My spouse puts the cell phone on speaker and dials Xfinity. I hover nearby, wringing my hands, prey to the anxiety that comes over me whenever we need to contact the invisible entities that control our lives. Today’s phone call has to do with the static in our land line that has dogged us for months. (Yes, we still have a land line. We are very ancient persons.)
The Xfinity Lady answers in a voice that has been carefully trained to convey, in timbre and tone, the assurance that we are in good hands. She is not alarmed when she hears about the static in our land line. “I can help you with that!” she says. She is speaking with us from somewhere in the Antipodes, and as she asks my spouse for his name, address, and phone number, I can almost hear the thunder of the Pacific , or perhaps it is the Indian Ocean, in the pauses between her sentences. Her English is impeccable, albeit with a tinge of je ne sais quoi. But excellent, really.
And then she says to my husband, “Now, Sir Ed, please to wait patiently while I do some checking.”
I clap my hands over my mouth, hoping that the giggle that has escaped me sounded to her like a seagull swooping over the waters that divide us. And, just like that, all my apprehensions disappear. Forget about the static. I only want to hear her say “Sir Ed” again.
She does not disappoint. Now that she has his name, she uses it faithfully at the beginning of each sentence, having been told in her training that no sound is sweeter to a customer’s ear than that of his own name. She asks Sir Ed how long the problem has existed. She dials the land line and begs Sir Ed to tell her if it has rung. Finally, she wonders if Sir Ed might be at home on Sunday morning, between 10 and 12, for one of her technicians to come to fix the problem. Then, having ascertained that there is nothing else she can help him with, she wishes Sir Ed a good rest of the day and bids him goodbye.
I am not making fun of the Xfinity Lady. But her knighting of my husband has unleashed in my brain a fantasy about her. I imagine her dressed in silks, sitting straight and solemn like a priestess at her keyboard. Her skin is brown, and her hair is long, dark, and lustrous, and smells of coconuts.
Going back in time, I see her as a skinny twelve-year-old in a polyester navy-blue uniform, excelling in English class. She memorizes vocabulary and practices her pronunciation, rolling the words around in her mouth like candy. At the end of the day she skips home, muttering “Little Miss Muffet/sat on a tuffet/eating of curds and whey.” Tuffet, curds, and whey are mysteries to her, but she gets the part about the spider (the spiders that come into her mother’s kitchen are the size of a man’s hand).
By the time she finishes secondary school she has read Twain and Dickens. She makes her way to the city, where a letter of recommendation from her English teacher gets her an interview at Xfinity. She aces the tech aspects of the training. Though her vocabulary outstrips that of her fellow trainees, her English retains the stilted character of someone who has learned it from books. But she is proud of it, and at night she downloads the great Victorians, her favorites, on her computer–Trollope, the Brontes, even Henry James.
And now here she is at work, helping Sir Ed, who lives on the snowy shores of Lake Champlain (which she knows is practically the North Pole). She is patient and cheerful, and remembers to include the honorific that she learned from her favorite authors. But she cannot figure out why, every time she addresses this customer by name, she hears in the background an explosive gargle, halfway between a splutter and a squeal, reminiscent of the mating cry of the purple gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio) that haunts the forests of her country.
Smiling here and and not supressing my laughter.
Happy solstice, Ben, and thanks for reading.
This was lovely!
In this part of the world, of course, Sir Ed was and always will be Sir Edmund Hillary. So your Ed was truly given an honour in sharing the name, however briefly!
Also, beautiful drawing of the pukeko!
Is there no end to your knowledge of the exotic?! I would give my right hand to see a pukeko in the wild. Happy solstice, Mali.
Did this lovely lady first ask if she could use his name?
The training should have customer support people ask.
I intensely dislike having people use my first name to whom I haven’t granted the privilege – at least our medical practice asks how you would like to be addressed, and most of them manage to do as you ask. It doesn’t help hearing your first name, the familiarity not granted, be massacred.
Sir Ed sounds nice and safe and magical. The bird, well, … You are so funny. But keep your right hand – you may need it for drawing (although that’s a guess, as a certain percentage of people have a more dominant left hand).
You should do the calling next time, Lady Lali.
Your comment brought back memories of irritating academic colleagues who would leave voice messages beginning, “Eulalia, this is Dr. Halibut…” Happy to say that medical practitioners have become more respectful about all this.
Perhaps you heard an explosive ‘gargle’ from up on the hill as certain denizens of the Wake Robin high-rises read your priceless interactions with Xfinity. Thank you for an exquisite moment of hilarity. Happy Christmas and may the New Year bring you more entertaining inputs from the Muses.
Is that what I heard when I took the dog out last night? Happy Christmas to you and Lady Dorrice!
Oh, this makes me happy.