The Eavesdropper — A Short Story

03 Dec

Joe E. Mudd never intended to pursue the career of an eavesdropper.  Career?  More like a hobby, really.  An avocation.  [That’s a great word, he thought to himself.  Avocation.  What would you call a fruit with a hobby?  An avocado avocation!  He laughed to himself at his juvenile humor].

His hobby started rather innocently.  Today one can easily become an eavesdropper by just showing up in public.  Cell phones!  People have normal-voiced conversations with others on their cell phones.  Some even put their conversation on speaker.  Wow. That sure makes it easy to eavesdrop.

[What an interesting word.  Eavesdrop.  He pulled out his iPad and looked it up.  eaves·drop verb, eaves·dropped, eaves·drop·ping, noun verb (used without object)

1. to listen secretly to a private conversation.

verb (used with object)

2. Archaic. to eavesdrop on.

noun Also, eaves·drip [eevz-drip]

3. water that drips from the eaves.

4. the ground on which such water falls.

Origin:  before 900;  (noun) Middle English evesdrope, evesdripe, Old English yfesdrype;  as v., probably back formation from eavesdropper, late Middle English evisdroppyr,  apparently literally, one who stands on the eavesdrop  in order to listen to conversations inside the house; see eave, drop, drip

So the word originally had the idea of someone who literally stood on the eaves of a house to secretly listen to the conversation of others, Joe thought to himself.  That sounds like the GUTTER, he laughed.  I’m in the gutter listening to people’s private conversations!

Joe also prided himself on his powers of observation.  As he sat in the local Starbucks, he watched the customers come in for their morning fixes.  What a cornucopia of outfits!  [That’s an interesting word too.  Cornucopia.  Hmmm.  This one he looked up:  cor·nu·co·pi·a [kawr-nuh-koh-pee-uh, -nyuh-] noun

1. Classical Mythology . a horn containing food, drink, etc., in endless supply, said to have been a horn of the goat Amalthaea.

2. a representation of this horn, used as a symbol of abundance.

3. an abundant, overflowing supply.

4. a horn-shaped or conical receptacle or ornament.

There was certainly an overflowing supply of  variously attired, caffeine-addicted adults who flowed into this establishment each morning, like heroin addicts needing their methadone shots.  So sad, Joe thought.  To be so enslaved to a chemical.  What a waste!

But he caught his mind wandering.  I need to focus, he told himself, if I’m going to get anything done today.

By getting something done today Joe did not actually mean work.  He hadn’t worked in years.  His “disability” — he sneered at the term — allowed him to leave his job at the post office in style.  When that sorting rack had fallen on him, lawyers seemed to come out of the woodwork to help him with his case.  The settlement had been adequate, although he was left with a permanent limp.

But today he needed to clear his mind and listen.  The coffee shop had about 18 people enjoying their favorite, over-priced hot (or cold) beverage.  This morning there were seven gathered in couples and four sitting by themselves.  The two women to his right were talking non-stop about exercise regimens, muscle aches, and diet plans.  Joe pointed his finger toward his mouth like he was going to force himself to throw up.  What a waste of human breath, he thought.

In front of him sat two young teenage girls, one studying her blueberry muffin, the other checking her phone for hoped-for messages.  The couple at the table in the center of the Starbucks spoke softly with one another.  The man’s back was to Joe.  He was a large man, dressed in a dark suit, sitting on a wooden chair that looked like it was going to collapse at any moment.  Joe thought about the fragility of life, of how people routinely take the stability of chairs for granted, never realizing the amount of faith it requires to sit one’s entire weight on a chair which one has not first tested for stability and strength.  [Another great word.  Fragility.  frag·ile [fraj-uhl; British fraj-ahyl] adjective

1. easily broken, shattered, or damaged; delicate; brittle; frail: a fragile ceramic container; a very fragile alliance.

2. vulnerably delicate, as in appearance: She has a fragile beauty.

3. lacking in substance or force; flimsy: a fragile excuse.


1505–15;  < Latin fragilis,  equivalent to frag-  (variant stem of frangere  to break)

We all suffer from fragility, don’t we?  The late-20’s-something females at the corner table were talking a mile a minute.  As they got up to leave, Joe was thankful.  Man, could those women talk!  They were attractive, but didn’t seem to invest much energy in listening to what the other was saying.

Joe had been coming to this Starbucks for a few months now.  His eavesdropping had become very practical at times.  He remembered overhearing one elderly lady say to her companion, “I’m having the worst time with my kitchen sink.  It just seems to leak, and leak, and leak!”  She looked so distraught, he thought to himself.  When she and her friend left, Joe followed them out and delivered his now famous line, “I am so sorry, but I couldn’t help but overhear a bit of your conversation.  I know a great plumber who’s reasonable and polite and has a great reputation.  And he’s not a relative!”  He recalled the elderly lady’s face light up as he gave her the contact information for Pete’s Plumbing.

But not all my eavesdropping has been successful, he reflected with a frown.  That couple that was going through a terrible fight with each other.  Man, they did not want my help when I suggested a marriage counselor to them.  I thought the guy was going to take my head off!  They were furious that I had been listening to their domestic battle.

Maybe today I’ll have better luck.  Ah, here comes an older woman and a young girl — and they’re sitting right next to me!

Joe’s heart began beating faster.  He had once thought about buying one of those spy things that magnified other people’s conversations.  They weren’t that expensive and apparently allowed you to hear with “crystal clarity” (per the TV ad) what others were saying.  You just had to “point the small directional mike toward your target.”  Joe was tempted, but he thought to himself, “That’s an unfair advantage.  I want to do this au naturell!”

The older woman’s name was Margaret; the younger woman’s Melissa.  Although they were huddled close together, Joe could hear almost every word they were saying.  He had been working his way through the book Lip-Reading Made Simple, so he felt that he could accurately follow their conversation, as long as he watched their lips carefully.

“I’m so glad you decided to have coffee with me, Melissa,” the older woman said.  “I’m sure this is a difficult time for you.”  [Difficult time.  Why?, wondered Joe].

“Mrs. Hamilton, I’ve always considered you like my Mom.  I’m sure she would be quite disappointed with me right now.”

“Sweetie, please call me Margaret.  And your dear mother, God rest her soul, I believe would be quite proud of you.”  [What in the world are they talking about?].

“I can’t believe this has happened to me!”  [What?  What has happened to her?]

“Melissa, you’re only sixteen, but you shouldn’t be surprised about, you know, this being a possibility.”  [My goodness, is the young woman pregnant?!]

“I know.  I know.  Margaret, do you think God will forgive me?”  [Oh, boy.  Are these a bunch of religious kooks?]

“Dear, you know what the Bible teaches.  God promises to forgive those who come to His Son Jesus, admit their wrong-doings, and believe in their hearts that Jesus paid for their bad choices by His death.”  [I thought God grades on the curve — our good works versus our bad works?]

“Margaret, but this is a pretty big wrong-doing, isn’t it?”

“All of us fall short of God’s standard of absolute perfection, don’t we?  That’s why we need someone to rescue us from our bad choices, our bad attitudes, our failure to worship the real God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

Joe sat back in his chair a bit, taking a sip of his water.  He thought to himself of all the inane conversations he had listened in on, but this one was different.  He cupped his hand behind his left ear to hear better.

“Margaret, I know you’re a religious person.  I’m just not into religion right now.”

“Sweetie, let me clear something up for you.  I spell ‘religion’ d — o.”

“D — o?  I don’t understand.”

“D — o.  Religion is what you do.  And the problem with religion is that you never know if you’ve done enough.  In fact, if you really think about it, doing good things can never make up for the bad things we’ve done in the past — or the bad thoughts we’ve had.”

“I understand, I think.”  Melissa was listening hard.

“Melissa, I’m into Christianity.  And Christianity is spelled D — O — N– E.”

“Done?”, Melissa asked.

“Yes, Dear.  DONE.  The Bible says Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  He paid for our wrong-doings because of His love for us.”

Margaret and Melissa got up from the table, having finished their drinks.  [No! No! thought Joe.  I want to hear the rest of your conversation!]

Joe didn’t know what to do, but he followed the two women outside, meekly walked up to them, and said, “I’m so sorry, but I couldn’t help overhearing some of your conversation . . .”

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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in short stories


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