by Faith Gardner
Meridia Lovelace adored the black rotary telephone more than any other device in her household. Most of her recreational time was spent with it on her lap, her rear end sunken in the beaten, once-velvet couch that had been a gift from her mother when Meridia lied and told everyone she was graduating college. Now the couch was barely olive green anymore, covered in colorful stains that reminded Meridia of the crazy, drunken parties that decorated her past years.
She enjoyed darkness. She kept her shades drawn all day. As she got older, Meridia noticed a growing anxiety about interacting with people and in turn had been seeing a therapist for three years. Unfortunately, her therapist had a memory problem and never seemed to remember anything Meridia told him the session before. Often times her therapist would begin recalling his important childhood memories and pieces of his past while Meridia would sit and listen to him talk. At least it was a weekly dose of human interaction.
Pleasure was difficult to come by, so Meridia searched hard and long for new hobbies and things to make her insides feel warm again. One day she was driving her beaten-up sedan behind a semi-truck that had the message
HOW’S MY DRIVING?
typed onto the back of it. Meridia grabbed a pen at a red light and scribbled the license plate number down. She drove home, trudged up the stairs to her apartment and sank into her usual spot on the couch. There was a long silence before she yanked the black rotary telephone onto her lap and dialed 1-800-COMPLAIN.
“Yes,” she said to the man who answered. Her voice sounded stuffy and unlike her. “Yes, my name is Abigail Briskoff and one of your hoodlum drivers nearly killed my three-year-old son today. He was riding his tricycle, innocently on the sidewalk no less and one of your drunken maniacs in a mack truck swerved and nearly murdered him. I think you should reprimand the driver of that truck.”
She read off the driver’s license number and the man agreed to reprimand the driver and thanked Abigail Briskoff for calling.
Meridia experienced a rush from whining about nothing. From then on, she was constantly looking for something to complain about, to someone. On any package or food item she would scour the label for the hotline number, often before even tasting it. She would eat a carton of ice cream on her couch and dial the 1-800 number out of pure boredom and say,
“Yes, I would like you to know there was a cockroach in my ice cream and I demand to be compensated.”
“Hello. I wanted to inform your company that I was sold a bag of chips with no chips inside.”
“Good afternoon. I wanted to file a complaint against one of your bank tellers. I went in today to deposit a hundred dollars and Mr. Seth Groppler threw a roll of quarters at my rear end as I exited the bank.”
For about three months, Meridia was addicted to her new peculiar hobby. She called every number she saw and found something to complain about.
Sometimes she would receive a tiny one or two dollar check in the mail, which she saw as an added bonus to the whole complaining experience.
One afternoon, Meridia had just hung up the phone with Wilma’s Snack Cakes to inform them that she had found a tooth in her Devils Food Cream Pie. In fact, she had only bought the Cream Pie in the gas station specifically to call the 1-800 number. There was a loud knock at her door. She sat in silence for a moment , wondering who it could be but her mind drew a blank.
Meridia rose and peered into her peephole and beheld a clean-cut man of about her age with a briefcase.
“Probably a religious thing,” she muttered to herself. The missionaries never seemed to leave her alone. She opened her door.
“Hello. May I speak with Meridia Lovelace, please?”
“I am Meridia Lovelace.”
“Miss Lovelace, my name is Ted Fuggler from the Unicorporation. May I come inside for a moment?”
Meridia eyed the man. She felt uneasy about letting him into her apartment, having never heard of Unicorporation.
The man seemed to understand what she was thinking. “It’s all right. We can talk from here. I have here a long list of complaints that you have given our company in the last three months.” He opened his briefcase on the ground, kneeling above it and standing up to show her a long printout of complaints she had made. It reached the floor.
“I’ve never even heard of Unicorporation,” Meridia told the man. “I never made any complaints to your company.”
“Unicorporation owns practically everything. Every company you’ve called to make a complaint to has been tracked by our computer system. We own Mike’s Semi-Trucks, Snov supermarket chain, Wilma’s Snack Cakes, and just about everything else you’ve ever called.”
Meridia’s gaze darkened. “So? What do you want from me?”
“It doesn’t happen very often, but when we track someone who has been abusing our hotlines, we have to come and warn them before taking any sort of disciplinary action. So I’m here as your first warning.”
Meridia didn’t say anything. She just nodded and the man walked away with his briefcase in hand.
Back inside her apartment, Meridia sat on her familiar couch and stared at the black rotary telephone, shining and tempting her. Strangely, she felt as if her heart was breaking. Complaining was the only thing she derived pleasure from anymore.
She fingered the plastic wrapper from her Cream Pie and snatched the phone impulsively, dialing the 1-800 number and disguising her voice with a falsetto.
“Yes, I was calling to compliment you on the delicious taste of your Devils Food Cream Pie …”
Faith Gardner is a college student living in Berkeley and studying creative writing.
Copyright 2003-2006 AntiMuse