phone calls for the dead
The phone rings. It is early, before we open, or it is Sunday, or it is late at night.
My heart always stops for a moment, thinking, fearing that it might be word from one of my children, children of my body or children of my heart--there are so many wandering the world these days, so many of the young travelers, and sometimes the calls come from jails or hospitals or in the middle of nowhere, where the voice on the line says "the demons tell me I should be dead, oh what am I supposed to do?"
But this isn't one of them. The recorded message clicks on. "This. Is. A. Call. For. David. Lindgren. If you are David. Lindren. press one. If you are not. David. Lindgren. press two."
We've had this call ten times in the past week. The first time, because I am not David, I pressed two, and the voice bid me wait while my "information" was updated. I waited. Fur Elise played nicely. I waited. Fur Elise kept playing nicely. I waited.
The phone went to dead air.
I hung up, after trying to press various keys to get a human.
Today I thought, what the hell, I'll press one and see if that gets me a human. No, it just gets me Fur Elise, and then dead air, and probably gives the collection agency false hope.
There seems to be no way to tell them they aren't going to get whatever David owed them, that he is far, far beyond their reach.
He was called Cricket when he came through here, disheveled, angry, desperate, sweet. He was traveling then with a woman who called herself BirdSong, but who gave me her true name, because she was a poet and had written some poetry she'd had published in one of those huge scam "you are a great poet, just spend money on this beautiful anthology" places. Her poetry wasn't bad at all, and she loved flowers, and talked wistfully to me of the house she lived in once, where there were glass windows, small paned, and she grew houseplants and the sunlight shone, and she was warm.
They were both drunks, and they weren't very trustworthy around small valuable things. Like magpies they collected interesting bright lovely things from my bookstore. Sometimes it made me mad, sometimes I thought--well, I've got a lot, what's another trinket.
I tried to help them get food and I gave them sleeping gear and clothing all through many a winter here.
Hard to believe, it must be 7 years or more now; they would come and stand with me sometime when I stood alone in the cold in some Women in Black vigil. Cricket said he was a vet, and told me tales of Vietnam. Other vets claimed these were bogus, that he'd been in jail on some petty charges, that he was a scam artist.
He wasn't very popular, and he was prone to fights. One day I stepped between him and another guy, Buffalo, also dead now. They'd both drawn knives and were roaring and beyond reason and my action was incredibly stupid.
I'd do the same thing today, though. I stood between them, very aware of those sharp blades, and yelled "I will not allow you to hurt one another! Put those damn knives away! What are you thinking?!"
They sheepishly did just that. I invited them into my shop for a bowl of warm soup.
Birdsong left him, and that was probably a wise move. Buffalo died in jail. Cricket...ah, Cricket. He came to me with a wounded hand and asked what I thought. It was oozing green and swollen and he had a fever and I told him, I told him to get to a hospital. Right then.
Yeah, he died there. I guess his mom got contacted somehow. So I heard. I hope so. Must have been 4 years back?
And the phone calls bring it all back to me. I remember especially the Christmas Eve we happened to spend together, Cricket and Birdsong and me. It was storming and cold out. I had ordered a couple bushels of oranges--I do this a lot in the winter, figuring fruit is a good thing for hungry people, and oranges are vitamin rich. I invited them in for some hot tea and to give them a bag of fruit and some other food to get them through the next days. Birdsong was decorating herself with costume jewelry strung into a crown about her tangled brown hair, and had a brocade coat--glowing but tattered--she was intending to wear over her usual layers. Because, she said, she was an Empress and if she went out on the steets in her finery maybe, finally, someone would understand this about her. She was off her meds that night, and prone to screaming. No one could ever quite scream like Birdsong could--it should have shattered the gates of heaven.
And Cricket told me of his one good Christmas, in Oregon, when he was...maybe 5, maybe 8, I no longer remember. His dad had work that year, they had food, and, best of all, he was given a red wagon.
"You should have seen it, Kathy" said Cricket. "It was new. It was so bright, and it cost my dad plenty. We were so happy."
For a moment, looking at his worn face, I saw that little boy, delighted with a gift.
And I didn't cry then, but later, and still now, I have, wondering how that child's life was so torn later. And what could have kept him safe.