“Another pause of oblivion, and he awoke in the sombre morning, unconscious where he was or what had happened, until it flashed upon his mind, ‘this is the day of my death!’”
I’ve always felt this sentence deserved a career just as glamorous as the opening lines of the same novel. While everyone clocks in on “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”, probably only a handful of specialists can locate these words. Shame; they are natural born ambassadors for an awakening, a bitter but important jolt of consciousness. Like the one I experienced the afternoon I got fired from the customer service advisor team of a medium-size supermarket.
It was the most tedious of shocks, it was the most insignificant of shocks, less than six hours before dinner at my sister’s; the wealthy, the smart, the tough one. Our difficult pride, our very own precious Dottie. Named so after Dolly Varden by no one remembers which one of us. I know for a fact she used to have plans to pull a PhD on the Victorian novel. Then she whispered ‘I Do’ to The Spirit of Capitalism Present. She now owns a five-bed in the countryside, peace and chirping, and gets herself a new Beemer every five years. Doesn’t seem sorry.
That morning I was in a hurry; I logged in nine minutes before eight (fifteen is ideal), got hit by a sudden pang of nicotine craving, flew down the stairs to fiddle with a ciggie and managed to be, in the end, two minutes late for work.
Back at my desk, whilst my computer system was taking its time to wake up, I had the feeling someone was watching me from behind.
I was right.
That morning, without a warning, at 9:07 I started to miss my little brother fiercely. A laser beam piercing my heart at a hundred miles per hour, there seemed no end to it, no back of the throat in the chest. TAKES, AKEST, KESTA, ESTAK, STAKE. Never again will he walk into our noisy rooms with his silky gait. Never see his babies grow up into breathtakingly beautiful people. Never turn fifty-two, fifty-nine, seventy, still handsome, athletic, oozing the profound, humble charm that was so utterly him all through and through. When he died, it was on the tip of my tongue to say why, of course he’s gone, he’s been out-of-this-world since the day he came into it.
That morning the void chose to address me through the voices of strangers complaining about their food deliveries. Carrots, chicken breast, self-raising flour, root beer. Caller number one was really upset, caller number two to number eight were boring to tears.
Then caller number nine happened.
I can still recall the most awkward bit about her mayhem: You’ll be tearing up your desk with your ass.
With my ass. The what?
The food delivery company, HaveSomeMore, is not big, not evil. It is average, functional, indifferent. Just like its line managers.
Take, for example, the one that pierces your back with his gaze as you are sitting at your desk.
Every time you talk to this person his eyelids launch into rapid motion, like miniature drones imitating hummingbirds and failing at it miserably. Flick-flick-flick-flick. Great expectations? Barely. Hard times? Don’t make me laugh. That person, Connor, with his nictitating membrane, reminds you of the sly, quiet boy that used to sit in the back of the class, constantly swaying to and fro’ on the hind legs of his chair and never falling over.
Shortly after lunch I asked him to give me five minutes: I thought it best to come forward. There’d been a terrible call, I told him, a woman yelling at me for ten minutes on end. She hadn’t read her email about the cancellation. The automated message went out at 2 a.m., from 7 to 9:30 she waited for her food that never showed up.
Connor, flapping his eyelids, asked for a case number. In two hours I was out of the building.
I ran into Dax on the train. He took one good look at me and frowned. “Dad, not again.” Apparently, my sons had become aware of the fact that their father scored a new job every fifty to fifty-six weeks. Once I’m ditched, it never takes long for a recruiter to find me, that’s how good I am. No company would keep me for a year, that’s how terrible I am.
“Darling, I’m so sorry” I turned to Dax, looking into his enormous obsidian eyes. This is the child of mine who, when he was thirteen, told me the happiest Scrabble-story was pulling a bingo with one-point tiles: E, ER, ERA, ERAS, ERASE, ERASER, ERASERS. The child of mine who, at the age of seven, said the word ‘eyes’ was the most enthusiastic ambassador for the English language. “You can’t leave yes out of it, Daddy.”
I was. Ever so sorry, terribly sorry, sorrier than what a major medieval, mammoth-heavy vocabulary-manual could hold words for. Sorry that I failed to shrug and delete my notes from the system.
Because company note-taking is smoke and mirrors. No-one cares. Never has anyone expressed interest in the files we kept on them. Who even remembers past food deliveries? The carbs and pro’s thrown into a virtual basket last week? Millions and millions of people die every day without ever giving a single thought to such notes. RE, REA, REAL, REALM. Who in their sane mind would invocate the Ghost of Shoppings Past, and why?
Fuck you, fuck you, FUUUUUCK YOOOOUUUU, customer number nine shrieked that morning until her voice became a moth-eaten blanket. Fuck you, she spat at someone who matter-of-fact pointed out that there had been an email about the cancellation. Madam, please lower your voice, we cancelled your delivery because there was not enough money on your bank account, the mystery is suddenly cleared, here’s to coming to your senses and re-visiting your slaughterhouse of an opinion, please stop yelling at someone still unseen, still unaffected by your scathing hatred,
you call me a filthy pimp, a pig, a cocksucker, you promise to track me down. Your actual words, madam. A bucketful of boiling black bile splashed edge to edge on a path wide enough for four to walk. GO, GOO, GOOF. A little extreme, don’t you think?
“Verbal assault. Customer spraying hatred. Never seen anything like her.”
There. That was my note. Nothing more.
I deliberately picked the superior who disliked me. This is how much I trusted the company’s unbias. Which isn’t a word but now it is. There’s a part of the world where such things matter.
After lunch I was politely asked to go to a certain room. Upon entering I saw two line managers conversing softly in the corner. One of them was holding on to my coat, the other to my bag – with his eyelids going vada-vada-dimb forty miles per hour.
Inside the bag there were three credit cards, my keys, a photo of Dax and Dan, a page with Dax’ handwriting from when he was eight, my Kindle, a picture of Troy standing on the shore, gleaming in the Sun. A tote, three or four condoms, some change, a large, pearly button. Things I wouldn’t want anybody to touch.
E, er, era, eras, erase from my brain. Wash it down with boiling brandy, crush it with the bar of Ursa Major. I didn’t go home straight after they gave their little speech, rather, I chose to have a latte in a little coffee shop nearby. I sat there and mused over apologies; how different they can be from one another. My little brother had inserted a sorry into his farewell cry just before succumbing to the love of his death, The Sea. AIL, RAIL, FRAIL. More than young can yell, more than tongue can tell. Then, in a jolt, I thought about how unspeakably sorry I was for not putting any effort in the conversation half an hour earlier. The note was not the problem, Connor had said. It was my attitude. Several managers had tried to talk to me, I just would not listen.
This is the version the little fuckstick had the nerve to tell.
AT, ATS, EATS, HEATS, CHEATS. I remarked no one had ever said a thing to me about my attitude.
What I really should have said was
then tell me, please,
just how many were these managers in number,
interrupting my daily work as managers all around the world famously would,
sure, that’s plausible,
how many men, how many women,
when did said conversations take place,
furthermore, would you be so golden a peach as to riddle me this:
what happened to my note? Can you point me in the direction where I could read my famous mistake again? For UTES, CUTES, ACUTES I have the very strong feeling they were expelled into an IT-black-hole as soon as I brought them to your attention. In which case, H, HA, HAD, HAD, HADES:
what is it that I have done, again, please?
I didn’t say anything. So, in a minute two managers who had never heard about the sanctity of private property accompanied me to the ground floor. Following me close behind.
Lest I raise my hand? Was that it? Lest I hit them?
In that otherwise lovely café remorse started sinking in almost instantly. I owed myself an enormous apology.
Two strangers grabbing my bag and my coat? Touching my treasures? Me passively allowing two jerks to step where they never in a million years were entitled to? And me not saying a thing???
Me, listen: honest as the day is long, may anyone who finds it a good idea to touch my stuff without my permission be licked squeaky clean by the gatekeepers of Plague City. May the careerist fucksticks them two really are, reading a book and a half every five years but with an entitlement complex bigger than Texas be whispered dad jokes by a gang of demons for eight thousand years. May they both shit a cactus every morning, may th…
Hello. Thanks for stopping by. What are the chances! I’ll never tell you and you’ll never find out but you were my favourite in that shithole. You’re also the last person I’ll ever talk to from that miserable company. In view of recent events I’m particularly glad about the hotdesking, it gave me the chance to sit next to you quite a few times. We had a few laughs.
‘What are you doing here?’ she went on. ‘Did something happen?’
I almost offered her to join me, but she was in a visible. hurry, late shift in the bleak house full on. I could have brought up our mutual friend, had we had one, but she was, after all, just a decent co-worker at a strange location, an old curiosity shop.
For a second I considered touching her hand lightly. Then I nodded to temptation. It was easy: not all goodbyes are fatal. When she said, smiling, “A message for anyone?” I thought of my eight siblings, seven alive and one on the other side. I shook my head and she scurried away. I thought about the boat floating and shaking in the distance with a legion of my unspoken apologies aboard.
Charles John Huffam, I said to myself. Pardon me for bringing you into this. Thank you for helping me out again with the only line that fits. “Tell him he can suck my Dickens,” just how strongly I was tempted, see, Charles; but then again, even though it would doubtlessly amuse you, this is the line that will never, ever roll off my tongue. Not in the best of tortures, not during the worst of agonies.
Never have I set foot in a HaveSomeMore since, and that is how it will be till the day I die. Bu hundreds of thousands of real-life pages, sprinkled with rain and tears and honeydew and blood, are telling me every single minute how Troy is holding us tight from the other side, my sisters and brothers, WED, OWED, NOWED, SNOWED, dead or alive, with the line between the two fading more and more. The worst of softs, the best of brights: all in one.
Image: Ben Schumin from Montgomery Village, Maryland, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons