All Stories, General Fiction

Over the Limit by Yash Seyedbagheri

Robotic card reps call to collect in the morning, reiterate in the afternoon, and assault my ears in the evening.

They really need to get in touch with Nicholas Alexander Botkin. Age thirty-four. Date of birth 16 January 1987.

Make a payment, the robotic reps proclaim with urgency. Well, actually “they” sound like an old lady. A lunch lady type with huge silver-rimmed glasses. Please press 1 to make a payment.

A simulacrum of an old lunch lady turned credit card rep, anyhow. A lunch lady named Trish, Betty, or Linda.

But the point is I’m $3 over the limit. The next payment isn’t even due for a couple weeks.

$3. That doesn’t make me a risk. I think that’s the term they use in the credit card world.

At first, I ignore it. It’s $3. What are they going to do? Send me to collections?

Maybe someone’s just under pressure from their bosses. It’s too easy to let unimaginable words tumble from you. To don obsequious smiles and use cold phrases.

So they get robots to do part of the dirty work. But that’s not the point.

I’m $3 over the limit.

Truth: I’ve bought a few bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, signed up for a couple streaming services. HBO, Amazon Prime. Maybe in the logical scheme of things, I could streamline. But these are small, understandable. I’m an editor and teacher whose life is predicated upon regiments. And who doesn’t want to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm or Barry? Who doesn’t want to laugh at other characters’ misfortunes and vow you’d never make those mistakes? Especially when Larry David makes fusses out of caviar and birthday party gift-giving etiquette.

Besides, I’ve also bought copious amounts of fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes, onions, apples, things to replace my fat and seas of Lays Salt and Vinegar chips, Michelina’s TV dinners, swimming in sodium, and Diet Pepsi. I’ve tried to buy things when soothing stickers denote a reduction in price. I’ve tried to get enough to last two to three weeks.

But they don’t know all that. The messages go on. Morning, noon, and night.

I call, navigate robotic reps and options until I talk to actual humans. Rehearsed in tone but with the possibility of courtesy in their voices. I ask them to stop. Promise to pay. Friday, Monday. I fling commitments and days left and right, as if one might stick by magic.

They promise to attend to the matter. Make a note on my account.

But I suspect they’re smoking or browsing Amazon while they make said promises.

Don’t they ever stop? Don’t they think of their cases as live beings, people with a story. Or multiple stories, branching in a multitude of directions?

Once, I tell a human rep to bugger off. This is after watching another English comedy. But there’s a brief power in the words, the sharpness of them.  

Bugger off.

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, sir,” the human rep says. Sorry, sorry, what an abstraction, an empty word.

“Just please don’t call me daily,” I say, tone slightly softer, the ghosts of bugger off past temporarily discarded. “I’m well aware that I’m over the limit. I’m going to rectify it at once.”

“I understand sir.”

I have needs. I have budgets, which I sometimes exceed, to be frank. Something must always be subtracted. And I will rectify it. In several weeks, after I get paid for these projects and I get my paycheck for teaching, as well.

Rectify, at least that’s a word that holds some power. But what else to say?

I can’t convey the wave that rushes over me with each call, each voice pushing me deeper into an electronic sea. They wouldn’t understand it. If they have, they’ve become so immersed in their creed and they’ve forgotten it. Maybe it’s easier to live their lives, measuring misery on an index. Maybe my case gives someone some odd validation. And in a weird way, I hate them for it and understand it quite a bit.

But could they not limit the calls to once a week? Twice even?

Make a payment. Make a payment.

They continue. Other obligations and other cards come for me too. I imagine the few humans left in the credit card world laughing, dissecting my shopping choices. They’re eager for me to not pay at all, to have reason to send me to collections. They’re perusing my file with casual detachment while they navigate their own problems with wives and husbands, alcohol and wayward teens. All empathy has been cast aside like a half-smoked cigarette.

Meanwhile, I immerse myself in work. I devour manuscripts, try to cut wasteful words, suggest apropos metaphors. I practically hang myself on superfluous similes. Editing projects rise and the calls continue, the automated voice leaping around while I try to work, time marching.

About three weeks into the calls, I finally block the number, finger slamming the button. Block. What a word. I’m only half-conscious of the choice, but there’s a brief desperate relief and an odd shame.

Of course, the automated voices return, tidal wave and all, sneaking through blocked fortresses.

I demand they stop again, but I’m too far down, voice bubbling, and completely absorbed in the electronic waves crashing, crashing, crashing. I keep talking, but the waves won’t rise and part.

Make a payment.

Yash Seyedbagheri

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5 thoughts on “Over the Limit by Yash Seyedbagheri”

  1. Hi Yash,
    So much emphasis on depression and state of mind from such a small amount of ‘being over’.
    The small amount and the automated demands only serve to add to the negativity that the MC is feeling about themselves.
    The last straw, that final push can be as little as three dollars.
    I think a lot of people will get what you are going for.


  2. A relatable topic on how a small thing, under the right circumstances, can start a domino effect. I once disputed a six dollar charge on my credit card and had it actually turn into a Thing. Similar mental displacement shown here.


  3. A good depiction of how life’s little annoyances can become much more. If the MC finds a solution, I hope he shares it so I can stop the calls selling extended car warranties.


  4. In the old days before cards, they’d send someone around to “enforce” payment, robots might be preferable. The good thing is the protagonist is immersing himself in work as a result of the hassle. At the end he certainly is affected. He seems to go a bit over the edge. I am thinking if it wasn’t the credit card calls bugging him, it would be something else.


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