Phone Talk

I’m on the phone at work, answering some standard questions, nothing serious, just information passing from me to a woman. She offers that she’s working at home — she’s employed by the Barre, Vermont, school system. Barre closed up their schools awhile ago, when Covid spread through the town.

I offer a few words of thanks, and then her words keep unraveling. She works with kids at risk, and she knows kids who live in cars. Immediately, I glance through the window at the gray November day, on the verge of snow. Maybe, she says, the families have vouchers for a motel rooms.

I lay down my pen. For those moments, I keep listening.

The woman has moved here from Elsewhere, and she keeps talking about those hidden, or not-so-hidden pockets of deep poverty in Vermont. I think of my own daughter, home alone, in our warm house, with her two sleek house cats. Eventually, I say the only thing I can think to offer: thank you, just thank you.

She asks for my name again, and I spell out my strange name carefully, first and last names. When we hang up, I step outside in a rain that’s just beginning to fall. There’s no birds out today. The road is empty.

Inside, I dial my daughter who asks, suspiciously, why I’m calling.

I’m calling, I say, to say hello. What’s up? How are your cats?

Photo by Gabriela S.

By Brett Ann Stanciu

Brett Ann Stanciu lives with her two daughters in Hardwick, Vermont. Her creative nonfiction book, Unstitched: My Journey to Understand Opioid Addiction and How People and Communities Can Heal, will be published by Steerforth Press in September 2021. Her novel about rural life in Vermont, Hidden View, was published in 2015.

13 comments

  1. So much fragility right here in our midst. It’s a privilege to huddle indoors. Thanks, as always, for pulling back the curtain and inviting me to open my eyes. Rumble Strip Vermont does this beautifully for me too. Vermont is more than a marketing message about syrup, skiing, cheddar and craft beer.

  2. Beautifully said. It is indeed a serious problem. Covid combined with the opioid crisis has created a situation that is more and more difficult to handle. Quite frankly, I don’t know how those in social work are coping with it all.

  3. We had a cold front sweep us into the low 30s. It was enough to remind me it was time to donate to the local food bank. It may be cold here and my house a little drafty, but I have all that I need.

  4. That people live in cars stroke me. How hard it can be. Sorry about that. If only the abundance in the world could go round. I hear people call it socialism and condemn it and prefer to see people live in cars while so much is thrown away. Our world. I find it sad.

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