by the second. A kind of high pitched, squealing noise so she asked, “What’s that weird noise?”
“What? Oh I don’t know it’s coming from outside the building. It’s loud though,” then she heard muffled voices shouting in the background prompting Tom to shout out, “Hey Harold, what the hell is that noise?”
The noise was very loud now and she barely heard Harold say, “It’s outside, I’m just going to take a look out the window in the lobby. Wanna come?”
“Sure,” Tome replied to Harold then said into the phone, “I’ll call you back if you want.”
“NO!” Claire shouted down the phone. Something was troubling her deeply now and she didn’t know what it was.
“OK then, I’m going to the lobby to look outside. She was having trouble making out his voice now. There was a pause of a minute or so where all she could hear was the noise with Tom and Harold’s voice barely discernible talking to each other. Then suddenly she heard him shout into the phone, ” CLAIRE…”
There was a loud burst of static on the line making her pull it away from her ear, then the call ended. Panic filled her mind as nothing was right about this, so she called him back and it went straight through to voicemail. She called him ten times, each time going straight to voicemail so she left him messages begging him to call her straight away. Then she rang the company number, Harold’s phone, Tom’s office, and anyone she could think of at the office. All she got was voicemail. What the hell is going on, she thought, pacing up and down the living room gripping the photo of Tom to her chest like a life jacket. Finally she had an idea and dialled her phone again.
A female voice answered, “Nine one one: Please state the nature of your emergency?”
“It’s my husband, something has happened to him at work,” Claire almost shouted down the phone.
“Do you know what happened to him?” the female 911 operator asked.
“I was talking to him on his cell phone and there was this really loud noise and then the phone went dead. I’ve tried calling his and every number at his office over and over, and all I get is voicemail. I just know something is wrong. How can every phone at his office be suddenly out of order?”
“Where does your husband work, Ma’am?” the female asked.
“He works on north tower of the World Trade Centre.”