Six Voicemails from a Stranger
I woke up to six unread voicemails this morning. The contents are rather disturbing. And so here they are, transcribed. The notes in brackets and outside quotations are my own. The rest is the voice of a tired, old man that speaks in extended sentences and hints of a local Jersey accent.
He has quite the story to tell.
The First Voicemail:
[A persistent beeping chirps in the background throughout the call.]
“Hi, honey, it’s me. I was hoping you would answer the phone because I need to talk to you about some stuff I need for the room. You’re probably wondering who this is, since you don’t recognize the number, but…it’s me, at the hospital.”
“If you get the message, call me back, would you, please? I love you… Bye-bye.”
[Another extended pause.]
“I need…I need some wipes. Some hand wipes and some honey wipes. You probably know about the hand wipes…since we were running low. But the…the honey wipes, the ones we opened when you were here, they’re all dried up.”
[A third extended pause.]
“Okay, I love you. If you don’t get the message, I’ll see you in a couple hours. Bye.”
[A recording plays with a sign off from White Valley General.]
The Second Voicemail
[Two thirty a.m.]
“Hi, me again, Grandpa. [Aggressive coughing in the background.] I…I hope I didn’t disturb you, hon. I know it’s late and your mom doesn’t like me calling this late. But it’s a bit lonely here. And I thought you wouldn’t mind. Anyway, I’ll…I’ll get you next time. I love you so much. This is Grandpa, by the way.”
“I called again, because I wanted to remind you to bring my sweater. It’s a little cold here. The red one you got me. I know we don’t celebrate Christmas, not anymore, but everyone is so festive… I think it would be nice to fit in. Don’t you? I hope you can find it. Okay, bye now. This is Grandpa.”
[At this point, the pauses are so consistent that I wonder whether the man is stopping to gather his thoughts or observe something in the room with him. The next bit confirms my suspicion as the latter.]
“I have a roommate now. That’s what he tells me. We’re stuck together. He’s got one of those funny, foreign names that are tough to pronounce. Plata. Plito. Something like that.”
[A raspy voice calls out from the background.]
“Pluto. That still can’t be right. Anyway, good night. I love you so much, sweetheart. I’ll see you in the morning.”
The Third Voicemail
“Grandpa again. Honey, it is so cold here. I don’t know why. I asked the pretty young nurse about the temperature. But she told me to just bundle up. Imagine that? She sounded so much like your grandmother when she said that… You know, before she passed. You never met Grandma. But she always wanted us to bundle up.”
“I think I am going to need more sweaters. I hope that doesn’t burden you too much. I know that’s what I am, now, to your mom at least, just a burden. Sometimes I wish the good Lord would take me sooner.”
[The machine begins to beep louder, for reasons I do not know.]
“Okay, gotta go. I love you. Bye.”
The Fourth Voicemail
“There’s some folks in my room. If it’s okay, I’d like to just keep you on the phone while they’re here.”
[There are some chattering noises in the background. I hear a female voice, a gruff male, and a squealing baby.]
“Mallory…my…my parents are here.”
[The man on the phone squawks something unintelligible to the voices. The gruff male voice in the background shouts back in return.]
“My father always was such a mean man. Death didn’t do him any favors. His face is even uglier than before. He says I have to go. He…he says I can’t talk to you right now. Maybe I’ll call back. Goodbye.”
The Fifth Voicemail
“They’re gone now. I hope they’re gone for good.”
“Mallory, I don’t know what is happening. I am scared. Pluto left, too. His bed is all made up. Like nobody ever stayed there to begin with. But you heard him, right, on the telephone?”
[The man coughs so aggressively that the phone cackles static instead.]
“I keep seeing people in the hallways. A couple of them peeked into my room. This place looks busier than Grand Central Station. But it’s the middle of the night. And I recognize some of these people, too, it’s the funniest thing. Gosh, Mall, I swear, I saw your father.”
[A raspy voice calls out in the background. I can’t make out what they say.]
“I’ve gotta go now. I love you.”
The Sixth and Final Voicemail
“I love you so much. I know, I tell you every day, but you need to hear it every day. Because one day, we wouldn’t have any more days left, you know? I used to worry about that day a lot. But I don’t anymore. I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you. Tell your mom, for me, will ya kiddo? I only have time to call one person.”
“Pluto isn’t back yet. But…I know he is coming back. I can feel it. The hospital has gotten a lot darker. People stopped passing by in the hallways.”
“One last person visited me, Mall. It was my sister. She passed from…[cough]…scarlet fever when we were kids. She looked just how I remembered her. Blond hair, blue eyes, kind, wide smile. She looked just like you, Mallory.”
[He coughs again. The sound is hollow and painful to hear. The spasm lasts an entire full minute before he gasps and chugs down a glass of water, or juice, or whatever they give them there.]
“She always looked just like you.”
“Sarah told me not to be scared of the axe. She said, ‘Little brother, do not wait when Pluto asks you to go, there is a time and a place in which every soul will know.’”
[A raspy voice calls out in the background.]
“So…now…I think I gotta go. I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you.”
As soon as the last breath of the final voicemail played, I jumped in my car and flew through the twenty-minute drive to the hospital. I arrived to the reception desk gasping for air and holding the cell phone over my head like a bomb.
I tried to relax. I did my best to calmly explain the situation to the secretary. I explained the missed calls, and the voicemail, and the fact that all of it originated from this hospital.
The woman paused and looked up a few records. She made a phone call. She spoke to a supervisor who spoke to their supervisor. Finally, the receptionist told me that I was not allowed to go back and see anyone, but someone would come out to see me. A few minutes later, a beautiful, blond, teary young girl met me in the lobby. She wiped her eyes aggressively with a pink-sleeved arm and stared at me suspiciously.
“Mallory?” I asked. “Did your grandfather pass away last night?”
“You need to listen to this.”
I led her toward a grove of comfy chairs where we both sat down. I pulled up the voicemail app on my phone. I told her to brace for something even more unusual than my showing up in the first place.
And then I pressed play.