This troubles my husband, who fears I could Miss Out.
"Somebody could be trying to get in touch with you", he says. "It could be important".
The truth is that I hate anything to do with phones and/or leaving messages, but checking voice mail is the absolute pits. Checking voice mail is like opening up Pandora's Box, except that instead of sickness, death, turmoil, strife, jealousy, hatred, and famine, you just get guilt, guilt, and then, oh hello again, guilt.
The voice mail on the landline is bad enough. All week, the message icon has been flashing at me like The Eye of Sauron.
"What have I done now? What? WHAT???" I scream. "WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!"
Actually I don't scream, I just talk. To scream at the answering machine would be deranged.
Meanwhile, my mind runs through messages it might be harbouring. For example:
- Is my mother worried sick about me because she hasn't heard from me in, like, 8 hours?
- Did an elderly relative die, broken hearted, because I forgot to send her a thank you card for the birthday money she sent the kids?
- Did I forget to RSVP someone? Did I forget to pay someone?
- Are the PPI people still mad at me over my lacklustre response to the outstanding PPI claim I may or may not have?
- Or, does somebody urgently need to contact Mr and Mrs Twining, who used to live here back in the day and who, incidentally, managed to get themselves onto every fucking tele-marketing database in the known universe, useless tits.
The first two messages are from my mother.
"Hello? Hello? It's your mother (followed by her first name, in case I've forgotten)." And then, "Hello? HELLO? Is anybody there? ANYBODY?"
Immediately, I am overwhelmed by a sinking guilt feeling of the kind you'd only normally feel if you fucked up on a global scale; i.e, if you broke the bit in the Hadron Collider that stops the Earth from being sucked into another dimension, or, if you triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty whilst trying to renew your passport online. I delete both messages instantly.
The third message sounds like it comes from the innermost circle of Hell, an atrocious mash-up of caterwauling and static. I start thinking it might be a curse, like the video in 'The Ring'. I worry in case deleting the message activates the curse. I save it. I delete it. I'm a mess.
I take a break to compose myself before tackling the last message, piling through the kids' stash of fun-size chocolate bars in what could easily come across as a frenzy of self-loathing. Eventually I hit play.
"This is a courtesy call from the dental clinic. From our records, we note with concern that your children are overdue ....
This is the worst message of all. The receptionist at the dental clinic is the scariest mofo in all christendom, a master of the dark arts, the dentist's most loyal servant. Once, while we were at the clinic, she offered the six-year-old a bejewelled Frozen sticker, dangling it before her as though it were a fifty pound bank note impregnated with LSD.
"But first, perhaps you'd like to tell me how many times a day you brush your teeth?" she said, her voice combining sadism with pseudo motherliness.
"Twice a day for two minutes", said the six-year-old.
Unfortunately for the six-year-old, the eight-year-old was standing behind her, giving a big zero fucks.
"We SO never do it in the morning", he said. "And if we get in REALLY late, mammy says it's ok to go straight to bed."
The receptionist made a sinister sucking sound, before pulling the sticker away.
"How about you all have one when you're brushing your teeth properly. Isn't it mummy?" she said.
At the time, I wanted to tell that although my children might not be the most fastidious of flossers, at least they didn't go around with so much fake tan on they looked like evil oompa loompas, unlike her. And at least they didn't draw their own eyebrows on. But that would have been childish, and impolite. So I didn't.
I eat the last of the kids' fun-size chocolate bars and delete the message from the dental receptionist. Later, I'll have to return the calls, sort out thank you cards, RSVP everybody, lie about things going into junk mail and/or getting lost in the post, and generally apologise for being an irresponsible excuse for a human being. There will then follow a brief few moments of guilt-free tranquillity, before the message icon resumes flashing.
That said, I'm gonna set up the voice mail system on my smartphone tomorrow. Honestly.