By Ben Coppin

“Tristan Clattery?” 

This was becoming infuriating. Tristan craned his neck but couldn’t see anyone in the crowd that he recognised. 

He made a last minute decision and left the auditorium. The keynote was about to begin, but he’d already heard everything the speaker had to say about noise pollution. Besides, he hadn’t had breakfast yet.

He walked across the hotel lobby, breathing in the off-season alpine air and stopped at the threshold of the restaurant. There she was. He’d noticed her yesterday. He had just checked in and was walking towards the lift to go to his room when he’d heard his name. He’d turned to walk back, but all attention was on the woman: she was angrily demanding someone find her stolen handbag. No-one had called his name.

Now he watched to see where she sat before he chose his breakfast. The bacon wasn’t crispy, but at least the orange juice was fresh.

With his hands full, he walked in the direction of her table. 

“Do you mind if I sit here?” he asked. He never did this kind of thing.

She looked up, surprised.

“Um,” she said.

“Sorry,” he said, starting to walk away. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“No, it’s fine.”

He could hear the smile in her voice. He turned round and she gestured towards the chair opposite her. 

He put his plate and glass on the table and sat down. 

“Did you find your handbag?” he asked.

Her smile faded.

“Oh, you know about that?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’d just checked in, so I was in the lobby and overheard. I thought you said my name.”

Her frown deepened into confusion.

“Your name?” she asked. 

He held up a finger to buy himself some time to swallow.

“Sorry — bacon’s chewy,” he explained. “Anyway, your handbag. I was wondering if you ever found it?”

The confusion on her face shifted towards embarrassment. Her cheeks were turning a little rosier. Almost the same colour as her thick curly hair.

“No,” she said, a hint of remorse in her voice. “It wasn’t stolen. I found it in my room.”

He nodded encouragingly.

“Under a pile of clothes.” 

He could feel a laugh making its way up from his belly towards his mouth. There was nothing he could do to stop it, so he let it out as a wheezy chuckle.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s not funny.” 

She looked up at him through thick lenses, her eyes enlarged like a cartoon character’s.

“It is a bit funny, though,” she said, and smiled. “Anyway, what is the name you thought I’d said?” she asked.

He told her his name, and learned hers: Faye. 

They continued their breakfasts in companionable silence. He wondered how old she was. Around his age, he guessed—thirtyish.

“Tristan Clattery.” 

It was a statement this time, not a request. He had no idea what direction it had come from, but he was sure someone had said his name.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. He’d stood up and was scanning the room with his eyes.

He shook his head.

“Someone said my name,” he said, eyes still moving, searching. “It keeps happening.”

“See you later?” Faye asked, not unkindly.

He looked down at her. 

“Oh,” he said. “Right, sorry. Yes. I got a bit distracted.”

After the day’s conference sessions he went down to dinner to find her waiting for him. 

“I wondered if you’d like to sit together,” she said.

He raised his eyebrows, surprised. This was, he thought, the first time in his life that a woman had asked him to spend time with her, rather than the other way around.

She was still waiting for an answer.

“Um,” he said. “Yes, that’d be great.”

He could feel the temperature of his cheeks rising, a little sweat starting to bead on his forehead.

He was surprised to discover, over dinner, that his social conversational skills, not often exercised, were better than he’d remembered. He made her laugh at least a couple of times, and she never showed the usual signs of being bored or desperate to find someone else to talk to.

Twice he heard his name clearly carrying over the white noise of the restaurant, and both times he looked around and found no sign of anyone who might be looking for him.

The second time, a look of mild annoyance flitted across Faye’s face.

“Are you looking for someone?” she asked.

“Oh! No, it’s not that. I just keep thinking I hear someone say my name.”

She did not look satisfied, but she let it slide and the conversation returned to the safe topic of noise pollution, their mutual professional interest.

“What’s your specialty?” he asked her.

“Noise sensitivity,” she said. “I’m a psychologist. I mostly help people with conditions like autism.”

“That must be very rewarding,” he said.

“It is, yes. But I really need to find a new office: the one I’m in is great, but it’s a converted Victorian terrace and the family next door have a new-born baby. That’s partly why I wanted to come to this conference, to get away from his crying.”

He smiled, amused at the irony.

“Yes, I know,” she said. “Very funny. What about you? What’s your area?”

“Noise engineering,” he said.

She frowned prettily, her eyebrows bunching closer together behind her glasses. And then she made the connection. 

“Oh! Like my situation with the baby?”

“That kind of thing,” he told her. “I mostly do work for restaurants like this, make sure people can hear each other when they’re eating.”

Tristan steered the conversation as unobtrusively as he could to allow himself to mention where he lived, and by that means found out that they were practically neighbours: a half hour train journey apart.

“Tristan Clattery?”

He leapt to his feet.

“What?” he cried out. “Who is it? Who keeps saying my name?”

“Sir?” a waiter appeared by his elbow.

He sat down, but couldn’t stop his eyes wandering around the room looking for a stray smirk or other giveaway. It was clear now: someone was pranking him. It had to stop.


This time the voice was coming from right in front of him. Faye was looking at him, concerned, as if he’d just fainted.

“Are you ok? I feel like I lost you for a minute there.”

He closed his eyes, took a deep breath. 

“Sorry, Faye,” he said. “I think I might need to go and lie down for a bit.”

* * *

The next morning Tristan decided to avoid Faye — it could only lead to disappointment. And he’d had enough of that in life. It was surprisingly easy not to bump into her. He had meals brought to his room and attended only the most abstruse talks and workshops. The ones he knew she wouldn’t be interested in.

On the final day, he was sitting in the taxi to the airport when he realised what a fool he’d been. 

“Turn back, would you?” he asked the driver. “I’ve forgotten something.”

And there she was, in the hotel lobby, as if she’d been waiting for him.

“Faye! Sorry, I wasn’t avoiding you. I just…”

She smiled, understanding.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said.  “I think I’d like to see you again. Back home, I mean.”

“That’d be really nice,” she said, and he knew she was being sincere.

He felt like he was being lifted into the air by a troupe of angels. 

“Perhaps you’d be able to take a look at my office?” she asked.

“Right,” he said, his heart sinking. “Of course. A professional visit.”

She smiled and looked at him sideways.

“Not just professional,” she said, with a cheeky smile. “Maybe dinner as well? Get to know each other?”

His heart resumed beating. 

“And I wondered if maybe I could help you.”

“What with?” he asked, shrugging.

“Have you heard of pareidolia?” she asked. He had not.

“It’s this tendency we have, evolved into us, to see—or hear—patterns where there are none. It’s why we see faces in electrical sockets and Jesus in toast. And I wonder if it’s what’s happening with you. You’re overhearing a part of a conversation and something in you is turning it into your name. Could that be right?”

Her eyes were quizzical, testing. And what she said was making sense. He looked back over his time at the hotel and remembered all the times he’d heard his name. It was a different voice each time, a different intonation.

He didn’t need to answer. She seemed to see the understanding in his face. She moved close to him and kissed him on the cheek. 

“Good,” she said. “How about dinner on Saturday? I know a lovely, quiet restaurant. And there’s a silent disco next door, if things are going well.” 

As he walked back to his taxi, Tristan heard his name, but this time it was being sung by birds and whispered by the cool breeze. He smiled and stepped into the car.

Ben Coppin lives in Ely in the UK with his wife and two teenage kids. He works for one of the big tech companies. He’s had a textbook on artificial intelligence published, as well as a number of short stories, mostly science fiction, but also horror, fairy tales and other things. All his published stories can be found listed here:

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