Finally, time alone, he thought to himself as he checked his watch. Sunday night after ten-thirty the calls typically fell off real fast. There were lots of theories why, but nobody really knew the true reason. But, for whatever reason, people contemplating suicide didn’t usually pick late Sunday nights to call in to the Suicide Hotline.
Which is why he was the only one left manning the phones. Jade left right after ten. She was the supervisor and even she knew there would probably be, at best, one or two more calls. She patted him on the head and said, “Good luck, and call me if there’s a crisis,” as she headed for the place where she spent most of her free time, the bar at the local Westin. He knew she’d be there until about three. She didn’t even try to hide it anymore.
He leaned back, took off his headpiece, rubbed his eyes, and reached for his lunch. He called it lunch, but he usually ate it around midnight, sometimes sooner. Tonight it was sooner. Tuna sandwich, pickle, chocolate milk, and an orange, already cut into segments and wrapped in plastic. Comfort food. God, he needed comfort food doing this gig.
He was two bites into the tuna sandwich and had just reached for the pickle when the call came through.
“Good evening, this is Ray. You have reached the Hotline. Who am I speaking with?”
He could hear the breathing on the other end of the phone. From experience, he could tell that it was a woman. He checked his watch. He knew he shouldn’t have, but he really wanted to finish his lunch. And talking to a potential suicide while you’re eating was one of the no-no’s they told you about in the training.
“Hello?” he said. If she didn’t answer this time, he’d take a bite of the pickle and risk a sip of chocolate milk before asking again. He might even chance a third bite of the sandwich, too.
She still didn’t answer, and so he took a quick bite of the pickle and was about ready to drink a bit of the chocolate milk when she finally said, “Ray, this is Jade.”
He immediately sensed that something was very wrong as he spit out the pickle into a napkin, sat up straight, and replied, “Yeah, Jade. You caught me in the middle of lunch. What’s up? Where are you?”
“I’m alone in the parking lot of the Westin.” She paused and then explained, “I took the pills, Ray.”
Oh, Jesus, Ray said to himself. She took the pills. They all knew about the pills. The ones that everybody in the Hotline biz knew about. The painless, mellow, quick acting, foolproof stuff. The stuff from Mexico.
“When did you take them, Jade?”
Jade laughed mildly. “I see that you were awake during that part of my training session, Ray. Nice try.”
They both breathed together without saying anything across their phone connection. They both knew that time didn’t matter anymore. Ray figured Jade had, maybe, five minutes left. There was nothing left to do but keep her on the phone and try to make her last moments as positive as possible.
“Jade,” he asked, “You remember when I first signed-up as a volunteer. You remember that?”
“Sure. I didn’t think you’d make it past the probation period. You were too sensitive, I thought. But you fooled everybody, kid. You did good. You saved a few, Ray,” she managed.
“We saved a few, Jade. We. We’re a team and I’m going to be here with you right across the line, okay?” he said, the tone of his voice surprising him.
“I would expect nothing less, Ray,” she mumbled. “And, for your information, these pills are as advertised. This is the best buzz I’ve had for a long time, kid.”
“Okay, good to know, girl. Good to know. So, one question. Are you ready for this?” Ray wondered.
“Oh, yeah, Ray. Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Good, Jade. That’s good.”
“Ray, would you do me one last favor?”
“Sure, Jade. Whatever you need.”
“Would you take a bite of your sandwich and tell me how it tastes. I’d like that. Go ahead. Talk with your mouth full, Ray.”
He took a deep breath, brought his sandwich to his lips and bit into it. As he chewed, he told her about the experience. The tastes, the textures, the pleasures. It didn’t take long but he thought he did a really good job of it.
“Thanks for that, Ray. I lost all that. Forgot the joy in the little things. You keep that, Ray. You hear?”
The phone went dead. Ray knew what that meant as he took off his headset, leaned back in his chair, and thanked God that it was Sunday night and nobody else was on the line. He didn’t think they’d understand if the guy who answered the Suicide Hotline phone was sobbing uncontrollably.