Home > The Good Samaritan(10)

The Good Samaritan(10)
Author: John Marrs

Everyone from Henry’s doctors to his caseworkers assured me that it wouldn’t resonate with him that he wasn’t returning home again, but I knew my son. He thought that I’d given up and dumped him in the hands of people who’d never love him the way I did. And it killed me that he didn’t know that it wasn’t my fault – that it was my disease, not my lack of willingness, that had rendered me useless. The guilt almost swallowed me.

I took a little comfort that, here, Henry would be looked after properly. He had people to feed him, people to bathe him, people to dress him and people to take him outside in the garden or by the lake to breathe in the fresh air. He wanted for nothing and he didn’t need me, but still I came. All I could do was brush the crumbs from his mouth and slick his hair into a parting. At least it was something.

I took hold of Henry’s hand and placed my fingers on his wrist just to feel the rhythm of his pulse.

‘I can feel his heartbeat inside me,’ I’d said to Tony once, when I was pregnant.

‘Don’t be daft,’ he’d replied. ‘It’s your own heart you can feel.’

He didn’t understand that Henry’s heart and mine were one and the same. And as long as I could feel his pulse, he would always be my anchor.



I scowled at the partially empty polystyrene coffee cup that had been left on my desk.

I hated it when other volunteers used my booth in my absence, especially when they didn’t have the courtesy to clean up after themselves. As it was, the office was shabby, to say the least, what with its threadbare 1970s patterned carpet, faded white woodchip wallpaper, and nicotine-stained ceiling that no one had seen fit to repaint a decade after the indoor workplace smoking ban.

Like a graffiti artist’s wall tag, I recognised the litterbug by the lipstick smeared around the cup’s rim – Janine. I flicked it into a plastic bin, then squirted the desk with an antibacterial hand-sanitiser and wiped away all traces of her before answering my first call.

Based only on his nervous ‘Hello’, I knew immediately who was on the other End of the Line before he’d introduced himself. Some people never forget a face, but I never forget a voice, even when all that person has spoken is a solitary word. My eyes lit up.

‘My name is Steven. You probably don’t remember me, but I think you might be the lady I spoke to recently?’ He was trying, but failing, to hide his fear.

‘Yes, hello there, Steven, it was me you spoke to and, yes, I do remember you. How are things with you today?’

‘Okay, thanks.’

‘That sounds more positive than the last time. Has something in your circumstances changed?’

‘Nothing much really, I guess.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.’ I wasn’t, of course. But I’d already concluded that if there had been significant improvements, he wouldn’t be calling me a second time. ‘But regardless, you’re having a good day today at least?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘Well, sometimes after a good night’s sleep, we just wake up in the morning feeling better about things.’

‘It doesn’t mean the bad stuff goes away though, does it?’

Arriving at that conclusion himself was one less seed I’d need to plant in his head.

‘How do you think you can make this good day extend by another twenty-four hours?’

‘I’m not sure.’

Something in the pause between my questions and his answers made me think this wasn’t the conversation he wanted or expected. But it was exactly what I wanted, and I could almost hear his eyebrows knot as I appeared only to seek positive responses from him. He’d been hoping for a continuation of what we’d spoken about last time, when he’d wanted my support in ending his life but didn’t have the backbone to ask.

If a potential candidate finds me a second time, I’ll know they’re serious. But I’ll always gloss over aspects of our first conversation. I’ll act like the part where I suggested they weren’t serious about killing themselves didn’t happen. I’ll consult my notes and throw in the odd fact or phrase they mentioned last time, to reiterate that I’d listened. But that’ll be it. It’s the callers who find me intriguing enough to track me down for a third time who’ll receive my undivided attention.

For the next ten minutes, our conversation was by the book. On the surface, I aimed to reinforce the positives in his life. But because he was in such a negative headspace, hearing his own pessimistic responses only served to highlight his isolation.

‘Steven, I hope you don’t mind me saying, but earlier you said you were okay, but you don’t sound like you are.’

‘I think I’ve just got in the habit of saying I am so that people don’t worry about me.’

It was time to give him another hall pass to what he really wanted to discuss. ‘This is a neutral place. You don’t have to pretend to be feeling anything you’re not with me. Is there anything you’d like to talk about in particular?’

‘Um . . . the last time we spoke . . .’

‘I remember . . .’

‘I told you something.’

‘You told me a lot of things.’

‘About me thinking about killing myself . . .’

‘Yes, you did.’

‘You asked me if I was prepared to do it.’

‘I don’t recall those being the exact words I used, Steven. I think you may have misinterpreted what I was saying.’


I was confusing him. ‘What conclusions have you made regarding ending your life since last time?’

‘I’ve given it a lot of thought. In fact, it’s been the only thing on my mind and I can’t make it stop. You’re right – no matter what I do, nothing is going to change. All I’m going to feel like is this.’

He was quoting me, almost verbatim. This was another positive sign. ‘And how do you think you can rid yourself of these feelings?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘I think you do though, don’t you? If you’re being really honest with yourself.’

‘Yes,’ he whispered, ‘I’m ready. I mean, I want to . . . I want to die . . .’

‘Steven, I’m very sorry to interrupt, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to go now, as my shift is coming to an end. Unfortunately, I can’t transfer you to one of my colleagues, but if you call back, I’m sure someone else would be happy to pick up where we’ve left off.’

It wasn’t the end of my shift, I still had another hour left and I’d never end a call that abruptly with someone who wasn’t a candidate.

‘What? But—’

‘Take care, David,’ I continued, then hung up without giving him the chance to say goodbye. He’d call back another day. I was certain of it.

Wait, did I just call him David? I think I did. Bugger!

David had been on my mind a lot recently, and hearing Steven talk about his feelings of hopelessness reminded me of what David had confessed.

I’d offered to be there on the other end of the telephone for David when his time came. But he’d needed more than that.

‘I don’t want to go on my own,’ he admitted. ‘I need someone to be there with me. Someone who, like me, is afraid of doing it alone.’

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