by Karen Joslin
Photo by Nicole De Khors on Burst.
Flash back to around 2007.
BlackBerries reign supreme, yet my luddite self shuns cell phones for a landline with answering machine, because that combo is not yet completely irrelevant.
Despite the fact that I’m an introvert and therefore have a limited capacity for social interaction, I’ve decided that running a portrait photography business out of my home would be a terrific idea. Granted, I'm specializing in pets, but Miniature Schnauzers and Maine Coons are not the ones calling me.
One Friday night, I'm shocked awake by the phone ringing.
I squint at the clock. It's around 2 a.m.
“Maybe it’s just a drunk-dialer,” I think. But I can’t ignore the possibility that someone I know and love has died tragically.
I hurry anxiously to the nearest phone and look at the caller i.d. It's a local number with a woman's name that I don't recognize.
By now, the answering machine in my office has picked up. Through the closed door, I listen to find out if the call is urgent.
The little snippet I barely make out tells me that the caller is leaving a message about photography.
I’m flooded with relief that everyone I know is still alive.
And then I’m incredibly annoyed that some simpleton thinks that it’s perfectly acceptable to call a complete stranger at 2 a.m.
Before I’m even done fuming, the person calls back. A SECOND TIME.
The next morning, my belligerent side decides that anyone who calls me at that hour is not someone I want as a client, and I'm not going to spend any of my weekend time listening to their message.
“If I had an office outside of my home, I wouldn't hear their message until Monday anyway,” I huffily rationalize to myself.
All weekend long, the message light blinks away. And all weekend long, my conscience nags at me.
“You never know, this person could actually be a good client.”
“It's rude to ignore their message when you know very well that it's there.”
“You really should listen to it.”
“Noooo!” wails my inner child.
“Just because I have a home office doesn't mean I should be available to everyone 24/7.”
“It's rude of other people to call me at 2 a.m.”
“I’m a photographer, not a brain surgeon!”
On Monday, I finally sit down in front of the answering machine and press Play. “Saturday, two-oh-one a.m.,” blurts my machine in staccato.
Her voice sounds chipper, yet oddly reminiscent of Hal, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'll call her Halcyon.
The message begins. “Yes, uh, Karen, this is Michael…”
It’s an elderly man, speaking in such a soft, tremulous voice that I have to crank the volume all the way up. I assume it must be his wife's name on the telephone account.
“... I'm calling to see, uh, how much you would charge to do, uh, some, uh, naked pictures – ”
My answering machine has cut him off. I could have sworn that it was set to allow a four-minute message.
Perhaps Halcyon has developed artificial intelligence. She must know that I don't want to receive late night phone calls from elderly men about nude photo sessions.
“Saturday, two-oh-three a.m.,” Halcyon blurts.
“Yes, uh, Karen – Michael. I'm just calling to see what you would charge to do, uh, uh, naked pictures of me. Just give me a call back at 1-850 – ”
I have never loved Halcyon more.
Yet I can't help conjecturing about Michael and feeling a bit sympathetic.
I envision an old man wrapped in a bathrobe, huddled in a dark kitchen and whispering into the telephone. Hoping desperately that his wife won't wake up and hear about the surprise he plans to give her for her birthday. Or maybe Christmas.
In a way it's touching, and I feel a shred of regret that I can't help him out.
Then my thoughts turn to his wife. After she opens her present, will she smile with delight? Or will she wish that she could cancel his prescription for Viagra?
I’ll never know.
Please join the conversation, and kindly treat others as if they were a friend you intend to keep.
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