Edward Herring

To Be Spoken to Any Caller Being Kept on Hold

Bureaucracies, businesses, conglomerate institutions—they have this way of creeping up on you, don’t they. You get caught in the clutch of their beautiful statistics, too vast and beautiful for us to understand. To them, well, yes—you could be anyone. We get it. But even a stuffed bear will see things it’s not meant to, while the child’s out the room, sitting rigid and afraid. Air-con quivering its stiff plastic fur. Relax, relax for us. Your name is Samantha.

But don’t worry, we won’t ask you to stay on the line, or anything as old hat or as contrived as that. There’s enough waiting to be done in this little old world of ours. Lie down, perhaps, kick back, or read a book. Put the phone on speaker and keep the volume low. Fix yourself a drink, perhaps a Clovis Whiskey, a Dark Horse Rum, or Rumba Sap? . . No, okay, you choose for yourself. You’re far too smart to be advertised to. At least, not like that. Not by someone like them.

Think back to old times you’ve been forced to wait (I mean, it’s such a pain to have to wait a while, isn’t it): that hour you sat shivering under the bus stop in the rain, looking up at glass buildings, and the Grett Corp. neon sign; or stressed and overheating, on line at the checkout, at Olio’s Local where they’re usually so fast . . . excepting Thursdays, Holidays, plus this one particular time, where your name is Dustin . . .

Do you have any questions yet?

Lie back, put your hand across your forehead for us. Keep the phone on speaker, but very faint, barely ambient. Think of when you first saw a cardinal bird, when it darted past your porch swing. Nothing red is like that. Look out of the window, now at browning autumn, oppressive summer heat, into unrestrained spring. Cross your right leg behind the chair leg, cross your left leg before the right. Slip your arm in between them. Your name is Sarah or Greg.

Okay, you’ve probably sussed us out, tomorrow, or already. We’ll come clean: my name is Edward, I’m white, I’m a man. We hope that doesn’t bother you or is much of an issue. Think back: a russet terrier playing wildly in the yard, trying to drink from sprinklers set to expectorant mode, the grass dark emerald, the sun behind the house . . . though I suppose this memory doesn’t have to be like that, exactly. Maybe your name is Edward. Maybe you are white too.

Put your hand on your head. Put your head on your lap. Put your drink in your lap. Put your glass inside your head. No one’s going to fool you, or tell you that you’re special. Be anyone you want to be. Eat your own heart out.

Think back: that night, on the dewy embankment, among the moths of July, with him, with her, or with no one in particular, rigid and fixed, in the clutch of yellow starlight . . . it’s too much to take in. At night you feel a sense of that edgeless profundity, where Time freezes still, and you’re forever on your own. No more need to risk utmost specificity. You put your finger in your nose, while you are Harold, or Harriet, to slot the nose quietly right back into your face. Just like that. It’s not as bad as it sounds—but then nothing is, isn’t it. What rich plasma of days we have left to us.

It is night-time now. It is nothing to write home about.