The phone call

Rita flopped into a chair at her kitchen table and held her phone to her ear, waiting for her sister to answer. When the beeping ringtone finally stopped it was replaced by clanging sounds and the voices of what sounded like at least ten people, even though Rita knew the family numbered only four.

“Just a sec.” Yvette sounded on edge.

A definitive sturdy clank caused Rita to wince. She held her breath in the brief silence that ensued before swearing from Yvette and wailing from both of the children put the volume back at its original level. Rita heard firm words from Yvette, determined footsteps and the slamming of a door. The children’s moans were muffled and Yvette came back to the phone.

“Hi, sorry about that,” she said. “Minor family fiasco but Robert’s taking care of it now.”

“You rang?”

“Did I? Erm...”

While she waited for her sister to scroll through her personal reminders, Rita picked up a pen and started doodling. She drew circles and put happy faces in them. Then she drew a matchstick figure and gave him a huge grin and an oversized violin. It was clearly too big for the little man but he seemed happy.

“You had an appraisal.” Yvette made it sound like an accusation.

Rita sighed. “I didn’t in the end.”

“You didn’t?”

“I’ve quit my job.”

“Oh! Well, it’s probably getting on for the time you should switch. Keeps you fresh. And it usually involves a pay increase, of course. Good for you. What’s the new job?”

Rita gave her matchstick man spiky hair.

“Rita?”

“I haven’t got anything new.”

“What, you just quit?”

“I got too miserable.”

“Oh, Rita. I know you haven’t found it easy and your boss sounds like a nightmare. But work isn’t fun - it’s not supposed to be. I don’t enjoy my job all the time either but I’ve got to keep earning money somehow. I owe it to my family.”

“Yes, well.” Rita gazed into the silence of her flat. It stared back at her.

“Come on, you can do this,” continued Yvette. “Don’t take anything personally. That’s always been my rule.”

Rita bit her lip and tried to breathe normally through her tightening throat. Yvette was echoing their father’s sentiments and Rita didn’t need to hear them again. “So how are you?” she asked.

Yvette hesitated. “Erm, fine, yeah, getting along alright.”

Rita detected a waver in her sister’s voice. “What is it?” She heard Yvette close another door. After the chaos of the kitchen Rita felt like she’d been taken into a bubble.

“Rita, I’m going mad with this secret.” Yvette’s voice was almost a whisper. “You know how you introduced me to Emile?”

Rita froze. Her pen hovered above her matchstick man’s head.

“Don’t judge me, please, but I’ve been round there a few times. We’re.... He....”

Rita was silent.

“It’s nothing, really, I think. Don’t you think? I mean, it’s not serious or anything.” The line was silent for a few moments. “Rita, are you still there? What do you think? It’s just human, right? No big deal.”

Rita was staring at the paper in front of her while her hand mechanically crossed out the matchstick man. Quick, horizontal lines were busy obscuring his entire form. She coughed and then tried again to clear her throat. “Yes, no, it’s nothing if you say so.” A single tear spattered onto the ink-filled page. The room suddenly felt tiny and hot; the walls looked closer than before and she was sweating.

“You really think so? Oh, you’ve no idea how much better that makes me feel.”

Rita put the phone on the table, stood up, and walked out. A tinny version of Yvette’s voice sputtered into the empty kitchen.

By Jenny Nunn