Home > The Good Samaritan(15)

The Good Samaritan(15)
Author: John Marrs

‘Yes, there is a lot of training to be done to prepare you for what you might hear,’ I replied. ‘Some calls we get are quite hard, so we need to be ready for anything.’

After my first interview at End of the Line, I did my homework and read up on the answers expected in their psychometric and personality tests. I was asked my opinions on everything from abortions to what I’d tell a terminally ill friend who didn’t want to continue treatment. All were designed to see how open-minded, liberal and non-judgemental I was. The truth is that I am judgemental, but I went against my real self because giving advice isn’t listening. Only once did I slip up and say the words ‘commit suicide’. ‘Commit’ is a word we never use, as it makes suicide sound like it’s a crime, which it isn’t.

I passed, and then came the training – one day a week for the best part of two months. I was quick to get the measure of my mentor Mary. Her adult son had long flown the nest and the country, leaving her with a husband who’d rather spend time on the golf course than with her. I sensed she was aimless and empty and in another life, I’d have fast-tracked her as a candidate.

She filled her days between now and death by offering a friendly ear to others. Her body was slimmer than mine but she hid it away under frumpy clothing and abided by the World War II slogan ‘make do and mend’. I’d see her quietly green-eyeing the fashions I wore, and I’d make a point of telling her where I’d bought them and how much they cost.

Mary wore little make-up, ageing her further, and all the fillers in the world couldn’t have ironed out the wrinkles in her face. She didn’t even colour her short, silver hair, as if she didn’t see the point of making an effort anymore. When she was considering a question or was lost in thought, she’d move her jaw from left to right like she was easing her loose dentures back into place. I’d rather be dead than become Mary.

Together, we embarked on an exploration of hypothetical depths of despair to see how much I knew about the types of problems callers were experiencing. It wasn’t in my nature to try to cheer someone up or tell them I knew how they felt, so that wasn’t a habit I needed to break.

Despite her maturity, Mary was easily hoodwinked; that’s the problem with those who only ever see the good in people. I found it easy to appear saddened as she recounted some of the horrors callers had told her. Secretly, I couldn’t wait until she let go of my reins and I could experience their suffering first-hand.

When the time arrived, I had to stifle my excitement. Not every call came from someone with suicidal thoughts, but when my first one arrived, I had to clench my fists to stop myself from clapping like a sea lion. For the first of my eight probationary shifts, Mary wore an earpiece to listen in on my conversations. Occasionally she’d pass me a suggested line of questioning on a Post-it note, and once the call was over she’d debrief me and offer constructive feedback. Well, she found it constructive. I found it time-consuming nonsense. Finally, with the wool well and truly pulled over her eyes, she unscrewed my stabilisers and I was off on my own.

There were many guidelines to follow, and even now I obey them, by and large. I don’t agree with them all but there’s no point in trying to break the rules just for the sake of it. Remain below the radar and no one will ever see you for what you are. And just to be on the safe side, I took three, maybe even four months before I began playing by my own rules.

I didn’t abandon the Internet message boards completely. I’d visit weekly and answer some questions, or continue talking to people I’d already started conversations with. But End of the Line gave me what the boards couldn’t.

‘What do you think about when you go home at night?’ asked a woman at the back of the Northants Women’s Circle meeting. ‘Do you ever worry how the people you’ve spoken to are getting on?’

I never forget a voice and I recognised hers. She’d called me before, up to her eyes in credit card debt. She certainly hadn’t spent all her money on her appearance.

‘Some of them stay with you longer than others,’ I replied, and thought of David. His and that of the woman I’d matched him with were the only funerals I hadn’t been to. I hadn’t even seen a photograph of them. Yet he still burned deeper inside me than anyone else.


I hated this house.

I glanced around the open-plan space that was full of barely used objects. A top-of-the-range fifty-two-inch television that was hardly ever turned on, an eight-seater dining room table and chairs that had yet to be eaten off, and two L-shaped sofas were rarely sat upon. Our £20,000 kitchen was adorned with branded, built-in appliances, Corian surfaces and Italian marble-tiled flooring. It was all less than a couple of years old, so beautiful, so box-fresh, but so hollow. The house had everything a family could need with the exception of love. In fact, try as I might, I couldn’t remember the last time that all five of us had been under the same roof, together at the same time. The more hours I whiled away there, the darker the walls became and the more I resented the house for changing everything.

The sound of a sneeze broke the silence. That cat had been asleep and curled into a tight ball on the windowsill before waking himself up. I’d assumed it was only dogs that gave their owners enthusiastic welcomes when they returned home. But Bieber always dashed through the house at the sound of Tony’s car crawling up the drive. As soon as the front door opened, he’d purr and rub his needy little head on Tony’s ankles, and would be rewarded with more attention than my husband gave me. Tonight, Bieber would have to join me in waiting. I took my place at the breakfast bar, staring at the oven. I had to think for a moment to remember what I was even cooking.

I sent all three of them a group WhatsApp message to find out where they were, but no one replied. They must have gone somewhere without a phone or Wi-Fi signal. I’d left the mail neatly arranged on the kitchen counter and I assumed Tony had sifted through it, as it was no longer how I’d left it, in size order.

I turned on the radio to find my favoured 1980s music station. Whitney Houston was asking ‘How Will I Know’, the Eurythmics wanted to discover ‘Who’s That Girl?’ and Carly Simon inquired ‘Why’. They asked a lot of questions back then. All I wanted to know was where was my family?

When the six o’clock news began, I assumed Tony had already left the office and gone to the gym to knock the hell out of a punch bag. He was probably training for another of his white-collar boxing tournaments, where he and other like-minded office workers take each other on in the ring in organised, regulated matches. When things became strained between us, he’d spend more and more time there training. And while he’d told me in no uncertain terms not to attend his fights, I couldn’t help myself, and stood in the shadows at the back of the Freemasons’ Hall function room, increasingly aroused by each punch he threw and the damage inflicted on his opponent.

Alice was probably still at an after-school club and would be dropped off later by a friend’s mum, while Effie might be crying on her friends’ shoulders over Thom, who was likely blaming his public humiliation on her, for sending all and sundry his naked selfie. Or maybe Tony had taken the girls out for pizza without me. I wouldn’t put it past him.

I’d grown accustomed to watching my family interact while I lurked on the sidelines like a bit-part character in my own local theatre production. I didn’t blame the girls completely – Tony had taken it upon himself to organise birthday parties and trips out, and he spoiled them by making too much time to listen to every minute detail of their lives. That put immense pressure on me to keep up appearances and pretend to be interested in their stories, or else I’d look like an uninvolved mother. Only I wasn’t as convincing as my husband.

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