Short story – Voice recognition

‘Hi George, how are you feeling today?’

 ‘I’m having trouble with my hearing. You’ll have to speak up.’

‘Okay is this better? We might have to keep it brief today if I have to shout. People are staring.’

‘But the shore is empty.’

‘How do you know?’

The only sound is the soft wash of the waves lapping the stony shoreline, and my breath echoing back on the line.

‘Why don’t you meet me at the pier and we can get a hot chocolate. They put a marshmallow on top. I wouldn’t have to shout then.’

‘Hmm, it’s too cold, maybe next week.’

‘You know you can ring my mobile. I gave you the number. It’s cold inside this box. It would be nice to sit somewhere. Or better yet I could come to your place. I can bring my marvellous marble cake.’

Silence across the line meant the answer is the usual no. Over the past two months, every Sunday morning, George had revealed by his moments of silence that he didn’t go out of his home and never allowed anyone in.

 It had been by chance that I answered the phone the first time. I waited in my car until the market ended and there were only a few stragglers walking past.  I’d set up my easel and was sketching outline of the coastal inlet, trying to create the depth of field with the mountainous rainforests in the background, when the phone rang in the red box.

At first I tried to ignore it, but it kept ringing, stopping and ringing again. In frustrated annoyance I entered the booth and said hello. The low toned voice on the other end engaged me instantly and I couldn’t hang up.

The conversation continued for over an hour with me revealing more than I anticipated and much more than what I usually share with anyone else. It felt easy to talk with another person without having a physical connection.  From then on I had set up my easel every Sunday, painting while waiting, for the phone to ring.

 ‘I don’t eat cake.’

‘By the way George, I entered my painting of the boat into the local art exhibition.’

‘Wonderful. I’m very happy you did.’

‘Would you like to come to the opening of the exhibition, I have two tickets. Only the entered artists will be there.’

‘Hmm, I’ll think about it.’

I catch my breath in my throat. This is the first time George has said he may meet up with me. My mind goes into overdrive creating pictures of the man on the other end of the line.

‘Oh, that’s great.’ I try not to sound too excited. I bite my lip trying to calm the instinct to nervously laugh.  ‘I would love it if you came. Um, how will I know it’s you? How will you know to find me?’

‘You’ll know by the sound of my voice, and I already know you.’