This story appeared in Untrue Stories, Volume One, by Pantoum Press in 2012. It was inspired by a story written by David Yu – Standard Loneliness Package. I hope you like it, and if you do, please share.
Nothing More Than Feelings
by Mitch Lavender
Mari showed up at my cubicle at 10:40 in the morning.
“What’s your eleven o’clock?”
I checked my screen, sorted through my cases and replied, “I’ve got a funeral.”
“What kind of funeral?”
I clicked the case and waited for it open. “Grandmother.” I looked at the description. “Oh, man. And I’m a thirteen year-old girl.”
“Want to trade?” Mari asked immediately.
I did funerals every day. Some days, I had three or four in a row, but a grandmother was a tough one, especially when I’m getting the transmission from a thirteen year-old girl. Mari’s case must be super-bad if she wanted to trade for this. I waited for her to come out with it.
“I’m putting my 12 year-old Golden Retriever to sleep. I don’t think I can do that. I really love dogs, you know?”
Mari was such a softy. I said, “All right, I’ll trade.”
In the cubicle across from mine, Taj had his headset on, working a case, crying and sniffling, blowing his nose into a wadded tissue. Probably a funeral. Most of our cases are funerals. I looked back at Mari.
“Thanks, Doug. I owe you one,” Mari said with a weary smile. She walked back to her cube.
This job takes a lot out of you and Mari was having a tough time lately. It’s easy to burn out and I’ve seen coworkers get to the point where they couldn’t put the transmission receiver on anymore; most quit before they had a complete breakdown. I think she was close.
Mari and I started working at Sensation Solutions, Limited, about the same time, and we used to laugh about it. We’re paid $16 an hour, plus bonuses, to feel crappy for customers. Basically, people outsourced their bad day to us.
During training, they told us that Emotional Support Technicians (ESTs) weren’t needed for a customer to avoid their bad feelings, but we were a luxury that most would pay to have. A person could just wear the Emotion Interrupter Device, which looks like a small, square patch, placed at the base of the neck, and it would collect the emotional data from a customer and delete it, but when that was done, the customer didn’t appear to have any feelings at all. They would be blank and expressionless, and no one wanted to look like they didn’t feel anything at the funeral of a loved one, so they transferred their emotions to an EST like me, and I felt their sorrow, remorse, regret, guilt or whatever. Whatever I felt showed on the customer’s face. They didn’t feel it, but it looked like they did.
I didn’t understand the pricing structure, but that was negotiated through our sales staff. I think the charges were flexible; how much money the person had, times how badly they didn’t want to deal with their emotions, equals cost of my services for one or two hours. Or something – like I said, I didn’t understand it.
At 11 AM, I was going to feel what it was like to put my dog down. I’ve never done this before, but it couldn’t suck any more than the child’s funeral I did for a grieving parent last week. I swear, I almost hit the abort button on that one. I’ve never hit abort before; it’s considered a failure. No one says it, but you’ve failed to do your job if you abort, and the customer gets a refund, plus compensation. Hit abort too many times and you get your hours cut or scheduled for crappy shifts, or even let go.
I got a certificate and cake for making it twelve months without an abort. It’s thumb-tacked to the wall in my cube. The certificate, I mean. Not the cake.
So I went ahead with Mari’s case and killed my dog. It sucked every bit as much as any funeral I’d ever felt. Seeing through the eyes of the dog’s owner as she sat next to the aged Retriever in a vet’s office somewhere, the animal, its brown eyes rolled up with a whimper. I was very aware of it. This dear animal was in pain, and putting her to sleep was the loving thing to do, but hard.
I wept and moaned, “Sweet, wonderful girl. You are so loved. I will love you forever. Sweet, sweet Goldie.” These were all emotions from the dog’s owner, transferred to me. After 35 minutes, Goldie lay still on the vet’s table. My customer paid for the full hour, so I stayed on the line.
As she left the vet and went out to her car, I was still feeling immense sorrow and continued to cry. Blubbering, really, snot pouring out my nose and, oh man, the wretched sobbing, but I couldn’t control it. Taj looked across the aisle at me, a silent show of respect that I was dealing with a tough one. He was in-between cases and had a break before his next. I knew it was a divorce hearing, and those usually made him angry. I wanted to be out of here for lunch before he got too far into it.
Sitting in the car, I saw my customer open the glove compartment and take out a gun. It looked like a .22 and was staring at it. I was staring at it, through her eyes. Still jacked in and receiving her emotional transmissions, I felt such complete despair and hopelessness. I couldn’t imagine this emptiness ever being less; this pain would never end.
The gun went up and I felt the barrel in my mouth. Everything was so completely miserable and I was confident it would not stop unless I ended it. I wanted to finish it and make it stop. I wanted to die, like Goldie. I was going to squeeze the trigger and all of it would stop.
I opened my eyes and blinked, wiping away the tears. I realized I was on my knees in my cubicle and Taj was standing next to me. The meep, meep, meep alarm sound continued. Somewhere nearby, I could hear Mari, sobbing like a little girl, still connected to my funeral case.
“I hit your abort,” Taj explained. “Please do not be mad, but I think you were too far in. You might not come back out.”
I blinked at him as he helped me back to my feet. I wiped the snot from my nose. “Thanks, Man. I owe you.”
“Shake it off. Go to lunch early. You don’t have another case until one o’clock.” He smiled, white teeth through his black beard. It was a good smile.
“No, that’s it. I’m done. Tell Mari to meet me outside when she’s finished with her case, would you?”
Taj nodded, still smiling. He handed me a box of tissues and I took several, blowing my nose, then grabbed my jacket and headed to the elevator.
My one o’clock customer would just have to deal with their own feelings.