Cold Call, flash fiction by Ian Watson
It had been a Berlin number, so he had lifted the receiver without thinking. Just before Christmas. She was young, enthusiastic and persuasive, but he insisted it had been a one-off thing. Yes, he was the person who had signed the petition at the S-Bahn at Alexanderplatz at the end of January (he remembered the damp cold) and had spontaneously given a small donation on the pavement (ten Euros, he seemed to recall), but that was as far as he wanted to go. Yes, indeed; he sympathised with her people’s plight, but he had so many commitments, you know – political, charitable. She said OK, she understood, no problem; he heard her smile and he wished them all the best in their struggle.
It had begun with a rustling on a breezeless evening. Then there were the scratchings in the night, like the muffled fluttering of a trapped bird. Somewhere behind the wallpaper – or was it above the ceiling? Or under the bed? Mice, he had told himself. Sleep had been replete and complicated, so that dream and memory merged and confused him. In the shadows there were movements half seen, half guessed, out of the corner of an eye. Out beyond the study lamp, behind the darkened raindropped window, grey shadows shifted. Wisps of smoke? The reflection of a chased cloud? Occasionally there would be a face caught fleetingly in the street that he seemed to remember having seen before.
There had been other calls: wrong numbers and apologies; hangings-up without an apology; strange questions and comments. The phone ringing in the night, ignored in half-sleep, the pillow pulled over his head; no ‘Missed Calls’ next morning. Then the poltergeists in the computer: the printer, unsolicited, spewing out websites he had visited the day before; the crash; the bug that the IT workshop said was unidentifiable.
The word they all fell back on was imagining: colleagues, guys at the gym, even Katie. So who do you turn to?
Parked exactly at the darkest point between two lampposts, the kind that turns the dark blue night brown, was a long, long-bonneted Volvo. From the driver’s window, smoke leaked out into the night. In the windscreen only the stars were reflected. Among them, upside down, was the hunter with his club – Orion obviously had it in for him. He finger-tipped the gauze curtain; down there, a note was made. Life became an unmarked car outside his bedroom window. Next morning there was no trace of anything, except for five cigarette butts on the road.
Ian Watson was born in Belfast and lives in Bremen, Northern Germany. He writes and publishes in both German (mostly prose) and English (mostly poetry). His recent publications include two books of poetry and short prose – Kurzpassspiel (German) and Riverbank City: A Bremen Canvas – and his poetry collection Granny’s Interpreter was published by Salmon Poetry in Ireland in 2016. His book of German prose, Spielfelder – eine Fußballmigration, also came out in 2016, with Edition Falkenberg. ‘Cold Call’ was one of a number of texts commissioned by the Literarische Woche (Literary Week Festival) in Bremen in early 2016. http://www.irishwriters-online.com/watson-ian/
© Ian Watson