The telephone's shrill bleating cut through the silence of the night. Sylvia and I snapped into consciousness, fully alert at once; it was 4:30 a.m., and a call at this hour could only mean terrible news.
I snatched up the receiver. "Hello?"
A pause, then the uncertain voice of a middle-aged woman.
I felt a flash of irritation. A wrong number.
"It's Earl Woods," I answered.
"Oh...I thought my daughter-in-law might be there."
The woman on the other end of the line wasn't my mother. "No, I'm afraid you've got the wrong number."
Five seconds later, the phone rang again.
"Oh..." It was the same woman. She trailed off, apparently not knowing what to say.
"I'm sorry, I'm pretty sure you still have the wrong number."
She hung up without a word.
* * *
There were no apologies, no hint of awareness in her tone of voice that she'd done anything inappropriate. If she'd shown any sense of urgency or worry, this twilight caller would have had all my sympathy. But if I ever have to phone someone at 4:30 a.m. and I dial the wrong number, my apologies will be sincere and profuse.
On the other hand, I shouldn't let annoyance overwhelm empathy. There's always a possibility our caller wasn't in full possession of her faculties, though she sounded fine to my untrained ear. It's possible she was depressed, and now I feel bad for even being annoyed in the first place.
A couple of years ago, back when we were living in our first condo, the phone rang at about 1 a.m. As soon as I picked up the phone I was subjected to a blistering stream of invective from a young woman who started screaming about another woman who had wronged her in some way. I tried to calm her down and explain that she had the wrong household, but her string of colourful metaphors came through the phone line like an out of control freight train. After about a minute of this, she hung up.
"What was that about?" Sylvia said. Before I could answer, the phone rang again. This time, instead of offering the traditional hello, I answered more formally:
"Woods-Boucher residence, Earl speaking."
There was a long pause, an indrawn breath - and then instead of continuing her tirade, our midnight caller hung up. No apologies there either, and again if I'd been in her position I would have handled the matter differently. But every person is different, and those of us who place a premium on politeness shouldn't necessarily expect it all the time from everyone.We all have moments when we forget the external world to focus entirely on our private pain.