holding

“thank you for your patience. your call is very important to us. our next available associate will be with you shortly.”

who is this bitch? if i could find the lady who said these words, i’d rip her voice box right out.

“please stay on the line. you are currently–” she said, and then another voice, a male’s, said, “eighty-first” and then her again, “in line.” the music starts.

i can’t sit in one place when i’m on the phone. i have to get up and wander. i also pick things up and put them back down without any purpose. rolls of tape. scissors. keys. pens. whatever is around. it really doesn’t matter. it drives my wife nuts.

when i told her i was calling the water guys again, she took her laptop down the street to get some coffee. she had to go to the bathroom anyway. she said, “i’ll check in on you at noon.” she left at nine. i look at the clock and it says, “11:12.”

they know us down there. thankfully we can still sometimes afford coffees out, because otherwise i don’t know where we’d go. i guess there’s always the street like everybody else seems to like doing.

personally, i’ve pissed in the sink or outside and shat in the trashcan plenty of times before. mostly at night when we’re stuck waiting on them for water, and nothing close is open. she has too, but only a few times. and we don’t speak of those.

the coffee shop doesn’t have the same water troubles most residents do. i’m sure it’s because they got the business package. from what i understand, the business package is the same as the residential package except it costs about twenty times more, and they get priority when it comes to maintenance and service calls. pam jokes that it’s worth the extra cost because the toilet is her best seller.

pam owns the coffee shop down there. she is a real nice lady, and she’s had the shop for years. when we first moved here we were going to her shop to use the internet while we applied for jobs. it was only a few years ago now, 2021 or 2022, i can’t remember exactly when. but we liked it there and got to know pam and have kept going back.

looking back it’s crazy because coffee, real coffee, was only $2.25 a cup. of course that’s all different. now it’s $6.20 for a cup of the good substitute. and to think that not long ago one could buy a real banana and a cup of real coffee for under $5!

“thank you for your patience. your call is very important to us. our next available associate will be with you shortly. please stay on the line. you are currently–”

“eightieth”

“–in line.”

still pacing, i go open the bathroom door, but a wave of curdling shit smell hits me fast and i slam the door back shut. it’s been six days now since we were last able to flush. the first thing we always do when the water comes back is flush. in between times when there’s water, all i really want to do is flush that damn putrid toilet.

we try to hold out on using the toilet when there’s no water, but like i said, she’s not particularly fond of the trashcan and at night she sometimes sneaks away to the throne to do her business. i used to get mad at her for doing this, because she always does it in spite of knowing the consequences. but i don’t anymore. it’s not her fault.

we have a bucket which we can fill with water and pour down the drain, which does the job. it’s usually kept filled in the corner behind the toilet with the toilet brush and plunger. i meant to fill the bucket so we could have at least one emergency flush, but we didn’t even have time to fill our jugs of drinking water before the water stopped again.

it was so soon after the repair guy had left our place that i ran outside thinking he’d still be putting his tools into his van, or fighting off our neighbors. but he’d already disappeared. he doesn’t stick around any longer than he has to.

there’ve been reports of vandals targeting repairmen like him over the past couple months. it’s not exactly their fault either, but people are furious and the repairmen wear the uniform.

“thank you for your patience. your call is very important to us. our next available associate will be with you shortly. please stay on the line. you are currently–”

“seventy-ninth”

“–in line.”

i look at the clock and it’s 11:38. when she gets back i should tell her to just turn right around and head on back. or maybe she can take over on the phone and i can go down and take a break. my ear is getting sore from holding the phone to it anyway.

she always tells me to put them on speaker, but i am superstitious about using speakerphone. i once did and had them on speaker all day, which really was nice, but when they answered they said they couldn’t hear me, and hung up right after i’d got them.

waiting to talk to these people about giving us our damn water is like a full-time job. only over the past couple of months it’s like they’ve decided that i should put in some overtime.

yesterday i called the main service line. that was a ten hour trial. about 7 pm, i got on the line with an associate. her voice was brusque. “name?”

i told her in my nicest voice.

“account number?”

i rattled it off to her. as this is about my 36th or 37th time through this process, i remember the 18 digits by heart.

“address?”

“2311 sycamore ct. apartment 306.”

“problem?”

this question is always the biggest test. by this juncture, every cell in my body desires to verbally assault the person on the other end for having the nerve to ask such a stupid fucking question. everyone has the same problem, and everyone knows it. everyone has had the same problem since we switched to getting water this way, and everyone knows that too!

however, as i’ve learned from previous experiences, this is the wrong move. one: because it’s not really her fault that i don’t have water, and two: because i am now quite certain that this question is employed as a screen.

getting people to blow up early helps to weed out anyone less than grateful for the operator’s help. at first this quick screen process allowed the hold-queue move quickly. now the public has gotten wise, and we all wait an eternity for the assistance of someone who is essentially a gatekeeper.

who are these souls waiting to answer calls? best as i can figure it’s someone who settles for minimum wage pay in exchange for the ability to wield a ruthless power over everyone they speak with.

“your guy just came to fix our water, but it’s out again.”

“what do you mean, ‘it’s out’?”

“i mean i don’t have any water again. it’s like it’s turned off again or something.”

“but you just said he came to fix it.”

i ran my hand through my greasy hair. it’d been how long since a shower?

“yeah, your guy–i think his name was Nick–was here just a few days ago. he came and turned the water back on, and we were good, but within maybe 20 minutes it was off again.”

“i see that he’s marked the job as complete.”

“yeah, like i said, he was here and he, i guess you could say that he fixed it, but i have no water now.”

“did you try it during non-peak hours? as you know service can be interrupted when everyone in an area is trying to use their water at the same time.”

“i don’t think it’s that. i’ve tried it pretty much non-stop since it went out, and nothing.”

“so you’re wanting to file another service request?”

“well, couldn’t you just send him back over here to help us out again?”

“i thought you said he didn’t help you out the last time?”

“well he did, but it didn’t last i guess.”

“but you want him to come back to fix your water again?”

“yeah, you know, just like as a follow-up.”

“well, sir, i can transfer you over to customer service if you’re unhappy with the service our technician provided.”

“no, no, no, no, please!” experience has also taught me that transferring is never the answer. “can’t you just set me up with an appointment for someone to come over here and get our water working again?”

“i can do that, but i will have to have you call tomorrow to talk to one of our servicers to better describe the problem. if what we’re doing is not working, then we’ll have to have you tell them what’s wrong with your water quality.”

this was new.

“there’s nothing wrong with my water quality,” i said, “there’s something wrong with the fact that i have no water. plus i’m not a plumber, i don’t know how that stuff works. wouldn’t it be easier to have one of your professionals come out here and see for themselves? wouldn’t that be easier?”

“sir, please control your attitude.”

“i am, i am, sorry! so sorry!” i picked up a pillow from the sofa and threw it at the wall across the room. “i apologize.”

“it’s alright, but i’m just here trying to help you get this all sorted out. if you’re unhappy with me, maybe you can try calling back tomorrow or i can transfer you to another one of our wonderful customer service associates.”

“no, no! you’re doing great! you’ve been so helpful, already, i just…”

“just what?”

“i just… pay you guys $160 bucks every month for water…  you know… but i don’t have any water in my house… and i can’t take a shower, or do laundry or flush the fucking toilet when i take a fucking dump! so…”

“ok sir, why don’t you calm down this evening and call back tomorrow?”

“no, please! i’m sorry!”

“apology accepted. call back tomorrow. thank you for choosing comcast utilities. have a nice day.”

and then she hung up. i threw down the phone and screamed.

the clock says 12:00 and sure enough she peaks her head back in. she kneads her brow and gives a thumbs up with an inquisitive face. i give her a thumbs down. she makes a frown and then i notice that she’s keeping a hand behind her back.

she walks over keeping her hand hidden. i take the phone from my ear long enough to hear her say, “i’m sorry.”

“it’s alright,” i say. “it’s not your fault.”

“i got you something.”

“what?”

she holds out her hand and there in her palm is a red strawberry in a small plastic box. a real one. the kind i grew up eating.

“are you serious!?”

she smiles at me. “pam got her hands on a case of 24.”

i look at her, “how much?”

“just eat it. enjoy it! i know you love them.”

“two-hundred?”

she shakes her head.

“one-fifty?”

“don’t worry about it.”

“we don’t have that kind of money, baby.”

“it wasn’t as bad as you’re thinking. just eat it.”

“how much?”

 

“eat it.”

“let’s split it.”

“it’s yours!”

“you’re crazy,” i say.

“i love you,” she says.

“i love you, too.”

i kiss her and hold her close to me.

i hear the music screeching from my ear piece stop.

“thank you for your patience. your call is very important to us. our next available associate will be with you shortly. please stay on the line. you are currently–”

“seventy-eighth”

“–in line.”

she pulls away and opens the box of the strawberry and hands the small berry to me.

i hold it gently. i feel it’s seedy sides. the green leaves sort of tickle my skin, even just sitting there. i take the tiniest bite i can from the luscious fruit. the sweetness is overwhelming.

she smiles and takes the phone and leaves me in the living room. i hear her put it on speaker.

i take another bite. and another. and the berry is gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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