Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Call

The man stands at the intersection, waiting for the light to change. His phone vibrates in his pocket. He withdraws it and answers.

“Is this Bradley Allen?” says the voice.

“Yes. Brad. Brad Allen.”

“And you are survived by your wife Carolyn Ladd Allen, your son Jeremy and your daughter Cynthia.”

“Survived by?”

“They are your next of kin.”

“What do you mean? I mean, yes. But what do you mean?”

“Do you feel that you are receiving this telephone call in error?”

“Why am I receiving this telephone call?”

“Standard call, sir. Standard procedure.”

“Procedure for what?”

“For the recently deceased.”

“Did I die?”

“Sir, our records clearly indicate.”

“How can I be dead?”

“No one expects what’s next, sir.”

“You mean all of a sudden I’m dead, and now I’m talking to you?”

“There’s no accounting for one’s experience of the passage.”

“Everybody gets a phone call when they’re dead?”

“Well that’s not all they get. And not everybody.”

“So why me?”

“You’re in the database for a call, sir. That’s all I’m at liberty to say.”

“Then what happens?”

“That’s entirely up to you. I just need a moment of your time.”

“I don’t have any time. I’m dead.”

“It’s just an expression, sir.”

“Well get on with it.”

“That will be all.”

“That will be all what?”

“That will be all, sir. Thank you for your time.”

“What did you need my time for?”

“As I mentioned sir, you were in our database to receive a call.”

“For what? To do what?”

“There’s no action item attached. None that I can see.”

“So what did you do that you needed my time to do?”

“Well, I made a notation. Of course.”

“A notation for what?”

“For my records. For our records.”

“What does the notation say?”

The briefest silence.

“Oh, I beg your pardon sir. I understand. It’s not really a notation so much as—well, I guess we do call it a notation! I don’t want to get into semantics. I don’t want to take any more of your time. What I did was, I placed a tick mark by your name.”

“A what?”

“A tick, a check. Actually it’s more a radio button than a box. They’ve updated our interface.”

“A check mark for what.”

“To indicate a call was made.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s my job.”

“What for?”

“I’m not at liber—actually, I’m not aware. I can tell you that I’m not entirely aware.”

“Aware of what?”

“Of why we need to indicate that a call has been placed to you.”

“But what happens? What happens now?”

“Well, the database is updated and other parties are notified.”

“Other parties?”

“My colleagues. The database is in a workflow.”

“What do they do?”

“Oh I have absolutely no idea, sir.”

“Am I going to get another call?”

“Possibly. Possibly not. I’m not at liberty to say. Again, I’m actually quite unable to say.”

“But I’m dead?”

“According to what I’m seeing on my dashboard. Well, I can only surmise. You are in the database. The dashboard doesn’t really tell us much.”

“What does it tell you?”

“Your name. Your telephone number. Your next of kin.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s what’s visible to me.”

“Something else might be visible to someone else?”

“There are hidden fields. Which is to say, they’re hidden from me. But I have no idea whether those fields are populated. Or visible to someone else.”

“What literally happens when I hang up this call?”

“On my end sir? I submit your record for further review.”

“What about on mine?”

“That’s entirely your affair sir.”

“You don’t know what happens to people when they die?”

“All I know is that under certain circumstances they receive a telephone call from myself or one of my colleagues.”

“What circumstances?”

“That I’m unable to say. That’s not visible to me, sir. It’s not apparent.”

“So what do I do now?”

“There is nothing further required of you from my end.”

“I see.”

“Actually sir, that’s not entirely correct.”


“Before you hang up, you will have the opportunity to take a survey regarding your level of satisfaction with this call.”


“My degree of professionalism. Of courtesy. My willingness to answer your questions to the best of my ability. That type of thing.”


“Is there anything else I can help you with today, sir?”

A long pause.

“Sir? Sir? Sir?”