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Yes when the phone rang, when the phone rang it was early and he had been working all night. Working in the sense of waking. Asides from the usual cleaning there had been little else to do but stay awake in front of such TV as there was to be watched in the middle of the night without access to satellite or internet alongside keeping an eye on the sporadic middle-of-the-night smokers who went out to the smoking hut at the end of the garden whatever the temperature or weather. Yes he smoked himself, he smoked himself but nevertheless allowed himself the luxury of remaining in the shelter of the porch disregarding the hypocrisy he was exhibiting for all to see considering he was the staff member who had lobbied the most for smoking not to be allowed in the shelter of the porch partly because of the draft which carried down the stairs to the office and his waiting back which it was true to say suffered from drafts but partly also because it was a way of emphasizing his power.
     Yes when the phone rang, when the phone rang it was early and he had been working all night and he just leaned to his left and picked the phone up and pressed answer without looking at it fully expecting it to be his wife Sabrinka who always called just now before she set off for work herself. The kind of hours he worked meant they didn’t get to see so much of each other except every other weekend not that even that had been the case until quite recently when they had finally managed to co-ordinate their on-and-off weekends allowing them to twice monthly do normal-couple things like go to the supermarket and have friends over for dinner although mostly they were just too tired and out of sync with one another largely because he was exhausted in the day and wide awake at night while she was merely tired in the day and if not exhausted then certainly very tired at night. Yes, yes the moment of intimacy that he had come to treasure the most was the moment when he pulled back the hurriedly righted duvet cover in the morning and climbed into the indentation she had left behind her on the sheet.
     So when the phone rang, when the phone rang he was expecting her voice and even though he answered idly he was looking forward to the sound of her voice because he loved his wife deeply and it was at this time in the morning that he always seemed to remember as much – something perhaps to do with the exhaustion which nearly always began to creep up on him around 445am and the feelings of anxiety that came with it as he lit one cigarette after another and watched the gradual appearance of daylight on the lawn – so that when the phone rang, when the phone rang and he just said “Hiya hon” like he always did and it was his elderly father-in-law Mitko who answered in an airless voice that kept missing out words so that it was impossible to know at first what his meaning was he felt panicky and suddenly so incredibly overtired that it felt like he had been hit by a gigantic wave – no not a wave in any metaphorical sense just simply a gigantic wave like for instance the time when he was surfing in the Black Sea and watching these two beautiful topless girls and trying to show off to them and therefore not paying enough attention his cock so hard and insistent at their nearness and their nakedness and at the way their skin glistened almost hypnotically in that Bulgarian blue mirrorscape of sea and sky, and at the way they didn’t seem to mind and even seemed to like the way that he was smiling and looking at them like he was hungry and they were something extremely delicious to eat and so therefore not paying enough attention to the gigantic wave that was coming towards him, the gigantic wave which would suddenly pick him up and toss him into the sky, suddenly pick him up and drop him with a thud that felt more like being dropped onto concrete than onto the surface of the sea.
     He realized what Mitko was saying; he realized that what Mitko was saying was this: Sabrinka has been in a dangerous accident! The medical insurance people want to meet me – without money they won’t operate!
     For a moment he didn’t understand that it was a hoax, that it was the type of thing you heard about happening in Bulgaria more and more these days. That it was probably some guys going through the address book hoping to find someone old and vulnerable and blinded by love enough to agree to meet with and hand over money to someone they didn’t know in the mistaken belief that it would help someone they loved more often than not one of their children. Yes for a moment he didn’t understand that it had to be a hoax because his wife Sabrinka was not in Bulgaria but only two miles away up the road in Farncombe just outside Guildford which was not so very far itself from London which of course any fool could tell you was the capital of England. At home. In bed. Probably oversleeping. Probably having just woken up and trying to get through on the phone now. Yes for a moment he didn’t understand and he felt the way he would have felt if she really had have been in a life-threatening accident and he shouted Mitko! his voice loud and cracked and echoing around the small office while at the same time he had to lean back in the reclining chair because his lungs were doing something that felt weird, hard and unpleasant; something that felt not unlike the simultaneous snapping shut of two clutch bags.
     He said Mitko it’s okay! Sabrinka’s in Farncombe! She’s at home.
     He told Mitko not to do anything until he called him back, told him not to leave the house not to go to the bank, and above all whatever he did not to go and meet these fucking criminals! Even so with Mitko these days you never knew; he had always been a law unto himself but there was something else now in the last few years something that you had to think – not that you could say so to Sabrinka – was down to the onset of dementia.
     He jabbed the buttons in a violent but pointlessly inefficient manner until Sabrinka’s number finally came up and he then jabbed call. The phone rang, the phone rang. Why wasn’t she picking up? Over and over again her mobile went straight through to voice mail. Before he knew what he was doing he was in his car, leaving the project unattended and bombing down the road to Farncombe, drumming the steering wheel insistently.
     Drumming the wheel insistently his mind clouded with visions of Sabrinka and what might have happened to her. Maybe she had fallen down the stairs, maybe she had slipped on the kitchen floor when she was mopping or maybe it was something worse – a burglary, or a mugging? Maybe she had never even got home last night? He picked up speed even as he was suddenly aware he was being irrational his mind clouded despite himself by visions of Sabrinka lying dead in an alley or at the foot of the stairs or in their bed the crumpled white sheets he loved to clamber into turned a gaudy red so that he didn’t see it until the very last minute. A small roe deer. Didn’t see it veer out suddenly from the trees until the very last minute so that all he could do was swerve away. He noticed the look of pure terror in its large and undeniably beautiful eyes before he swerved away into an onrushing car whose driver – himself coming to the end of a long night shift – may or may not have been paying enough attention we will never know.
John Lavin has a doctorate in Creative Writing from the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. He co-edits the Lampeter Review and is a regular contributor to the Wales Arts Review. He lives in Cardiff.