Phone Call

Jackson picked up the phone and dialed the number that Janet Carison, the case worker, had given him. It rang, the only time now you ever heard a ring, waiting for the other side to pick up. Jackson wondered who it would be, if it would be a woman or a man. If they would know him, just by the sound of his voice.

It rang and rang.

It picked up.

“Yello?” a man on the other end said.

“Hello,” Jackson tried. “This is Jackson Peir. I’m calling about—” And there the spiel stopped. His years of experience on the phone left him stranded. The pause went on, too long.

“Hello? Still there?” He sounded mildly annoyed. The way you do when you’ve gotten an unexpected phone call and you still don’t know what it’s about.

“Yes, sorry. I’m calling about my son. Janet– Mrs. Carison said that you had him. My son Samuel.”

There was just a fraction of a pause. “Aww, shit.” Not angry, or afraid. But surprised. “Hang on, she said something about you calling. Let me get the paper.” The small click of a phone being put down on the table.

Distant voices.

“Who is it?” A woman.

“Where did Mrs. Carison leave that paper about Sam-wam’s other peps?”

“Uhh, shit. Are they on the phone?”

“Yeah, ‘Jackson Peir’.”

“Try the cinder blocks.” The woman’s voice grew louder as she moved toward the phone. The phone was picked up.

“Good evening, Mr. Peir?” the woman’s voice said. Higher now, sweeter.

“Yes, hello?”

“Hi. I’m Lacey. I’m one of Sam’s…” And here she paused, and Jackson could hear the awkwardness there. What do you call yourself? “People.”

Jackson felt a smile twitch up his face. He liked that. That was a good word. He imagined the two of them, young, they had to be young, in suits and dark glasses, standing around his little son like a body guard.

“He’s down for the night,” she went on, cheerfully. “He’s a terror if he stays up late.”

“He’s-” Jackson tried again. “He’s healthy?”

“Oh yeah.” Lacey said, and he could hear her smile waver. “He’s good. The scars are healing.”

Jackson felt his heart kick.

Someone said something in the background, which sounded a bit like, ‘found it!’

“Oh good!” Lacey said. “He found the paper. Hang on a sec.”

She put the phone down. Against her chest this time, instead of on the table. He could tell, because you couldn’t hear the voices, just the distant hum of breath.

He said something. She said something. There was a pause. He said something. The phone was handed over.

“Hey, Mr. Peir.” It was the guy again. Jackson realized why he was thinking of them as young. They were calling him mister. How funny was that? When had he become a mister?

“Hi,” Jackson said. His head was pounding now. This was it. This was it.

“This is Spike.”

His name was Spike? Really, Spike? No way. Spike and Lacey. Jackson wondered what their last name was.

“Sam’s down for the night. What can we do for you?” His tone was more formal now. Like this was official.

That was alright. Jackson could deal with formal. Right? He took a deep breath. “I’m in Hamphordshire now.” He cleared his throat. “I was hoping to arrange a visit.” He felt his mouth go dry. It’s alright, he told himself. It’s alright. You have a legal right.

“Of course Mr. Peir. Sam likes the park. Is there an afternoon that’s good for you?”

Relief flooded down from his shoulders and into his heart. “Yeah. Yeah. I can do tomorrow, or Sunday. Or any day next week if I get warning.” Which was kind of a lie, but an automatic one. He would start job searching. Then it wouldn’t be a lie any more.

“Let’s do Sunday. Can you get to the park on the corner of Rose and Sheer?”

“Yes, that’s excellent,” Jackson said, as he realized he didn’t know where it was, or where he was in relation to it. “What time?”

“How about noon? We can do a picnic.”

The woman spoke again, from outside the phone. “Oooh, tell him to bring the juice. We’ve got everything for sandwiches and potato salad.”

“Sure, that sounds lovely.” Jackson said.

“Sweet. Bring juice?” Spike asked.

“Sure. What kind?”

“Not orange.” Spike said. “Sam-wam won’t drink that. Anything else is fine.”

Jackson felt his smile catch at the nickname. Sam-wam. He wanted to cry. “Alright. Sure. Thank you.” Jackson tried. The battery on his phone was beeping. He remembered back when it would have been the operator, interrupting to tell him that he was out of coins.

“Of course.” As if it was a given. “See you Sunday. We’ll be under the big tree near the fountain. We’ve got a Princess Elsa blanket.”

Jackson swallowed. Right. Yes. It wasn’t like “Sam’s Father” was stamped on his forehead or something. He closed his eyes, blocking out the drab wallpaper and the old TV set. “Alright. I’m kind of big.” He opened his eyes again, casting around for identification. “I’ll bring my guitar.”

“Oh!” Spike said, pleasantly surprised. “You play?”

“A bit. You?” The guitar had been his life. But he was out of practice now.

“Sure. Bass. Band with friends.”

“Oh yeah? Always wanted to get into bass. I’m an acoustic man.”

“That’s sweet, dude. You gotta bring it. I’ll get Lacey to bring her violin.”

She spoke again, voice muffled. “I’ll put Sam-wam’s rattles on the list then.” And she laughed. It sounded nice.

Jackson smiled. His phone beeped again. “Alright.” He said. “I’ve got to get my phone plugged in. I look forward to meeting both of you.” He avoided saying ‘all three of you’ just in time.

“Sure thing, man. See you Sunday.”

And there was silence.

Jackson closed his eyes and swallowed. The tears pricked on his cheeks.