Presenting a window into life with autism Daniel Kearns’ short fiction ‘ Phone Call’ offers sensitive insight into neuro-divergent experience.
CW: Neurodiversity (autistic character featured)
The day was bright and sunny, a few small clouds dotting an otherwise clear blue sky, a few
birds flying past while singing to one another. A cool, subtle breeze blew across the air,
rustling the leaves to create a soft natural melody, a few leaves breaking off trees to float
around before landing silently. It was the perfect day for being outdoors and at the park, so
that’s exactly where Sydney had decided to go.
They stuck out like a sore thumb against the nature surrounding them, though that’s how
they tended to stick out anywhere they found themselves to be. They had always been
different, never understanding why but just knowing that they were, never quite fitting into
any group despite their efforts. Social situations and circles were never Sydney’s forte, they
preferred to keep to themselves whenever they could get away with it. They could never
quite get into whatever trending things everyone around them was talking about. While
everyone else was perhaps too focused on the real world and people around them, Sydney
was focused on trying to get away from it. Playing tabletop fantasy games, turning on the TV
to watch a madwoman with a box or children beating criminals using small monsters, sitting
alone in their room trying to craft their own little world, or just sitting in their room doing
nothing. That was Sydney’s day-to-day, a routine they had settled into and one they were
pretty comfortable following.
Sydney wasn’t a fan of change. It was something alien to them, something scary. Of course,
eventually they would settle in with change but that didn’t make the idea of change in their
life any less scary. They thought back to their childhood, how things seemed so much better.
They didn’t have to worry about what people thought of them, or managing finances, or the
current dystopian nature of social media. It was all about just having fun, running around the
playgrounds while trying to see who had the better Pokemon cards or killing the time in
lessons playing coolmathsgames.com. Those were the days, just a shame that times have
to change and people have to move on.
As they looked around the empty park around them, Sydney felt something buzz in their
pocket. They reached in, taking out their phone and opening it, seeing that a friend of theirs
was calling them. Sydney smiled once they read the name; Carlton. A good friend of theirs,
he and Sydney went way back, friends since they were both little children running around a
school playground. Answering the call, Sydney placed their phone to their ear. “Hi, Carlton.”
Their greeting was basic, but they knew basic was all that was really needed between
themselves and Carlton.
“Hey, Syd. Got out of work early, so thought I’d give you a ring. How’s things?” Sydney could
pick up the sound of the wind on Carlton’s end of the phone, letting them know that he was
outside, probably off to that one corner shop he goes to every day for his cheap biscuit fix.
They remained silent, hearing the sound of a door opening and a bell ringing, Carlton
greeting somebody they couldn’t hear. Sydney chuckled to themselves; just as they
predicted, he was in the corner shop.
After a couple seconds of mildly stifled chuckling from Sydney’s end, they resumed the
conversation. “Things are okay, I’m just at the park, I was thinking of heading to the usual
spot…” They trailed off, suddenly feeling a little awkward at the prospect of their next words.
“Are…you free? It’s okay if you’re not, I was just maybe thinking that-”
“Yeah, I can meet.” Carlton jumped in before they could finish, rummaging around for
something on his end of the line. “Just need to grab a few bits, then I can come round. You
wanting anything?” He asked, continuing his rummage before giving a faint ‘a-ha’, indicating
he found what he was looking for.
Sydney smiled a little hearing Carlton, taking in a small breath. “Sounds good. Meet
in…maybe 15 minutes?” They suggested, again feeling weirdly awkward about the call
despite having gone through the motions with Carlton for years.
“15 minutes it is. See you then.” He spoke one last time before ending the call. Sydney
looked at their phone before tucking it away in her pocket and sitting down on an old, worn
wooden bench. Tapping their fingers nervously, they breathed a large sigh of relief. Sydney
felt exhausted, without really knowing why.
It was a common little theme with them when it came to interacting with other people, even
close friends and family. Social interactions of any sort seemed to drain them of their energy
physically, leaving them tired and just wanting to be alone to replenish. It’s for that reason
Sydney tried to keep their interactions to a minimum. Single-word greetings and responses
were Sydney’s ideal way of handling their conversations.
They continued to sit around, time passing them bye without their knowing, minutes and
hours escaping them with great ease. Sydney was taken out of it by the sounds of footsteps
approaching, looking up to see Carlton, shopping bag in hand, approaching.