Hello Can You Hear Me – Sarah Hall

‘Hi. It’s me.’

‘Hello?’

‘Hello! Can you hear me?’

Beep. Beep. Beep.

‘Hello? Hello?’

 

 

 

‘What was he doing there?’

‘We don’t know, miss. We think there might have been a problem with the car and that he’d pulled over to phone for help.’

‘Who did he phone? Why didn’t he call home?’

‘The service provider is tracing the call. They’ll let us know. The number wasn’t listed in his contacts. He may have misdialled.’

 

 

 

‘Hello?’

‘Hello. My name’s Samantha Vaz. You don’t know me. I’m phoning because you were the last person to speak to my father before he died.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘No, I’m sorry. I’m not doing this very well. I’ve never had to do this before and I’m not making a very good job of it. If I could just explain –‘

‘Go on.’

‘My father phoned you last week. On Wednesday, about three? His name was Robert Vaz.’

‘I don’t know any Roberts. A Bobby and a Robin, but no Robert. Sorry.’

‘No? Okay. Your number was the last one he phoned, the minute before he died.’

‘The minute before?’

‘There was an accident. The police think he had broken down and was trying to get help. He was standing in the V of his open door, trying to get a signal. A milk tanker came round a bend. Couldn’t stop.’

‘There was a call last Wednesday. It could have been your father.’

‘Yes?’

‘That’s it I’m afraid. What you were saying about the signal reminded me. We shared a couple of hellos before the line went dead.’

‘Thank you. Thank you for remembering and telling me.’

‘No problem. Look, I don’t know if this helps, but my wife and I haven’t lived here very long, only a couple of months. Perhaps your father was trying to reach the previous occupant?’

‘Oh. Maybe. Can I ask, who lived there before you?’

‘A teacher. I’ll give you her number.’

‘Thank you. You’ve been very kind.’

‘It’s nothing.’

‘You didn’t hang up. That matters.’

 

 

 

‘Hello?’

‘Hello. My name’s Samantha Vaz. You don’t know me. I’m phoning because you may have been the last person my father wanted to speak to before he died.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘No, I’m sorry. I’m not doing this very well. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve had to phone since Dad died. So many calls and I still haven’t got it right. Sorry, you don’t need to know about any of that. Robert Vaz. My father’s name was Robert Vaz. He phoned your old telephone number the minute before he died. The new people there didn’t know him. They gave me this number.’

‘What happened?’

‘We don’t know. The police thought his car had broken down, but they’ve found nothing wrong with it. He was trying, no, why am I saying that? We don’t know what he was doing. He was standing by his car, trying to make a call, when a milk tanker came around a corner and hit him.’

‘Oh my God, poor Robert.’

‘You knew him? He was trying to contact you?’

‘Only if he knew he was going to die. We promised. How is your mother?’

‘You know my mother?’

‘Vaguely. How is she?’

‘Quiet. She hasn’t said much since the accident.’

‘It must be awful for you. I am sorry.’

‘It is. Sorry, what do you mean, you promised?’

‘Your father and I were at college together. We were an item for a while, but then he met your mother and we grew apart. I haven’t seen him in thirty years.’

‘So why did he phone you?’

‘We made a pact. It was a silly lovers’ thing. The first to go would warn the other that time was running out.’

‘But he can’t have known, can he? This is sick. I can’t do this.’

Click.

‘Samantha. There’s no need to –‘

Beep. Beep. Beep.

 

 

 

‘Hello?’

‘Hello. Is that Samantha Vaz?’

‘Yes?’

‘Hello. You don’t know me, but I’m phoning because you were the last person to speak to my mother before she died.’

‘I’m sorry? I don’t know who you are, but this isn’t funny. I’ve just lost my father, my mother is ill and –‘

‘I know. I’m sorry. I’m not doing this very well. Everything is so new, so raw. My mother dealt with everything when my father died. I’m the only one left now to pick up the mess she left behind. She told me about you. She said you’d phoned and she was sorry you didn’t have longer to speak. She would have told you the rest.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘My mother, Elizabeth Grainger, left me a letter when she committed suicide. She wanted me to contact you, to finish your conversation.’

‘I don’t understand what this has to do with me.’

‘No, you won’t. Your father didn’t have time. There was a pact –‘

‘She said – ‘

‘A suicide pact.’

‘My Dad didn’t commit suicide. He was parked on a bad bend when a tanker came round the corner. It was an accident.’

‘Why on a bad bend if there was nothing wrong with the car?’

‘How do you know that?’

‘My mother left notes of your conversation.’

‘This is mad. This is sick.’

‘I know this must be hard, but I’ve spoken to some of Mum’s friends and they confirm it. As students my mother and your father had a very intense relationship. They couldn’t live without each other, but it became destructive and they decided they would only survive if they were apart. But before they split up they made their pact. They would be together in death. It was the one thing they could control.’

‘I’m not listening to any more of this. I can’t deal with this. My father didn’t commit suicide. It was an accident.’

Beep. Beep. Beep.

 

 

 

‘Hello. You’re reached Samantha Vaz’s answer machine. Please leave a message after the beep.’

‘Hello Samantha. It’s Minnie Grainger again. You need to see my mother’s letter. They chose the date and time. Thirty years ago, they chose the date and time. Robert was always meant to go first. If their love for each other had diminished then they wouldn’t go through with it.

‘The day your father died, my mother was distraught. I couldn’t get her to speak to me, she couldn’t settle, wouldn’t speak. Now I know she thought your father had fallen out of love with her. Your phone call let her know he had made a mistake dialling the old number and she wasted no time in joining him. They carried it through as planned.

‘Yes it’s mad and sick and weird and numerous other things I can’t hold on to right now. I make no attempt to understand or forgive or judge. I’d like to send you my mother’s letter so you can read it for yourself and make up your own mind.’

‘Hello.’

‘Hello?’

‘Hello. Can you hear me?’

Aged 29, Sarah gave up a proper job to write. During the following six months, she wrote the story she had to get out of herself. In the years since, she has worked as an antiques dealer, become a designer-maker who recycled damaged antiques into jewelry, had a stint at painting and decorating, and now works with children-in-care. Find out more on her website or Twitter.