It’s Monday morning. He has to check the answering machine in the office. Part of the routine. The slack and slum and god-awful of working a nine to five.
It is what it is.
He’s worked here for six years. He doesn’t mind the job, necessarily. It’s a means to an end, though he’s long forgotten what the end was supposed to be. He’s married now. He can’t afford to have an end. He needs the insurance- and the insurance here is for the pharaohs and kings. The co-pay is like five bucks. Nothing. His wife loves the prenatal care she’s getting.
So he stays.
He’s worked up the ranks a bit, from low-level paper pusher functionary to a corner office on the fifth floor- not head honcho, but certainly some kind of honcho. Which is why the answering machine bit is funny to him- but not nearly as funny as the irony of a corporation that fucks the earth and rapes the oceans and pumps sewage into the ground of third world countries that is named after a man called Grace.
That is some funny shit.
It didn’t used to be funny. Mr. Grace was a real good sort. The sort of guy who’d spend extra to do things the right way. The sort of guy who wasn’t as interested in pleasing investors and stockholders as supporting the community and being a part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem. When he started working here, he’d felt good about it. Even pushing paper for that sort of a company felt good. But, Grace died during his fourth year and Grace Jr. took over.
Grace Jr. turned out to be the opposite of his dad. A story that’s been told over and over and over. Now, no one is a part of anything.
Where are the goddamn sticky notes? He searches the desk. Looks in the drawer. He rubs his eyes. It’s too early for this shit. He rifles through another drawer. Finally, mercifully, sticky notes appear from beneath a pile of papers. Good place for those. Someone is an idiot. Pen- where would this retard keep a pen? He looks underneath other random things. Papers, drawers, organizers- even under the desk itself. There’s a planner on the floor. Fitting. He thinks. Fucking idiot. He rifles through another drawer. Nothing. Fuck. He looks up.
Of course- kept neatly in between the row of numbers and letters on the keyboard.
Now who’s the idiot? Jesus, Christiansen.
He presses the button. The machine beeps mechanically.
“You have three new messages,” the automated voice says.
“Hey Deb- this is for Christiansen-” Rob, an office acquaintance. It’s funny to him that Rob is oblivious enough to think that Deb still checks the messages. She doesn’t even work here anymore. She was downsized two months ago when he got the corner office and a fat bonus. Sounded good at the time, but he never thought he’d have to check the goddamned answering machine. “The 40-PBA is with LaVelle and we need a check on the OCTO regs. They apparently misplaced the numbers he called in last week. Oh, and Deb- flip Christiansen the bird for me and tell that asshole that I can’t believe his bracket won!”
He chuckles to himself, shaking his head as he scribbles out “OCTO regs to LaVelle” on the sticky note. He thinks of how he’ll spend the two hundred bucks Rob now owes him. I told him Davidson would go to the Dance. He thinks. Too many great three point shooters. That’s what the college game is now. Score, score, score. He presses another button.
“Message deleted,” the automated voice says. “Next message.”
“Hello there, my name is Eric and I uh, I was just checking on service ti-“ He presses the button without listening to the rest of the message. Another fucking idiot. Grace Corporation and Grace Church share a town and a telephone number- except that Grace Corp’s number ends in ‘3’ and Grace Church’s ends in ‘2’. Christians call night and day for service times and bookstore inquiries, counseling or to talk to “Pastor” . Sometimes, they’re even looking for Deb– which he always finds a bit weird. Of course, that’s not even to begin talking about the morons on welfare and goddamn homeless looking for handouts. Every time he deletes a message from one of these morons, he wonders why Deb never said anything about the similarity in numbers. It’s not as though Grace Corp couldn’t afford a new number. Five new numbers. Ten. Hell, they could buy the ‘2’ from Grace Church- maybe pay for a new sanctuary or something. Whatever. Deb’s gone now, so screw it.
“Message deleted. Next message.”
“Hullo, this is Jeanne Christian. I’m a sixty-seven year old crippled grandmother,” he reaches for the button, but thinks better of it. Sure you are, sister, he thinks with a smirk. Crippled, my foot. Probably drunk or drugged or something. There is noise in the background. It sounds like children shouting in the distance. He lets the message go on for a laugh.
The woman sounds belligerent. Proud, even. It’s unsettling.
“Ah jus’ been kicked outta my apartment. Ah got ’till Mondee to get outta here. Mondee evening at five a’clock. It’s Saturdee morning. Ah desperately need help. Ah have a few boxes, and a sack, Ah think, that Ah need to put somewhere- jus’ set there- jus’- not bother anee-body. Ah need help- please. Ah don’t have a vee-hicle or Ah’d be moving inta my dang vee-hicle.”
She puts an extra syllable into just about every word, just like every other white trash person he’s ever heard in his life. Go find Honey Boo-Boo, lady. He thinks. Don’t yer kind help each other out? Or have yuh-ooo been cast outta the trailer park fer not likin’ Dale Jr.? He laughs to himself.
“Anyway, Ah’m desperately in need of help. If you could help me, Ah’d appreciate it. Ah- this is jus’- if you live here thirduh-three years like ah have, you get- disabled and you get- kicked out or yer on yer own living in a parking lot at one time or another because that’s- that’s the way the town goes. It happens to almost everybody. Because of- the fortune of the town. The way things go. Ah’m not upset about that. Ah’m jus-”
He tosses his pen down on the desk and rubs his forehead, grimacing. This seems absurd, but there is something in the woman’s voice.
“Ah’m jus’- Ah’m just praying the Lord’s gonna help me get out of this situation-” her voice cracks. “Ah just need a place to put a coupla boxes. And my, uh- my clothes that are hanging in the closet, Ah- Ah’ll put in the box. Fold ’em and put ’em in a box.”
She is speaking more quickly now. Her voice, with its ridiculous accent and horrific diction is beginning to get slurred. Choked. He stands upright, his hands on his hips, incredulous at the voice on the machine.
“Ah jus’ have a few boxes and maybe a sack- Ah need to put somewhere- out of somebody’s way- jus’ set it there and let it be ignored. If you could please help me, Ah’d appreciate it. Ah gotta get outta here by Mondee at five. Ah’ve got two days left,” She pauses. The children in the background continue to shout, oblivious to the woman on the phone- once belligerent and proud- choked and desperate.
The voice stops and the machine beeps.
“End of new messages.” the machine asks mechanically. “To delete, press five.”