ARCHIVIST: Hello, you’ve reached Jonathan Sims. I’m not here to take your call right now. Please leave a message after the beep. Thank you.
MARTIN: Hey, Jonathan, right? My name is Martin Blackwood, and I’m with Kings County Home Help? I’ve been taking care of your grandmother for the past six months. I’m her at home carer? I know I probably shouldn’t have your number, but I wanted to check in with you. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong. Gertrude Sims is fine. Good, actually, for her age. Sorry, is that insensitive? In any case, I’d like a call back, if you aren’t too busy. Right. Let me apologize for how I got your number. I know it’s probably unorthodox, probably breeching some privacy agreement or something…
Don’t tell him that, Christ what is wrong with you?
Right. Well I got your number from my coworker, Sasha, who’s friends with Tim, who’s friends with you. And he apparently hasn’t heard from you in a little, and would like him to call you back. He told Sash to tell me to tell you that, by the way. That was the price for your number. Sorry for that. I’m sure you have …things. A life in the real world and not in this distant and lovely house.
…Sorry, that was… Anyways, give me a call back when you can, yeah? Thanks. Bye!
Christ! What’s wrong with you… catch sight of one pretty photo… SHIT, right, hanging up.
[MUFFLED THROUGH A POCKET]
[QUIETLY SINGING TO HIMSELF OVER THE SOUND OF KITCHEN]
…Onions in the paaaaaan. Why aren’t you hot enough yeeeet? The water sizzledddddd, but it isn’t sizzling noooow.
[NEGLECTED PHONE SOUND]
OH SHIT. SORRY.
Hi, Mr. Sims. It’s me again. It’s Martin. I… I’m trying to reach you… again. …As you probably can tell. It’s just been three days, and I would really like a call back. I just realized I didn’t give a number or like, I know you can probably figure out that you can reach me through this number, but I didn’t say it and I didn’t tell you when I was available, and maybe that’s why you haven’t gotten back to me. At least I hope that’s why. I… I can’t imagine not calling one of my Mum’s doctors back. Anyways, my number is [CENSORED] in case you can’t just ring back or something. Maybe your phone blocks unknow numbers and you haven’t even gotten this. Maybe I was listed as private and you couldn’t call back. Maybe you’re very polite and didn’t want to bother me when you didn’t know my schedule. I’m available from 2-5pm and in the evenings after 9pm. Or maybe you’ve got phone anxiety. I know I do, heh. I’m sweating just leaving you this message.
Or maybe you’re just busy.
Or maybe you tried to call, and I just didn’t get it. The reception isn’t great out here, as …you probably know. Given you grew up here. But anyways I have made sure I can get your message even with the dead-phone zones. It’s all set up. So… just needing a call back when you can. Well, not needing. But… I’d like one. Thanks. Bye.
Hi. It’s me …again. Just… trying to reach you. Whatever.
Call me back and let me know you aren’t dead in a ditch somewhere, okay? Sash says Tim is really worried… And… I might be too. Not that I even know you. Not really. So if you aren’t rotting in some hole somewhere, give me a call back, please?
Where did you go?
Hi. It’s me. …I’ve heard a lot about you, you know? Mostly from you Grandmother, Gertrude.
Christ, Martin. He knows his grandmother’s name.
Right. Anyhow. She’s told me a lot of stories, you know? She’s actually pretty sharp. Most of the time, anyhow. Mostly lucid. I’m not sure if that’s all because of her medicine or what. I’ve… I help a lot of old people, at the end of their lives. And well… when I say she’s sharp, I mean that she is sharp comparatively, and also just remarkably so. Her words are confident, and considered. She doesn’t waste words, but she doesn’t shy away from telling stories. (I’m sure it’s just because she has no one else to talk to. Not even you.) But… you’ve stopped feeling like a real person on the other end of the line. That’s part of why I wanted to call? I guess? The longer that it’s been since my first message, the more I doubt myself for calling, and why I called. Sorry, then, for wasting your time. Thinking of you more like a book character, than someone with feelings and thoughts and a life. Someone who I know too much about for us to be casual strangers, even if I am a complete stranger to you. It just feels like a weird imbalance, you know?
Also… it’s a bit lonely out here, you know? Gertrude has a lot of old photographs of you. None of them are recent. And I know it isn’t my business, but… never mind. It isn’t my business… and I get it.
But… she still has your photos up. It’s my job to dust them. So, every week or so, I get a really good look at them. There’s one of you on the tire swing out back… it’s still back there, you know? You have mud all over your dungarees. And in your hair. Then there’s one… you look about 7? Your hair is in pig tails, and you are scowling at something off to your right. I don’t know what it is, and I know I shouldn’t find that kind of adorable, but I do. And there’s one of you in uni. You’re flipping off the camera and your hair is short and you’re wearing eyeliner. You look some odd combination of pissed off and like you’re having the time of your life.
And really, really, really hot. Christ, Martin, keep it together. You are literally on the phone with him, and you haven’t even talked to him. Jesus!
I.. wish I could have known you then. That’s the oldest you look in these. Most of these are pictures of you when you were little. Mostly just you. A few of your dad when he was young, and one of your parents. She’s pregnant, and it’s sunset. They look so …happy. Christ, I’m sorry about what happened to them. I… I didn’t really know my dad either.
Sorry. This isn’t about me.
I’m calling because this place is… spooky. Spooky like a dark fairy tale.
Everything here is a bit… magical and creepy.
This house is old. Like a museum. Dusty boxes in the attic, full of treasures and dust the relics of the past, like the Long past. Not just the past of one lifetime. The garden is overgrown, despite my best efforts. Sometimes, Gertrude comes out and helps me garden. Usually in her chair. Mostly I just wheel here out so she can get some sun while I work. That’s where I hear most of the stories about you.
It’s overgrown with twisting vines and the most beautiful roses I have ever seen, with scary-long thorns.
I feel like I’ve walked into the setting for a classic. Like Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice, or hell, even Tolkien. Or even Grimm’s fairytales. The original, dark ones.
It’s… unsettling. Especially when it’s foggy out.
The rest of the hills disappear into the fog and the condensation clings to the flowers, desaturated with the thickness of the moisture in the air, and the everything is coated in the most delicate, perfect little water droplets.
Anyhow. The reason I’m really calling… are the letters.
I was helping Gertrude move some things up to the attic. She’s one of the practical sorts of old people. She isn’t afraid of her death. She wants everything to be easy on you, you know? Make sure you don’t have to go through too much stuff when she passes on. I’ve lived with a lot of people through their deaths. It’s nice… making sure no one dies alone. Making sure they are comfortable. Making it as painless as possible.
Lord knows my efforts were never good enough for my mother… but if I can help other people…
I know it’s a little morbid. But I like it. I feel… useful. I’m good at it. I’m good at keeping up conversations, and at cooking, and cleaning, and providing medical assistance, as needed. Not that I’m an actual doctor, but I, you know, do have a lot of training.
Anyway. The letters. I was helping her move some stuff into the attic, and bringing down some older boxes so she could go through them and decide what she was ready to toss, when I found them. This box full of letters. Hundreds of them. All unopened. Sealed with a kiss. Lipstick red. Red as dying embers. Stamped returned to sender. Slightly scorched around the edges. Tied in bundles. Identical envelops. Identical loose, looping cursive. All from someone named Agnes? All addressed to Gertrude.
That would be fine, I guess?
But she screamed when she opened it. An inhuman sound.
Like the sound was ripped from her.
And, I have never cared for a more grounded person. I have never seen her anything but… well not completely calm all the time, but mostly calm, you know? I’ve seen her sharp, I’ve seen her annoyed. Heh, half the time it looks like she wants to judge me, but then doesn’t… if that makes sense? Mostly she looks… like she knows so much more than I do and that she is calm in her knowledge? I’ve seen so much as a carer. There isn’t much that rattles me. Not death, not illness, not panic, but… but this was different.
After that… she was shaken badly. Screamed for what seemed like hours, then just stared at me and said “I’m going into the ground for you.” I… I couldn’t calm her down. Not until late evening, and I didn’t even have a break because the relief carer was off sick.
I finally got her to bed, and… I had to take another look. That’s when I got a good look at the envelopes. I… I want to open them. I haven’t. I know I shouldn’t…. but…. I want to know what could have shaken her that badly? Someone that stable and grounded, you know?
Heh, maybe you could call me back and make sure I don’t do something stupid. And ya know, let me know that you aren’t’ dead in a ditch. Tim’s started texting me directly now! He’s… he’s really worried about you.
Anyhow, I just need to know-
AUTOMATED VOICE: The voicemail inbox for [Jonathan Sims] is full. Please call again later.