Watch What You Say to Sensitive People

On the phone, you mention her in passing. I change the subject and end the call, but it’s already too late. Her name is a blade, sharp and shiny, slicing straight into the tough muscle of my heart. I yank it free without thinking, doubling the pain, and now there’s blood everywhere. I press a dish towel against my chest and call 911.

Press 1 for gun violence, a robotic lady voice says. She sounds almost bored. Press 2 for car accident. Press 3 for stabbing. I don’t wait to hear the other options.

Press 1 if your stabbing was metaphorical, the lady voice says.

“What?” I ask, but the voice keeps talking. Press 2 if there is real blood.

I look down at the dish towel. I’m holding it to my chest with my left hand, but I release it for a split second, just to check.

There is no blood. I press 1.

The lady voice tells me that some stabbings take place in the emotional ether. They hurt like real wounds but require a different kind of treatment.

The voice recommends that I lie on a bed or a couch or the floor. I get down on the kitchen floor because the bed and the couch are light-years away. I put the dish towel under my head. I have lived in this apartment for six years, but I have never lain on the laminate tile before. It’s not as cold as I’d have guessed.

The bored lady voice tells me to take a deep breath and then another. It counts aloud, guiding each inhale and exhale. I breathe and breathe, over and over. I can’t tell if it’s helping.

Put your hand on your heart, the voice says. I do.

You are whole, the voice says. It asks me to say “I am whole” out loud. I feel silly, but I do it.  Your feelings matter, the voice says. It makes me say that, too.

You will get through this, the voice says. “I will get through this,” I say. It almost sounds like the truth.

Thank you for calling, the voice says. For further assistance, press 1 to speak with a representative. Press star to return to the main menu. Or, if you’re ready, feel free to hang up.

Lisa Beebe
Lisa Beebe

Lisa Beebe lives in Los Angeles, where she sometimes talks to the ocean. Her stories have appeared in Indiana Review, Psychopomp, Switchback, and Five South, among others. Find her online at