Monday 22 August, 2011
6:18pm

"My telephone rang. I was about to go out to a meeting and almost didn't answer it. Thankfully, conscience and courtesy stepped in and I did. The caller was "xxxx", a friend of over ten years who lives in a town some way from here. "xxxx" opening words shook me:

"I've had enough. I'm going to end it all tonight." I knew intrinsically she was talking suicide.

I must put this into perspective. "xxxx" is divorced, has lived apart from her husband for more than twenty years. She is estranged from her son who lives in Queensland, as well as her daughter who lives in NSW. They haven't spoken other than in spiteful terms for the best part of fifteen years. "xxxx" looks after a two to three acre property on the outskirts of town for a wealthy family members who live in Southern NSW. Other than security of tenure, it offers her nothing; she has no life of her own because the property ties her down and she was silly enough to put her (small) life savings into it. She wants out but her family won't pay out her investment. Without it, she can't afford to go anywhere else.

I ask, "Where are you?" At home. "Is anyone with you?" No, she is alone. "Where in the house are you?" In the kitchen; she has cooked a meal but can't face it. "How long since you had something to drink?" A couple of hours. "What did you have then?"  A cup of tea. "Ah, that's good. Look, I feel like a cuppa, why don't you make one at your end as I make one here? We can share a cuppa together!" "xxxx" agrees and we go about the preparations, even discussing whether we'll have black tea or green (we enjoy both).

It's essential to keep her involved in conversation. As we talk, I wonder about picking up my mobile and ringing her on her mobile, explaining it's my call coming in to her and she should take it. (It may be possible to convince her it's more comfortable sitting talking on the mobile than it is the house phone, or something along those lines.) The thinking is that, if I can get her to switch over to the mobile, I can go out to the car, set up Bluetooth and drive to her while maintaining our conversation.
Problem is, there are too many null areas and mobile dropouts on the trip and it's possible I might lose her - including in the worst possible sense - if that happens.

I think of a mutual friend, "yyy", who lives just two streets into the same town, no more than 500-odd metres away from "xxxx". I ask "xxxx" if she'd like to have "yyy" call in for a chat and am pleased to get a positive response. Rather than break the connection to "xxxx", I put the home phone on speaker and pick up my mobile, dialling "yyy". It's a risk I have to take that I'm not going to be able to address "yyy" direct but she will pick up on the conversation with xxx and know just what I want. ("yyy" is aware of "xxxx's" family situation, so it's a not unreasonable bet.)

With the home phone sitting on the breakfast bar to my left on speakerphone, I dial and hold the mobile to my right ear. Thankfully, "yyy" answers.  I hear her voice but continue talking to "xxxx" about "yyy" visiting her. "yyy" twigs in just a few moments and says, "Do you want me to go around to "xxxx's" place now?" I speak the only word I need to "yyy", "Yes," and she hangs up.

It takes about ten minutes until I hear "yyy's" voice in the background on the other end of the phone. "yyy" comes on line and says, "Thanks, RJ. If you don't hear from me, all's well."

I hang up. It's 8:23pm."

RJ