I Answered a Spam Call
“Hello, is this Mr. Henderson?”
There was no real reason for me to pick up the phone. The spam app on my cell called out the mystery number right away. But, hell, I thought. Fuck it. There was no one else left in life for me to talk to. Even a debt collector sounded good at the moment.
My wife was murdered in 2015. There really isn’t an easy way to say that other than getting it out of the way early. Not much to it. Just another random robbery gone wrong. One dark night in October, some sick tweaking fuck snuck into our house and shot her to death. The suspect was caught two days later. He was sentenced to life in prison. He still sits there today.
I have worked in web development ever since. The job is remote, and the field caters to my hermit-like behavior out here in the woods of northern New Jersey. The lack of drug testing is really just an added benefit, which leaves me perfectly free to fuck up the remainder of my own life on my own terms. I don’t have any friends anymore. Not really. Sometimes, I don’t know, I guess it’s just easy to look for companionship in all the wrong places.
“Senior or junior?” I replied with a gentle sigh before settling into the armchair in my office with a bottle of wine. A storm blanketed the valley that evening. Rain hummed rhythmically against the roof. Wind whipped the old pine tree in our backyard to the point of collapse.
“Uhh…Senior,” whispered the calm, pretty voice on the other line. Something about her accent seemed familiar, but at the time, I mostly attributed that notion to the half-empty bottle of wine.
“Apologies, ma’am, but…Senior died six years ago,” I answered, a little annoyed at the apparent lack of record keeping at this place.
“Oh gosh…gosh, that is not what we have here. I am so sorry, sir. We were not aware of the change in circumstance. Please forgive the intrusion. Would you mind pausing while I check the records?”
A filing cabinet clicked steadily in the background as static crinkled. I assumed she held the receiver to her shoulder. I couldn’t help but notice the awful audio quality.
“No, that’s okay, no problem at all. No worries. Why don’t you start by telling me your name?” I asked, cursing myself for the hint of shameless flirting at the end.
She giggled, and my heart pounded. I couldn’t help it. The reaction was instinctual. Something about that laugh was just so recognizable. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Like a familiar fragrance that you just can’t quite place.
“My name is Emily, and I work with Mr. Henderson’s credit card provider,” she offered in a rehearsed tone. “Unfortunately, we cannot provide any more details over the phone if you are not the account holder…which, uh…you just admitted yourself, of course…”
“I am hoping that you are Mr. Henderson’s son.” She hummed while thumbing through papers. “Which means you could be listed as a beneficiary…”
“Yes, ma’am, that’s right. But it’s been years since he passed…I can’t possibly be stuck with the old man’s debt, right?” I asked.
“Well, let’s check, shall we?” A panicked shuffling ensued in the background. “I am so very sorry, sir,” she continued. “The rules are kept in one of these three-ring binders, and they are very difficult to find if we don’t have the exact reference number.”
“That’s okay…didn’t know anybody still kept their records that way. No worries. Do I get an email confirmation of this charge as well?”
“Email…like…electronic mail. A confirmation of the charge?”
She hesitated again. I waited in silence. What was this lady’s problem?
“We don’t…we don’t do that here… Still a few years away from all those fancy features,” she continued. “But as you know, late payments are a pretty serious issue, and they can even affect your credit score.”
“Okay, okay, of course.” I was actually starting to worry. “What can we do?”
“Is there a Mrs. Henderson in the household?” she asked quietly.
“Mrs. Henderson died in ’06.”
“What year did you say? Oh my gosh. That is so horrible. I really am batting one thousand today.”
I gasped. That was it. That fucking phrase. I don’t know if it was the way she said it or the fact that she said it at all. But as soon as she did…the pieces clicked into place. My wife worked for a credit card company before we met. My wife’s name was Emily.
“What is your last name?” I asked.
The line was silent.
“Look, look, I know that’s a weird question, but please, it feels like we know each other.”
“I can’t give that information out…” she started. “There are rules…”
“Okay. No problem. Did you go to Jefferson Memorial High School?”
“Yes…” she gasped. “How the heck did you know that?”
It was impossible. And somehow, it wasn’t. The voice on the phone barely even resembled Emily. She seemed younger, happier, more optimistic. Before the wheels of time grated their way into her feathery tone. I dreamed about a moment like this one, night after night, for months after she died. And yet, this time, I was awake. I pinched myself extra hard just to make sure.
“Is your mother’s name Helen?”
She paused. I could hear her breathing. Even that felt familiar.
“Who is this?”
“Okay.” I took a deep breath. Either I completely understood what was happening, or I’d completely lost my mind, but either way, might as well enjoy the ride. “This next question is going to sound strange. What is today’s date?”
“I am sorry, sir…what…? One moment.” She paused and shuffled around some more papers. “Today’s date is July the 9th, 1999.”
I didn’t understand. Could it be the storm? The anniversary of her death? My own fucked-up subconsciousness forcing dreams into reality?
I didn’t want to understand.
“Emily, listen to me.”
“Okay, sir, this conversation is getting a little strange. Let’s keep it to the payment plan.”
“Please listen to me very carefully. One day…one day you are going to meet a guy. You are going to love him, Emily, and he will love you more than you could ever possibly know.”
I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t know how to insist. Years of memories wrapped up in one moment of convincing. I had to give her something to remember.
“On your first holiday together, he will buy you one gift for all twelve days of Christmas.”
“Sounds dreamy,” she replied with a laugh and a sigh. “Are you one of those psychics?”
“I’m serious. You are going to marry this guy, Emily. He’s going to buy you the ring you always wanted. The ceremony will be a Buena Sera in your hometown. Your entire family will be there. All of your friends. Aunt Emma, your grandma from Tennessee, that girl you fought with in fourth grade…”
“I like this fortune cookie,” she teased with dripping sarcasm. “What else?”
“You’ll be happy together. You’ll have everything. Everything two people could possibly want from each other. But two years later, on July 9th, 2015, you will be murdered in the perfect home that you share. And there is nothing that anybody can do about it.”
She shifted the phone again.
“Okay. Fine. Say I believe you. What do I do?”
First, I tried to tell her to avoid the house that day. To never date me, to move, to stay away forever and find a better life somewhere else with someone else. But somewhere in the middle of my rant, a woman screamed and the line disconnected. I called back to find a non-working number. I tried ten more times. But she never answered again.
I fell asleep listening to the thunder rolling through the sky. The conversation repeated itself from time to time while flashes of her broken body on the floor occasionally invaded my mind.
I never questioned the call. I never asked why. Maybe it was God. Maybe it was just time.
But yesterday morning, when I woke up…
Emily was by my side.