Phone Call

It was a few nights ago and I had just walked into my girlfriend’s house. She has a nice place: a cozy little warren in a big, old Toronto house that was divided into apartments in the 70s. I was sitting in her bathroom while she took a bath when my phone started ringing.
I hate answering the phone. It’s usually someone wanting to do something with you on a Tuesday when LOST is on. As a rule, I rarely answer. In this case, I saw my parents’ number on the screen and engaged the call.
On the other end of the line was my father. He was calling to announce that he had transferred some money that I owed him from my account into his own. This was good news. I’d wanted to pay him back for some time but hadn’t had the money. We chatted briefly and the call seemed to be nearing its end when I was struck with a sudden unnerving feeling.
I’ve known my father for 32 years and am accustomed to nearly every nuance of his speech. He has a fantastic Caribbean accent and when he’s agitated he speaks quickly, jumbling words and sentences together into interminable parables of thought. In this moment, there was something in his tone, in the way he inhaled, that served as a clear warning. This conversation was not going to be as simple as I had hoped.
I sat down on the edge of the tub:
– Son, I transferred the three hundred dollars from your account into mine this afternoon.
When I had asked my father to borrow some money a few weeks earlier, I said I had only needed two hundred dollars. When I met him to collect the money he had given me two thirty; I couldn’t figure out why at the time and I still can’t. He just does these things without explanation. The worrying fact was that at some point, my debt with him had increased to three hundred.
– You only gave me two thirty, Dad, remember? Why did you take out three hundred?
A pause. A shuffling of papers. I could tell he was in his office at home: a chamber of confusion where he spends hours paying bills and yelling over speakerphone with relatives in Trinidad.
Why had he taken out three hundred? What was he thinking? I had recently seen my hours at work reduced from full to part-time and had become unreasonably money conscious as I prepared for the dip in income. In trying to cover a few (drinking) expenses before my contract expired, the seventy dollars in question was going to make a huge difference. My father’s wandering recollection of the amount in question may have caused me to come across as slightly impatient.
– I have no money right now, Dad! Why did you take out three hundred dollars? Can you put back seventy tomorrow?
– I need to reconcile my records Allan… can you tell me when I lent you that money?
That was his response to my revelation of destitution: reconciling his records. It was as though he hadn’t heard me. Once more, I heard the shuffling of papers along with a muffled grunt. He definitely hadn’t heard me. I remained on the edge of the tub, staring at my girlfriend in silence. She was grinning madly, a gleeful witness to my attempt at navigating my father’s gauntlet of logic.
– What do you mean? What? When did you…?
I was stammering. I couldn’t believe him. He spoke ponderously, his initial agitation apparently having subsided.
– When did I lend you the money? I just need to enter the date into my chequebook ledger.
He had given me cash. In a sealed envelope. I remember feeling a little bit like a spy in my parent’s front hallway as he handed it to me in silence. Why was the envelope sealed? Why was there an envelope at all? Why was he now entering the amount of a cash payment into his chequebook?
– Da, when are you going to put the seventy bucks back in my account?
I was beginning to lose my cool.
– I can do it on the weekend. I’m working tomorrow. I’ll do it on the weekend.
-Da, there’s a bank right under your office! Can’t you do it tomorrow on your lunch?
– I hadn’t thought of that, Allan. I’ll do it on the weekend.
It was unnerving to think how my uncertain finances now relied on a seventy-five year-old making his way to a bank teller (he refuses to use ATMs) on a Saturday morning.
– When was it, son?
I stared at my girlfriend, who was trembling with suppressed laughter. I now had my hand on her arm.
– I dunno, Da, like, the start of March, maybe? I turned to my girlfriend.
– When was it, the first weekend of March? I asked.
– I think so, she barely replied.
She was laughing now: openly, heartily.
– Dad, it was the first weekend in March. Can you go to the bank before the weekend, please?
– The first weekend? In March?
He was incredulous, yelling, almost. It was as though time and its measurement had become distant concepts.
– Yes, March! Dad is was like, three weekends ago, alright?! Remember?
– The fifth, my girlfriend added.
-The fifth, Dad. March the fifth!
– Oh, oh, oh, okay! The fifth… that makes sense!
I was not convinced that it had.
– Does that make sense, Dad? Does that work for you?
– Let me just make a note of that, son.
The penny had dropped. In his head, I’m sure, he had moved on to other things. There were now other points of attention more pressing than my finances, like the failing front headlight of his car or the blend of fuel in his lawn mower. To be sure, both would be cause for phone calls in the months ahead. I dug my fingers into my girlfriend’s arm as another anxious intake of breath came across the wires.
– Allan, he asked gravely. – Do you still want to play tennis on Wednesday?
-Sure, Dad, let’s do that.
– So, you’ll come over after work on Wednesday? I’ll reserve us a court.
– Yep, I’ll be there, Dad. Can you make sure that you deposit that money please?
Silence.
– Make sure you feed the cats when you get there son, they’ll be hungry. I’m going now…

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1 Comment

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One response to “Phone Call

  1. A strikingly accurate account.

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