In February, I published a poem called Joseph Pues. It has come to this:
The Man Who Calls
I spoke to him again this morning. The conversation went:
“This isn’t Joseph.”
“This isn’t Joseph Pues.”
“This isn’t Joseph Pues. He doesn’t live here.”
“Can you pass a message please?”
“I don’t know where he lives –
“For Joseph Pues”
“ – or who he is.”
“I have a message for him.”
“I don’t know who he is.”
“Tell him I miss him.”
“I don’t know where he lives. I’m sorry. Joseph Pues doesn’t live here.”
It’s frequent, now. Each call I can tell his whiskey breath on his slurred words, some broken and hiccuped and some urgent and thought.
My neighbour upstairs told me someone called Joseph did once live in my flat. His surname unknown. “A kind lad,” she told me, “a nice boy who helped me read the gas meter. He kept the music down, he read a lot, and he would always leave for work before I did.”
I remember the landlord saying I could move in right away because the flat was left so clean. I’m not sure who this Joseph person was, but I can guess. Of course, it’s all open to interpretation. To subject. Now, I cleaned my flat before I moved out. My landlord was nice. He paid the water bill, called the exterminator when wasps found their way into the bathroom, so I felt it was only kind to clean any mess I made in a space he owned. Perhaps Joseph did this. But I also left my last flat heartbroken, single, alone, hungry for a new life, desperate to rid the old. I took bleach and soap and sanitiser to each surface, to doorknobs and windows and cooker hobs and cupboards so not even my scent would linger, not even my skin cells, and no one would know I was here. It felt good to do that, to cleanse a space I lived, erase history, redirect my post to a new address, cancel landline, internet.
Did Joseph Pues do the same? A change of life? Was this a quick escape?To disconnect from everything, and everyone, he was made of? Christ, who knows where he is, why he’s gone, what effort he exerted to shed identity and place and what office he hoped to occupy.
And for what reason, to avoid this man who quivers and weeps over the phone? He calls in the morning and afternoon and midnight for him. What could he have done, what sin committed or promise broken sent Joseph Pues to a void free of telephone directories and public registers?
Is Joseph Pues even alive?
My neighbour upstairs mentioned that she hasn’t heard or seen of Joseph since, despite him saying, before he left, that he would keep in touch. It’s been six months now.
He called again tonight. The man who calls.
“Is – is Joseph Pues there please?”
“He isn’t. He doesn’t live here. I don’t know who he is. I don’t know where he lives.”