Home > The Good Samaritan(3)

The Good Samaritan(3)
Author: John Marrs

‘Where would we be without you, Laura?’

‘And don’t forget it’s your wedding anniversary at the weekend, so pick up a card and some flowers. And not those cheap, petrol station ones. Order a bouquet online.’

‘Will do.’ He gave me a peck on the cheek and I rolled my eyes with false modesty. ‘You’re like the office mum,’ he added.

I liked being thought of as the maternal type. To them, I was helpful, inoffensive and indispensable, and that suited me down to the ground. Because when you’re not considered to be a threat, you can get away with much, much more.


The first thirty minutes of my four-hour shift were relatively quiet, so I flicked through a folder of photographs on my mobile . . . the ones my husband Tony didn’t allow me to display in the house.

I removed the silver-plated fountain pen from my bag and opened my notebook. I use it to jot down basic details of each caller, including their name, a summary of their problems and a few questions to include if there is a lull in the conversation. The caller is always in control of the chat, or at least that’s what I lead mine to believe.

End of the Line’s mandate is clear and simple, and it is one of the many things that encouraged me to offer it my time. It believes that everyone has the right to live or die on his or her own terms. Provided it isn’t under duress and doesn’t hurt anyone else, we believe it’s absolutely their decision to end their lives and we won’t try to talk them out of it. In fact, during our training we are given the emotional tools to be there right up until their last breath, if that’s what the caller requests. We listen, we don’t act.

The red light on my landline flashed with urgency. Every time I answer a call, I remember what my mentor Mary told me during my induction: ‘You could be the last voice this person ever hears. Make them believe that you care.’

‘Good afternoon, you’ve reached the End of the Line, this is Laura speaking,’ I began in the same friendly manner I had countless times before. ‘May I ask your name?’

I was greeted with silence, but that wasn’t uncommon. Callers may go to the effort of dialling our number, but most don’t plan what they’re going to say once their call is answered. It’s my duty to put them at ease and coax their worries out of them. Sometimes just hearing the calm in my voice is enough to take the edge off their fears.

‘Take your time,’ I assured the caller. ‘I have as long as you need.’

‘Things are really bad at the moment,’ she eventually began. Her voice was deep – decades of high-tar cigarettes deep.

‘Well, let’s talk it through, shall we?’ I offered. ‘What would you like me to call you?’

She paused for long enough to think of a pseudonym. ‘Carole,’ she replied. It was impossible to tell her age through her smoke-damaged vocal cords.

‘Okay, Carole,’ I continued, writing her name down, ‘when you say things are awful, what aspects of your life are causing you difficulty?’

‘Money and my marriage,’ she said. ‘I was made redundant in March and I can’t find work. My Jobseeker’s Allowance barely covers the food bills, I’m four months behind on the council rent and my husband has a chronic lung condition that’s slowly killing him.’

I’d liked to have asked how much her forty-a-day habit was helping his lungs but I stuck to the script. It’s not that I’m anti-smoking – one of the many things my colleagues and family don’t know about me is my penchant for a cigarette on the way home from a shift. But I’m always in control.

I made bullet-point notes on what she was telling me. What I really wanted to learn was just how close to the edge her circumstances were pushing her. Why was she calling us today and how far would she go to find a resolution? However, I couldn’t bulldoze my way into her headspace; she needed encouraging.

‘That does sound like a lot to be coping with at the moment, Carole,’ I replied. ‘It’s times like this that test us the most, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah, but I’m pissed off with being tested. I need a way out.’

My interest flickered. ‘In what way?’

I heard a flint wheel turn and a flame flicker to life as she sparked up a cigarette. ‘I feel like a right bitch for saying this out loud . . .’ She paused to inhale the smoke.

‘I’m here to listen, not to judge you.’

‘I’ve just reached breaking point. I can’t carry on.’ Carole’s voice cracked before she burst into a deep, chesty cough.

‘Start by telling me what you mean when you say you “need a way out”.’

‘I’ve been seeing another fella and I want to leave my husband, but I don’t know how to do it.’

I rolled my eyes, and it was all I could do to stop myself from hanging up on her. We’re allowed to end abusive, sexual or aggressive calls. Sadly, being as common as muck wasn’t a good enough excuse.

Carole wasn’t looking to end her life in the physical sense; she wanted to start a brand-new one without the baggage of the first. For a moment, I’d thought I might have struck gold, but answering a call at random from someone who’s serious about wanting to die is like finding a pearl in an oyster. I get four, maybe five in a year – if I’m lucky – but this year had been exceptionally good so far. However, Carole was not that person.

I did what I was trained to do and let her cry and moan until there was nothing left to get off her chest. Eventually she hung up – and without a word of a thank you, I might add.

Then I waited patiently for the next call, because there is always a next call. Someone, somewhere in the country, is always having a worse time than you. The expectation, the thrill of picking up that telephone and never knowing what direction the conversation might take: the next call is everything.

I live for the next call.


‘Hello?’ I shouted as I pushed open the front door and pulled the key from the lock. ‘Can someone give me a hand with the shopping, please?’

There was no answer, but that wasn’t a guarantee the house was empty. The mention of shopping bags wasn’t the best way to lure two children and a husband out of hiding to help, unless the bags came from H&M or Zara, or a sports shop.

I made three trips before they were all placed neatly across the wooden kitchen worktops. Each bag was below the wall cupboard or above the drawer where its contents were to be placed.

Bieber the cat, an ugly grey and white thing with a deep coat of soft fur and a hiss like a coiled cobra, belonged to my younger daughter Alice. He lay stretched by the bifold doors, basking in the sun’s warming rays streaming through the glass. He turned his head to see who was disturbing his slumber and made some guttural rasp when he recognised me. I rasped back. I was the one who fed him and emptied his litter tray, but that wasn’t enough to earn his respect and still he detested me.

When I was sure I was alone, I flicked the radio on. A DJ introduced an unfamiliar song, so I switched to a channel playing only music from the 1980s – the era of my childhood. Several callers to End of the Line had told me that my voice was like one of those late-night broadcasters on commercial stations who only ever play ballads. Apparently it was ‘soothing’.

George Michael was admitting to kissing a fool before Madonna began urging me to dance for inspiration. Most of the time I didn’t listen closely to the songs; background noise in an empty house was enough to stop me from visiting dark spaces in my head that it did me little good returning to.

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