Your call is important to us...

by Laura Loomis © 2002

"We are sorry to learn that Norma Keller has passed away." But Iím Norma Keller. Iím not dead." As required by law, we have frozen all assets, and any government benefits paid after the date of death must be returned."

The letter slides from my hands. If I wasnít sitting at my desk, Iíd probably fall over. Itís just a stupid bureaucratic error, of course. Itíll be funny, once I straighten out this nonsense of having my assets frozen. I canít very well be dead when I just got the mail. Superstitiously, I check my pulse anyway. Itís there. Racing, actually.

I call the bankís misnamed "customer service" line, hoping this doesnít take all day. Welcome to Bank of Infinitum. The recorded voice sounds hollow, metallic. Your call is important to us. For information in English, press 1. Para informacion en espanol, marque 2. It drones on through other languages. I want to press the button, but my hands are shaking. For TDD services for the deaf, press 9. What? I force myself to take a couple of deep breaths, then press 1.

Another disembodied voice, a man this time. It still sounds vaguely inhuman. To better serve you, please input your account number, followed by the pound sign. If you are calling from a rotary phone, please hang up and call back from a touch-tone phone Well, that stinks. Sometimes if you just stay on the line, they connect you to a human. And I donít have my account number handy. I pick up the hello-youíre-dead letter off the floor, but it doesnít have my account number either.

I rummage through desk drawers as the voice monotones on. Your call is important to us. If "monotone" isnít a verb, it should be. What kind of a job would that be, anyway, saying "Your call is important to us" into a tape recorder? Do they hire out-of-work actors with annoying voices who sound like aliens? I find the account number and punch it in slowly. After thirty seconds of silence, I remember the pound sign.

What if they ask me how I know Iím not dead? I picture some snotty teller at the other end: "Maíam, we donít make that sort of mistake. People call all the time saying theyíre not dead, but it always turns out that they are." Now Iím just being ridiculous.

Besides, my chances of reaching another human Ė living or dead Ė seem to be nil. Following the ghostly voices, I input my social security number, my telephone number, the pound sign.

    To better serve you, please choose from the following menu options:
    To open an account, press 1.
    To apply for a loan, press 2.
    For account information, press 3.
    To report lost or stolen credit cards, press 4.
    For branch locations and hours, press 5.

None of those are particularly helpful if the problem involves the bank suddenly deciding that youíre dead. The ghost voice starts to repeat the menu. I am coming to hate those voices. I decide that "account information" probably describes having your assets frozen.

    To better serve you, please choose from the following menu options:
    For account balances, transfers, and account activity, press 1.
    To order checks, press 2.
    For online services, press 3.

To hell with it. Iíll just press zero. That usually gets you to a human.

    Welcome to Bank of Infinitum. Your call is important to us.
    For information in English, press 1.
    Para informacion en espanol....

"No - o- o!" I bang the phone against the desk. How did I wind up back at the first menu? It goes through the whole list of languages again, deaf services, they probably have a button for sign language too! Iím too furious to start over. My heartís not racing anymore, though. I seem to be moving at half speed.

    If you have received a notice stating that you are deceased, press the star key.

Holy flaming hell! They have a menu option for this? How many people has it happened to? Iíll bet the person recording that line felt ridiculous. If they feel anything at all, those voices. I press the star key.

    If this is George Freeman, press 1.
    If this is Norma Keller, press 2.
    If this is Manuel Garcia....

Something is very wrong here. Suddenly all I want to do is hang up. But my finger jerks involuntarily toward the button, and then the world shifts. I see my body down below me, slumped over the desk. I see the phone in my hand, and somehow Iím getting closer to it, closer and closer, and then Iím spinning. Itís dark, except for moments of light crackling along the phone wires that surround me. The ghostly voices travel up and down the wires, press against me, whisper and echo as they pass by.

I try to scream for help, but the voice that comes out of my mouth sounds distant, metallic, and the words arenít mine. "Your call is important to us..."

x x x

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