Friends, But For a Moment

Still groggy after the third ring, I rolled over and squinted at the clock until the numbers materialized.

3:30AM.

Who the hell was calling me at this ungodly hour?

On the fourth ring, I fumbled for the receiver, missed, and knocked the clock off the stand. As it clanged and banged against the floor, I took great pleasure knowing this particular annoyance was coming undone. You see; I hate clocks. They are another albatross of society. They infest our lives, clinging to our world as tiny workaholics relentlessly telling us we’re late, early or behind schedule. I for one would like to see them rubbed out like unwanted pestilence, but that dear friend is a narrative for another time. Like me, you’re interested in who the hell is calling.

Lifting the receiver, I mumbled hello, … at least I think I did.

A soft voice low and choked, mumbled, “its me.”

The sniffle triggered a synapses in my brain and identified a call-me-anytime-promise I had made. An illusion I offered during one of my forays granting the benefactor the right to interfere with my sleep when necessary. Whoever it was needed my shoulder to cry on.

But before I get into what will happen to my sobbing friend, I have an admission. I am not a medical doctor, a psychologist, a psychiatrist or even a friendly gigolo for that matter, schooled in counseling broken hearts. I’ve never hung a shingle above any door, advertised in a newspaper or other periodical*although the thought is intriguing*nor openly solicited those suffering such maladies.

My clientele come from nightclubs, corner bars and the alleys of adjoining streets, from the smoky rooms of drab dance halls or the back row seats of lonely heart theaters where sad song movies play till dawn. These are the people I cater to, society’s castaways, the woebegones, and the losers who have stumbled and fallen on hard times. Occasionally I’ve met nicer people trying to drown their sorrows in a bottle of booze and those have been fun when the opportunity presented itself.

I can’t say how many I’ve helped over the years, for those kinds of statistics are just like clocks; I hate them. The numbers are not important, only the results. So I guess that makes me a perfectionist as much as an idealist. To them I’m just an ordinary guy when I approach them, a Mr. Nine to Five in a business suit, a friendly man willing to listen if they want to talk.

But nice as it sounds, it’s all a sham. I’m really a con, motivated by my own indulgences. I’ve spent a lifetime learning how to be in the right place at the right time, when to talk and when to listen, who to pick and who to avoid, for no other reason than to indulge my own desires. Cautiously, inspired by malicious intent, I tenderly manipulate their hearts until they trust me. And even though our chance encounters may be brief, every one of them feels loved at one point or another.

Let’s be honest. We are, by our very nature, gregarious creatures. We are born with an innate drive to be near each other more than we like to admit. And when we hurt, we have a tendency to search for a sympathetic ear. If not our mate or friend, then someone we find trustworthy. That’s why some of them make the fatal mistake of calling me. They’re moths drawn to a bright light. They can’t escape the attraction, the inescapable feeling of love I’ve planted in their hearts.

They know I’ll quietly listen, which is a big hit with the women. I guess a listening man is a rare commodity. Rarer still is the one who offers seemingly sound advice. But the rarest, is the one willing to talk at 3:30 in the morning. In most cases, he’s viewed as a godsend.

Struggling through the bedcovers until sitting on the edge of my bed, I pulled the flower printed sheets around my midriff while I waited for her sobbing to end. Her labored breaths sounded husky and warm, tantalizingly sweet. It was having a profound affect on my body and I found it difficult to concentrate.

When she sniffed, I sensed she had come to a decision, one that had a lot to do with why she was calling me.

“Are you feeling better now?”

“ No.”

“Want to talk?”

“No.”

I won’t say I regretted agreeing to meet her. Even after she had regained her composure her voice still contained the husky quality that had so thoroughly intoxicated me. I pitied her husband, if he had only listened….

I could almost feel her breathy heat on my ear as she recited the name of the bar. “In an hour,” she said.

“I’ll see you then.”

The parking lot is abandoned. Two dull streetlights illuminate the sea of asphalt. The bar is closed, but then again, she probably knew that. Most of them do. Only a few come to their senses and flee before it’s too late.

A set of headlights turn in, then flick off.

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