Hotline

Nonfiction

by Sophie Allen

Brian is a retired Air Force officer—he tells me so, voice tinny through my earbuds, a long-distance southern drawl—who went to college on the GI bill after serving for twenty-odd years. I can picture his fingers drumming on the plastic edge of his phone, can hear the soft tapping down the line. Tonight, Brian is my crisis counselor. 

I called the hotline after sitting for six hours staring at my blank computer screen, thinking of nothing. They transferred me to this man who tells me his old-school study habits, who keeps going after I pull my earbuds out of my phone, after I sit on the snow-covered ground and let icy wetness seep through my pants. 

It doesn’t feel so cold out here, though my hands are red, meat-raw across the knuckles and dark-veining down to my wrists with the frigid air. It’s twenty-nine degrees Fahrenheit, says the little thermometer stuck to the bricks outside the library, and I don’t feel any different in the tips of my ears, fingers, or toes. I am empty, if emptiness feels like something coagulating in my throat and a heartbeat striking the back of my head.

 

I can’t remember when I last ate. I know I haven’t showered in four days because my hair falls grease-tangled across the back of my neck whenever I move, and I can feel the grime over my skin. Brian’s voice drifts dreamily through the snow and I hang up. The silence blankets me for a moment before it starts to creep, oppressive and eerie, down to the small of my back. I miss his voice in my ear. 

I call the hotline again. The recorded options play over and over and the wind picks up, snaps a twig against my thigh and I am still not cold and this does not hurt. 

The walk back across campus is slow, except for how I can’t remember any of the landmarks I usually pass, except for how I shed my coat and still can’t feel the wind. My cheeks are wet—I remember that salt water doesn’t freeze except at extremely low temperatures, and I realize my hands are shaking. 

The hotline call has disconnected. Poor service. I have stand-up comedy saved on my phone because I like hearing someone speak when I wake up in the middle of the night, and I like it even better when I know exactly what they are going to say. It doesn’t matter that the jokes are no longer funny. It doesn’t matter if they ever were. Brian made a joke about his time in the military and I don’t remember what it was. 

There is a pond in the middle of campus and I like to sit near it. I think I would like to go to the hospital. 

Sophie Allen is a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She used to work in a haunted convenience store. Find her on Twitter at @sallentxt. 

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