Getting the Message
by Mary Whitsell
The message had been flagged. Maureen didn’t recognize the sender, but she clicked the mouse and a single line, all in capitals, flashed over her screen:
YOU’RE A DOOR-MAT
For a moment, Maureen stared, stunned. At some point, she realized the phone was ringing. She reached for the receiver.
“Delia, what happened? I waited for over twenty min–”
“I know, I know! Sorry about lunch, Mom. I just forgot.”
Maureen let out a long sigh. “Well – that’s okay.”
“You’re not upset?”
“No,” she lied.
“Good.” There was an awkward pause. “So tomorrow’s okay, then?”
Maureen frowned. “Tomorrow?”
“Mom! I asked you last week! The car!”
Oh, Lord, she’d completely forgotten! Delia had totalled hers.
Maureen took a deep, slow breath. “Can’t you borrow George’s?”
“I told you: he’s using his.”
“I forgot,” mumbled Maureen, rubbing her forehead.
“Please Mom! I’ll drop you off at work and take you home. But I’ve got to have a car tomorrow!”
“I can’t afford to be late to work,” Maureen warned.
“I’ll get you there on time – really!”
In the end she agreed. She almost always did.
But in the morning, Delia was running late and last night’s gratitude had given way to her usual prickliness. Maureen was over thirty minutes late and her boss was fuming. By quitting time, she had a pounding headache, and there was no sign of Delia. After forty-five minutes, she gave up and took the bus home.
Fumbling for her front-door key, she heard the phone ringing. She caught it on the eighth ring. There was a clicking, followed by a distant static buzz. Maureen had a moment of panic: she’d been so angry at Delia – what if something had happened? But a mechanical voice came from the receiver. “You are a fool,” the voice said pleasantly and distinctly. Maureen held the receiver away from her ear in shock. No number appeared in the display panel, and the voice was obviously a recording. Just before she hung up she could hear the message playing again, faint and tinny.
Delia brought the car back the next morning. “Sorry about yesterday, Mom – the traffic was just ridiculous. You didn’t wait too long, did you?”
“Forty-five minutes,” sighed Maureen, hating the whine in her voice.
“Forty-five minutes! You shouldn’t have waited that long! If you had a mobile, I could have phoned to let you know I was stuck in traffic.”
I don’t need a mobile as much as you need a little consideration! “Mm hmm.”
“So – did you get a taxi home?”
“No, I took the bus.”
“You should have taken a taxi!”
Well, sure. But I’m still paying off the car. “The bus is cheaper.”
Delia shook her head and smiled. “That’s so you, Mom. Always scrimping and saving.”
That evening, when she went to get herself a drink, Maureen noticed the fridge letter magnets her grandchildren liked to play with had been rearranged to form a message: sTUpiD cOW.
Sunday morning, the phone rang just as Maureen was stepping out of the shower. Her mouth went dry as she lifted the receiver. “Hello?”
Whew. “Hi honey.”
“Listen, Mom, I know it’s short notice, but Penny could use a break and there’s a game I really want to see. Can I bring the kids over tomorrow?”
“Well, I have made other plans…” And the last time your two were here, they cut the heads off all my tulips!
There was a long silence. “Okay. I thought you might—well never mind.”
Delia sighed. “Just come and collect them before dinner,” she said.
That night, scrawled on the misted-over mirror of the medicine cabinet were the words Don’t you get it?
Three days later, she got a call at work from Delia’s boyfriend, George.
“Listen, Delia needs a lift. She’s texted me to come get her, but it’s closer for you, and I was wondering if you’d mind …”
“Where is she?”
Maureen looked down at the memo pad in front of her. A single word was written on it: F O O L.
“Tell Delia the 38 bus goes right past Brentwood. She’ll have to walk three blocks.” She put the receiver down before he could reply.
That evening when she put the cat out, Maureen saw a chalked message on her front porch. But the words were blurred and faded and really, it was hardly even there.
Mary Whitsell is an American expatriate who divides her time between writing, teaching, and raising teenagers.