Sharp, funny, and dark, this novel is about identity and connection. Jane is a telemarketer. She uses a different name each time, and soon it becomes clear that she is calling the same man again and again. Each call is a new battle between them, with him becoming angrier and more threatening. But Jane isn’t calling him at random; Jane has a purpose; and Jane has a past which seems to change each time she tells it.
|Publisher:||Holland House Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)|
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By Emily R. Austin
Holland House BooksCopyright © 2017 Emily R. Austin
All rights reserved.
"Hello, my name is Esther. I am calling on behalf of Krippler Incorporated, a market research institute. Today we are conducting a survey on feline diabetes. Do you, or any member of your household, own a cat?"
They hang up.
"Hello. My name is Joan. I am calling on behalf of —"
They hang up.
"Hello. My name's Doreen."
* * *
I am having a hard time enjoying my break because my tea is green. I am concerned because the packet said that it was orange pekoe. I am not sure if tea names should correspond with their colour. For example, is Earl Grey really grey? I have no idea.
Maybe there was an innocent mislabelling incident at the tea factory, and my orange pekoe is merely disguised green tea. Or perhaps this particular brand of orange pekoe contains an unusual ingredient that discolours the product. Really, there exists an abundance of plausible explanations.
The possibility remains, however, that I could be drinking brewed mold. Should a person willingly consume a substance that could potentially be brewed mold? A thought-provoking question, worthy of a research paper. Sadly I am short for time, and potently uninterested in the subject.
Swishing what could be fermented fungus around in my gullet, I wonder whether ingesting mildew might produce a high. This pondering prompts me to drink my "orange pekoe" with a little more zeal.
After a hearty swig, I conclude that I do not feel any sort of mold-induced euphoria. What I feel could be aptly classified as nausea. It remains unclear whether my nausea is a consequence of my beverage choice or whether it is just another one of my body's ways of expressing self-hatred.
I am trying not to smoke because I am unhealthy. I sit in a cubical for eight hours every day and my diet is primarily determined by the man who stocks the staffroom vending machines. I recently winded myself trying to shovel a spoonful of ice cream from an exceptionally frozen carton. As I gasped for air, I resolved to make a lifestyle change. I can accept being unable to run a marathon. I can accept the prospect of a premature death. I can even accept becoming one of those morbidly obese people who monopolizes the motorized shopping carts, slighting the elderly and the justly physically handicapped. I cannot, however, consent to an existence in which I am incapable of serving myself Cherry Garcia.
Tea, I've read, is healthy. Smoking, disappointingly, is not. Thus, I am attempting to exchange habits.
I regret my experimentation with tea. Besides being inexplicably green, the tea bag ripped when I stirred it too enthusiastically, and now bits of the ground leaves are floating in the boiling water, reminiscent of drowned bugs. When I swallow they lodge themselves in my oesophagus.
I have decided that this dark tea period in my life is going to be cut short. The lack of cigarettes in my system is making a sizeable portion of my insides fester.
Maybe I am an exception, and cigarettes are actually good for me. Bodies scab to heal wounds, they repair broken bones. The human body wants nothing more than to be healthy. Why, then, would mine express such a consuming need for a cigarette?
The only sensible answer is that cigarettes are wholesome and nourishing.
I stare at my green, seemingly bug-filled mug, and listen to my stomach sing a song about indigestion. In an attempt to silence the unwelcome gurgle-hymn that erupts from the crypt of my being, I contort myself inelegantly.
One of my co-workers is also sitting in the staff room. He sees my strange movements and shoots me an impolite look.
"Can I help you?" I confront him loudly.
Startled by my assertiveness, he recoils. He pretends that he didn't hear me, and suddenly appears to be bizarrely fascinated by the office microwave. He stares fixedly at the buttons and runs his thumb along its door.
Unimpressed by every experience the past ten minutes has offered me, I decide to abandon my mug of what claims to be tea. I leave the break room and walk outside to execute a lineup of three cigarettes in succession.
* * *
After three taxing hours of being unremittingly hung up on, I decide that it is time for a pick-me-up. Whenever I feel especially downtrodden at work I call the man who hates me. Telemarketing is by its nature a soul-crushing vocation, so I am habitually downtrodden. I call the man who hates me at least once per shift. I once called him twenty-two times.
I have his number inscribed on a pink, daisy-shaped post-it note. I have secured the note to the top of my computer screen for quick reference. All of the zeros are heart-shaped, and the note is festooned with small decorative stars.
"Why have you got his number wrote like that?"
Frank, my developmentally challenged friend who sits in the cubical next to mine, asks me. "Do you like him?"
"Of course I don't like him, Frank," I begin to clarify. "It's satirical. The innocent girlish note is designed to deliberately contrast with this man's fully-grown virile anger, offering a subtle criticism on his treatment of sales employees, and potentially also women —" I pause.
"Hello. My name is Marla. I am calling on behalf of —"
His throat produces a gurgling noise when he is upset.
"STOP IT!" he screams. "How many goddamn times do I have to tell you people to stop calling me!"
He shouts right off the bat. He does not grow gradually to anger, like most people do. He is immediately irate.
"Please let me assure you that I am not selling anything."
"I don't care if you're giving away free plutonium, you unimaginable whore! I have asked that these calls cease!"
He hangs up.
* * *
The elevator in my apartment whines while it lifts me. It cries in its elevator tongue that it is in desperate need of repairs.
"I am in desperate need of repairs," it bawls.
Though fluent in the language of the lift, I am no elevator doctor. I cannot cure this sorry machinery of the disorder that plagues it. I do, however, possess the imagination of a gifted child, and I can therefore diagnose it.
Elevator Huntington's disease, a rare and malignant elevator condition with symptoms that occasionally include plummeting rapidly to the bottom of the elevator shaft, horrifically mangling all passengers.
The prospect of dying inside of this moving metal coffin does not sit well with me. Imminent death in general actually sits quite well with me, but this is not how I wanted to go. I don't want to die because I was too lazy to take the stairs.
The elevator's protestations have grown increasingly shrill.
I imagine the cables breaking and myself and the elevator free-falling.
I then imagine it breaking and stopping, and having to sleep on the carpet until some gallant firemen come to salvage me from the wreckage. I then look at the ground below my feet. At the stains on the floor.
I wonder if anyone has ever had sex in this elevator.
I wonder if anyone has ever done drugs in this elevator.
I then remember that I have had sex and done drugs in this elevator.
* * *
To my surprise, I reach the tenth floor alive. I exit the elevator with a rejuvenated gratitude for my continued life.
My cause of death will not be poorly maintained apartment facilities. I plan to expire at the culmination of an odyssey of drugs, like any decent human being. My obituary will be worth cutting out of the newspaper and magnetizing to the fridge. The men who conduct my autopsy will have something worth discussing at the dinner table that night ("Kids, today we worked on a body that contained more LSD than was previously thought to have existed on the planet.") Hundreds of pages of poetry will be composed about the romantic offing of me. The story of my death will win a Pulitzer Prize. Youths will study it in college. Thousands of years from now it will be scripture: The Holy Book of Jane's Overdose.
I trudge towards my apartment, ready to tell my roommate Keats to stay clear of the broken elevator.
"Hey Keats," I shout upon entry, "stay clear of the broken elevator."
Keats is sitting at the kitchen table, wearing oversized headphones, poring over old newspapers and wielding a green highlighter. He is too engrossed in his task to look up at me.
He is chewing on the end of the highlighter and mumbling quietly to himself.
I watch him for a few seconds before he looks up and notices me. When he does notice me, he jolts up out of his chair and begins franticly gathering the newspapers off the table. He thrusts the highlighter away from himself like it's a javelin.
"What are you up to?" I ask him.
"Nothing," he replies, which is undoubtedly suspicious.
My level of interest remains low nonetheless, so I reply:
* * *
I cut an avocado in half and roll the pit round in the palm of my hand. The green residue coats my hands and gets in between my fingers. The pit slips from my grip and falls into the recycling box below, crashing clamorously against the empty soup and soda cans.
I hear Keats whimper from the couch.
"Jane?" he yelps, his voice hoarse.
He had fallen asleep.
"Jane?" he says again, louder this time.
"Sorry," I murmur.
"Thank God. I thought you were the police," he breathes, relieved.
"Why would I be the police?" I wipe my hands off on my shirt.
"Because," he scoffs, "I'm involved in some things."
I bring my avocado innards into the living room and drop down into the seat next to his.
Keats is a conspiracy theorist. He is convinced that his every misfortune is the direct outcome of a nationwide attempt to ruin him. The government, big corporations, his family — all want nothing more than to undermine and control him.
"How was your day?" I query politely.
"Well, I didn't get that job at Taco Bell," he answers, dejected. "But you know what? I am almost sure it's because Taco Bell is run by the same people who are responsible for the Armenian genocide."
I press my lips together for a moment. "Are you suggesting that Mexico had anything to do with —?"
He cackles. "Mexicans? Don't kid yourself, Jane. Taco Bell is run by the Germans."
"You think that the Germans are responsible for the Armenian genocide?" He taps his nose.
I then say quietly, mostly to myself, "You think that Germans are responsible for Crunchwrap Supremes?"
* * *
"Hello, my name is Belle. I am calling on behalf of —"
They hang up.
"Hello, my name is Ariel. I am calling behalf of Krippler Incorporated, a market research institute. Today we are conducting —"
"On behalf of wha'?" replies a woman with a heavy southern accent.
"On behalf of Krippler Incorporated, a market research institute."
"It is, uh, a market research institute."
"Where are you calling from?"
"We are located in Ottawa," I recite.
"Ottawa, the capital city of Canada."
"Oh," she says, sleepy, "never heard of it."
Then she hangs up.
"Hello. My name is Pocahontas. I am calling on behalf of —"
"Pocawhat?" repeats the respondent.
"Pocahontas. I am calling on behalf of Krippler Incorporated —"
"That ain't no name."
"No it is," I assure him. "Today we are conducting a survey —"
"Yer parents hippies or wha'?"
"Aboriginal," I answer. "Our survey today is on feline diabetes."
"I ain't talking to no hip —" he begins to say as he hangs up.
Disheartened by everyone hanging up on me, I decide that it is time to cheer myself up. I touch the post-it note adhered to my computer screen and dial the number. I listen to it ringing while absentmindedly twirling the phone cord in my fingers, in the same way that prepubescent girls do when they call a boy that they have a crush on.
"Hi Billy, this is Sarah calling from your English class. Janey said you like me, is that true?"
"I'm calling on behalf of Krippler —"
He hangs up.
"Hello this is Aurora calling on behalf of Krippler Incorp —"
"NO!" the man promptly begins shrieking. "You Godforsaken cretins have called me every Goddamn day for the past fortnight!"
"Please accept my apology —"
"I absolutely will not accept anything from you! You can remove me from your calling list!"
I look down at my calling list and recite: "We do not have a calling list, sir."
"Liar!" he explodes. "You are absolutely lying! I demand your name!"
I forget which name I gave him.
"Your name!" he repeats.
"Why don't you go out and get yourself a real job, Jane? Why don't you go to school? Why don't you become a contributing member of society!"
"Please let me assure you that I am not selling anything —"
"I hope you rot in hell!" he screeches as he hangs up.
* * *
I would not be astounded to discover that Krippler Incorporated is actually Hell. I find it difficult to envision a place more hellish than a labyrinth of grey cubicles populated by depressed, robotic-speaking smokers collectively responding graciously to a never-ending lineup of people telling them to fuck off. I suspect that Hell is also decorated with dusty synthetic ferns and yellowed motivational posters. I would certainly not be surprised to discover that Satan himself is responsible for the incessant buzzing noise that rains persistently down from the fluorescent lights above me.
* * *
I am spending my lunch break in the hoary back alley of Krippler Incorporated, in exile with my fellow smokers. Communally exhaling, we have created an imposing white cloud of tobacco and condensation over our heads. It looms there, joining the looming repentance and remorse we probably all share.
Snow has coated my hair like icing and my fingertips feel anaesthetized. The frigid outside has prompted me to toy once again with the idea of quitting smoking, but then how will I slowly kill myself?
I am accompanied by two women who both possess unmemorable names. One of the two women has the face of a person who has done heroin. The other of the two women has the face of a regular person, who has likely never done heroin. Frank is also standing with us, but he does not smoke.
Heroin-face asks us, "Are you guys getting many interviews?"
Regular-face answers, "Yeah, a couple."
I reply, "A few."
Frank nods. "I got a couple too." Then he chuckles. "This one guy —"
Heroin-face interrupts him before he can finish his sentence. She says, "This is the worst job I've ever had." She then inhales half her cigarette in one go. Frank does not attempt to finish his story. He looks down at his feet, defeated.
I glare at the woman as she exhales, bothered by her mistreatment of Frank.
Regular-face nods. "You're telling me. It's a soulless job."
I nod too. "Totally."
"I used to dance," heroin-face shares. This doesn't really surprise me. "I got too old for that though."
I smile weakly at her sad, drug-assaulted face. "What are you talking about? You don't look a day over nineteen."
She grins at me. "Thank you, baby."
"I used to work for a pet store," Frank tells us, looking up from his feet. He shakes his head. "I got fired for stealing pens."
* * *
I have buttoned my blouse all the way up my neck in preparation for my probation meeting. I did this in an effort to present myself as meek and upright; however, all I have succeeded in doing is presenting myself as breathless. My humble and unassertive outfit is gently depriving me of oxygen. Seemingly distraught by being draped over my immodest body, the unyielding grip of my collar is softly strangling me.
"So how are things?" Asks my probation counselor, who is dressed in a low-cut breathable smock.
"Good." I smile, covertly resentful of her comfortable collarline.
"Good," I say again, still smiling. Still being strangled.
She begins to read a list of my prescribed medications.
"So, you're on Lithium, Fluvoxamine, and Clozapine?"
"Yes," I nod, internally resisting a powerful compulsion to tear the buttons off my shirt.
"And are you taking anything else?" She locks her pupils with mine.
"Absolutely —" I gasp for air "— not."
* * *
After returning home from my probation meeting, I laid down on the floor of my bedroom. Weak and frail from breathing inadequately for hours, I concluded that walking the extra meter to my bed would be too strenuous an exercise.
Cushioned by the piles of clothing that I have amassed on my carpet and sedated by a fistful of Clozapine, I accidently dozed off.
"What?" I stir, winded.
Keats' girlfriend, Ivy, pushes my door open. It fights against my mounds of laundry.
"As per usual, Jonathan's asleep", she complains while positioning one of my hoodies under her head and lying down beside me.
She always refers to Keats by his first name.
"Typical Jonathan." I rub my eyes.
Excerpted from Oh Honey by Emily R. Austin. Copyright © 2017 Emily R. Austin. Excerpted by permission of Holland House Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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