The Helpline

Pay phones

‘I can’t get to the damn phone with all these toys on the stairs Claire! Get the kids to sort this shit out!’

‘Don’t shout at me, and watch your language. The kids don’t know what’s going on, don’t take your temper out on them!’

Andrew clings to the banister as he tries to navigate one toy at a time before jumping down the final five steps. Narrowly avoiding crushing a pirate ship and sending Peppa Pig to her untimely end, he makes it down.

Panic has set in. Will he need to move the family? Is his marriage going to survive this? Are their kids going to hate them for making this decision when they’re older? The faster he could make some calls to see the extent of what was going on, the better. If he could just find a phone! Two cell phones and a landline in the house and he can’t get his hands on a single one when he needs it.

His hands are trembling. He looks longingly down at them, hoping they might steady and direct him in some way. Steer him in the direction he’s supposed to go. What’s the game plan now?

Claire joins him at the bottom of the stairs. She looks at her husband staring hopelessly at his hands as if they know something he doesn’t. She gathers them in her own and tries to reason with them.

‘We’ll figure it out Andy, we always do. Please don’t lose it on me now’.

‘Don’t you see? Don’t you see how bad things are going to get? This isn’t dealing with your drunk parents fighting on Thanksgiving. Or finding a school that can handle Sarah’s ADHD. We have no comeback to this. We can’t just go into work today like nothing has happened. Everything has changed!’ Andrew pulls back his hands and clasps either side of his head, stretches the skin on his temples and tries to think. His head is pounding. ‘Help me find a God damned phone Claire, please!’

Agitated and upset, she drops her arms by her side and looks up sadly at her husband. She spots something from the corner of her eye. It’s her cell phone. Andrew gives his wife a grateful glance and takes the cell phone from her offering hands.

Frantically now, he types in the phone number. The number his sister gave him a long time ago, what feels like an eternity. Just before pressing the call button and for a fleeting moment, he recalls the pathetic look he gave his sister when she passed him a scrap of paper with it written on it. ‘Oh don’t be such a drama queen, what’s the worst that can happen? You might be wavering, but I’m sticking to my guns, whatever way this turns out.’ He had said to her.

‘Well, what are they saying?’ Claire asks hurriedly.

But her husband’s face has gone white. All colour has drained from his skin, and he’s frozen. He’s looking at her, but he is lost. She can feel him begging for help, his gaze a silent scream as he points the phone towards her on speaker and she hears it. An automated voice, adding to their uncertain terror.

‘Hello, you’ve reached the What-Have-I-Done?! helpline. We’re experiencing a colossal volume of calls, but your call is important to us. You are number 59,085,795 in line; please hold. Thank you’.

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