The Other End

They got wrong numbers — phone calls intended for other people. Collection agencies looking for Sheila. Insurance companies for Alex. An old woman, her voice barely above a whisper, called weekly asking for Joseph.

For three years they’d had the same number, and the calls had only increased in frequency.

On Halloween that year, Jacob answered the phone and heard two men snickering on the other end.

“Hello? Hello?”

The snickering paused. “Gonna get you, bitch,” a man’s voice growled. Then the line went silent. Jacob dropped the phone back into its cradle and joined Mary in the living room.

A month later, Mary was in the bathroom and Jacob was already in bed when the phone rang. He got up and answered it.

“Hello?”

Mary peeked her head out of the bathroom, toothbrush in her mouth.

“Another one,” Jacob said to her, the phone still pressed to his ear. “I can hear a TV in the background, so somebody’s there. They’re just not —”

Jacob stopped when he heard a voice on the other end.

“What? Hello?”

“Tell ‘em to back off,” the voice said. It was male; gruff, yet pleading.

“What? Tell who?”

“Just tell ‘em to back off,” the voice said again. “We don’t want no trouble.”

Something bubbled inside Jacob. He gripped the phone tighter.

“I don’t give a shit what you want,” he said. He surprised himself as much as Mary. His voice sounded strange.

“We don’t want no trouble,” the other man repeated, more urgently this time.

“Well, you’re gonna get it,” Jacob snarled. “Don’t call here again.”

He slammed the phone down and glared at it. Mary had spit out the toothpaste and was standing next to him.

“What was that?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “Wrong number.”

The phone started ringing again. They both looked at it, then Jacob snatched up the phone cord and ripped it out of the wall.

“What the hell are you doing?” Mary yelled.

Jacob looked at the limp cord dangling from his fist.

“We have to change our phone number,” he said.

“I guess so. Jesus.”

They went to bed without another word. Jacob lay on his back, his eyes open. It was warm in the bedroom, and he was sweating. He kept thinking about the phone, about the life festering on the other end. Beside him, Mary slept soundly, breathing deeply, completely unaware.

He got up to go to the bathroom. In the hallway, he stepped over the phone cord, which was lying on the floor, coiled like a snake.

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