All prayers are answered, but sometimes the answer is no. And sometimes the answer is “let me talk to my manager and get back to you.”
All prayers are answered, but sometimes the answer is no.
And sometimes the answer is: “Let me talk to my manager and get back to you.”
“Really,” the caller is saying, “I’ve been donating to the church for years. Going every Sunday. He wanted that. He wanted us to get married there. It’s legal now. Honestly, I expected better service, but I think persuading him to come home is the least you can do at this point.” The client’s voice shakes a little with frustration. “Amen,” he adds.
“I understand your frustration,” I say. “I really do understand, and I appreciate your patience, Mr. Rimington-Pounder.”
Across the desk, Grem, my cubicle buddy, collapses in a fit of silent laughter. Gremory is a demon, so he’s allowed to laugh at the unfortunate, including the unfortunately-named.
I try to explain to Mr.. Rimington-Pounder, as gently as possible, that prayer is not a vending machine, where you pop in a certain amount of devotion and miracles drop into your hands.
“Is there—” the client moistens his lips. “Is there someone higher up the chain I can talk to?”
“Certainly, sir,” I say, in my best friendly call center assistant voice. “Let me just put you on hold for a moment.”
I press the mute button and roll my eyes at Gremory.
“Let me guess,” says Grem, “Rimjob wants to speak to someone higher up?”
I nod. Of course he wants to speak to someone higher up. Everyone wants to speak to someone higher up. But you can’t speak to the manager.
The manager is absent.
I take Mr. Rimington-Pounder off hold and adopt a different voice, a man’s voice. Something broad and comforting and Midwestern. Authoritative.
“What can I do for you, sir?” I ask. The client is soothed by this voice. I let him talk. I follow protocol and offer a lot of unspecified redemption without actually promising anything at all.
Human beings are generally confused. That’s where we come in. Mainly, as the floor supervisor explained in a recent slideshow presentation, humans are confused about wants and needs. They’re always on their knees begging for things they want rather than asking for things they need. It’s very important to steer them away from the wants and speak to the needs, not that we could solve them, because—as the supervisor explained—that would just be too easy.
Wants and needs. Of all the indignities of flesh, I’m really glad that problem doesn’t apply to me.
I know exactly what I want.
That’s my problem.
Where is this place?
Somewhere overhead. Somewhere between thought and memory. You might catch a glimpse of it from the window of an airplane, with the dawn burning in over the endless blankets of cloud and all the lights dim in the cabin. You might tell yourself you didn’t see what you saw.
Do angels walk in the clouds?
Not if we can help it. It’s damp and full of weather balloons.
But can you peer through the mists rolling around the lower levels of heaven? Did you see the endless tower blocks of human resources tangle through the curds of cumulonimbus, in the deathless place where they serve Him night and day in His temple with monthly production goals and customer satisfaction surveys?
Angels work. Of course we do. We’re all on zero-hour contracts. Time, after all, is a human idea.
We get twenty-five minutes of it for lunch, with deductions for any bathroom or smoke stops we might have taken. Hating your boss is also a human idea.
The day everything changes, I spend my lunch in the break room with Gremory. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, but only one with a functioning coffee machine.
Gremory wears his hair long and shaggy, which is against regulations, but he has the highest client satisfaction rate on our floor. He has this ability to be nice to every caller without letting the slow grind of their daily trauma worry him too much. It’s a demon thing.
Grem waves to me from behind his copy of Kerrang! They tell us it’s important to stay authentic, but Grem doesn’t need to try very hard at that. He’s sitting with his feet up on a swivel chair, reading his magazine and eating a ham sandwich.
“You shouldn’t let it get to you,” he says, seeing my face. “I never let it get to me.” This is true. Every demon I know is a profoundly chilled-out individual. Our two spheres incorporated over a thousand years ago, and the merger has been a big morale boost all-round.
“I hate not being able to do anything for them,” I say, grabbing a coffee from the machine. “The heartbroken ones, most of all. You shouldn’t laugh at them. It’s not their fault.”
“Human hearts,” says Gremory, “are brittle, but also durable. I should know; I’ve eaten thousands. You should never attempt to engage one while it’s still beating. I advise against it.”
“You’re jealous because nobody wants to fuck you because you’re a demon.”
“That,” says Gremory, pushing half a sandwich into his second mouth, “is a vile stereotype. I get mine. I just don’t like drama.”
“I can’t bear the lovesick ones, though. They’re so pathetic. And they’re always killing themselves, or each other. My ones do, anyway.”
“Your problem is that you keep trying to talk them through it,” says Grem. “I just tell mine to take a walk in the sunshine. It’s not like they remember the calls.”
That’s not quite true. They remember the calls in snatches, like the dregs of dreams you can’t touch with your tongue, draining away. A sense of something profound, whether it’s redemption or frustration, vanishing on the edge of vision.
Our repeat business is booming.
“I submit to you,” says Grem, “that you are projecting, my friend. I submit to you that you’re getting stressed because you’ve been due another of your dramatastic love affairs for years, and you’re bored, and you need to learn to relax.” Grem wipes his hands on his untucked shirt.
“If you will insist on romancing the doomed,” he says, “Go and fuck a panda.”
I throw my empty coffee cup at him.
They tell you not to fall for human beings because they always die. For me that’s part of it. That’s their beauty and their tragedy—everything is always rotting, puckering and falling apart under your hands, and you claw at them with your kisses to slow the tug of time but you can’t. The panic in their eyes when they reach the age when they realize that, yes, it’s happening to them too.
The way they swallow their breath at the point of orgasm.
I can’t get enough.
Some of us are perfectly happy counting dust motes in sunlight, or recording the little lives of the luminous creatures at the bottom of the ocean trenches who live and die and drift to the sea floor and know nothing but darkness.
Loving humans is what got me demoted.
A long time ago, before the current system, when there were far fewer of them, it was our job to walk among men and women and all the other human creatures and teach them things they needed to know. Writing and calculus and basic food hygiene. We were allowed to give real advice, back then, and we taught them a lot. But they taught us things, too.
They taught us what it is to fear death and to nourish hope. They taught us about pleasure. And passion. And love. Love more than anything. I have always been drawn to the ones who burn with it, the ones who take their tiny lives in trembling hands and try to wring out all the juices before it’s too late.
I love fucking human men.
I love loving them, too, though if I’m honest, the fucking is quite a significant part of it. Nothing is ever just sex.
I loved a scientist, once, in Babylon, in the land between the two rivers. His beard was slight and his eyes were black and fronded with long, long lashes, and it was the eighth century after they killed the Nazarene, and he found me in a decorative jar in the market, where a witch whose son I had seduced kept me prisoner for a decade.
He took me home and broke the glass and out I blossomed, fully-formed and heavy-breasted, and he rushed for his notebooks.
He was tortured by the impulse to understand everything. A fatal condition in humans. He was full of rage at his own ignorance, and the more he eked out through his art and philosophy and mathematics—which in those days were all part of the same discipline—the more he discovered he did not know, and the more that knowledge consumed him.
I loved him for it, and he resented me. Even in our bed, he resented me. His fingertips would outline my contours as if I were drawn on a manuscript, searching for the secrets of my substance.
It hurt him to love me because I was a door to the wisdom of eons that he couldn’t unlock. I knew the names of all the stars, and I wouldn’t tell them to him. I couldn’t. It would have driven him mad, and he would have ended up wandering the streets with the beggars and the crazed soothsayers.
He told me that there were worse places to end.
He longed to know the names of the stars, the true names that they only tell each other, how they were born, the exact latitude of this or that red giant. I told him that I had walked on a star once and it was nothing special. After that he didn’t fuck me for weeks.
He liked me in feathers, though. One morning I found that he had plucked out all the filoplumes on my left side and was dissolving them in acid, trying to determine what I was made of.
So I took him walking on a star. He didn’t like it as much as he thought he would.
After lunch, I spend the afternoon answering calls from the Gulf of Mexico, where the summer storms are the worst they’ve been in a generation, just like they were last year. And the year before that.
The lines are going mad. Please protect my home. Please save my children from the water. Lord, let us get out in time. In your name, Amen.
I hate telling them no.
Those of us whose work is out in the world call the phone lines an easy job. I say, you try finding fifty different ways to tell people that all their prayers won’t save their home, their business, their kids. Try persuading those people to stay signed up to the long-term plan.
I don’t like it when they shout at me, but I understand. That’s practically what we’re here for, to be shouted at. We’re here to sit and take all that fury and frustration and tamp it down into something manageable. Angry people boil over with life, raging and raging. They fascinate me.
What I really dread are the quiet ones. The ones who say very little. Sometimes they cry very, very softly, hoping you won’t hear them, which just makes it worse.
They all get through to us eventually. That’s why it’s important to know where they’re calling from. A Catholic with an urgent question about the propriety of cleaning consecrated wine off a good white carpet will get rankled if you quote the Koran by accident, and there you are and you’ve just lost a repeat client.
So I talk to the flood victims in my gentlest voice for an average of ten minutes and twenty-three seconds each.
Then I have a nice chat with a nun in Bolivia who really just wants Jesus to tell her where she’s left her glasses this time.
I tell her they’re by the sink. Miniature miracles are allowed for those who’ve signed the lifetime plan. Nobody believes them anyway.
Then there’s a Satanist kid in a hospital in Dallas, having his stomach pumped and calling on Lucifer and all his many minions to slaughter his enemies and bring him a dose of medical-grade morphine to get him through the night.
I hand that one over to Gremory. He lives for this sort of thing.
“Hello,” I hear him say, “my name is Legion. How can I help you?”
Eventually he persuades the kid that he doesn’t need to call on Satan to destroy his squat-mates with fire and fetch him drugs, he needs to call his mother.
Then we go for dinner. Grem has three hot dogs and reads me extracts from High Times.
Grem is happy because on Thursday afternoons they play heavy metal over the main speakers, rather than the usual airport music. Apparently heavy metal is calming and improves our productivity. I have another coffee.
“Are you there, God?”
The next caller is six or seven years old at the most. Before answering, I wait for the standard message to play over the still, small song, remote and clear:
Your prayer will be answered by the next available operative. Please note that we cannot take requests for miracles over the phone. Your orisons may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes.
“You’re speaking to a member of the heavenly host. How can I help you tonight?”
“Is that Jesus?” A little girl’s voice. I check the location: Cape Town. It’s morning there.
“No,” I say, “but I’m— I’m friends with Jesus.” This is an acceptable lie to tell to children. Nobody has seen the Nazarene in two thousand years.
“I’m friends with Jesus, too!” says the little girl. “Can I talk to him?”
“Not just now,” I say, “but I can take a message for Jesus and he’ll definitely listen to it.”
“Oh. Okay. I just wanted to ask about my cat. His name is Lemon. My name is Carla. I’d like Jesus to please look after Granny and Lemon and make sure they don’t die.”
Why are children always the hardest? Adults know not to ask for that sort of thing directly.
“Also, I’d like Jesus to kill Mr. George.”
“You can’t really ask us to kill anyone, Carla,” I say. “That’s not very nice. Who is Mr. George?”
“He’s Mummy’s boyfriend,” says Carla. “He hurts me sometimes. I was going to pray for him to go away, but then Mummy might go away too. So, really, it would be better if he just died.”
You can’t fault her logic.
We’re not allowed to smite wrongdoers with great vengeance, or even moderate vengeance. We’re not allowed to make calls to social services. Human beings are supposed to sort things out by themselves, even six-year-old girls. We’re just supposed to listen. That’s all.
I hate my job sometimes.
“I’m afraid I can’t kill Mr. George,” I tell her. “That’s not allowed.” Carla starts to cry very quietly, as if she’s worried someone might hear her.
“I understand that you’re frustrated right now,” I say, reading lines off the on-screen handbook. “I’m just looking through your options for you. Hold the line, please.”
I press the mute button, and I lay my head on the desk for a while. Then I pick up the phone again.
“Well, Carla,” I say, “I’ve had a look, and unfortunately we’re not able to murder Mr. George for you today. What I can do for you, though, is make the bad feelings go away for a bit. I can make them go deep down inside you where they won’t bother you until you’re grown up. How does that sound?”
The snuffly sound of a small nose being wiped. “Okay.”
I tap in some numbers. Eventually, Carla stops sniffling. I cut the call after twenty-three minutes. Across from me, Gremory is nodding to a client and rocking out to The Number Of The Beast.
The floor manager calls me in toward the end of the shift. Apparently I’ve been slacking on my call quota. I spend too long talking to each client.
“Some of them have a lot of problems,” I say, inspecting the carpet.
“They all have a lot of problems,” says Uriel, who used to be a big shot back in the days when everyone with more than six wings got to call themselves a Duke of Heaven. Now that there are so many more humans and we’ve had to move with the times and go to full automation, he wears a suit.
“We’re not here to fix the problems,” Uriel says. “We’re here to deliver the maximum amount of spiritual satisfaction in the shortest possible time period. That’s why we have the seven-minute target. A target you haven’t been meeting.”
“Look,” I say, “sometimes it just takes longer than seven minutes. Sometimes these people really, really need someone to talk to. I listen. Until they’re finished. It seems to make them feel better.”
“Yes, we’ve been noticing a lot of dead air on your side of the line,” says Uriel. His voice is milk trickling over smooth marble.
“How many of my calls have you been listening to?”
“Don’t get snippy. I checked the database. It’s easy enough to monitor the quality and content of the call load. It’s standard procedure. I can’t believe I’m telling you this again. You’re not a special case.
“We’re stretched thin,” says Uriel. “I don’t want to bump you down to maintenance, when we’re getting a higher call intake every day, but I will if I have to.”
The conversation is over. My hands shake as I return to my desk. It’s probably the coffee.
Why do we do this? Why do we keep on picking up the phone?
Because religion is a necessary drug. It takes the pain away, for a while. A little candle to nurse in the chest cavity against the darkness. Except some of them burn too fiercely, and it eats them from within.
Only love comes close. Only love.
I loved a mad nun once, in Castile. He had come to the convent the way he was born, with a woman’s body, until he was bricked up in the wall of a convent, where he starved away his female aspect in secret. The nuns never found out. Only I saw him as he truly was, as a man entire.
He never left that cell. He was there to burn hard in solitude. The nuns had a system for this, and left a small opening at the bottom of the wall where they could push in water, ink, and dry black bread, which my lover fed to the birds.
He prayed and fasted on his knees until the bricks sliced through to the raw bone. He shaved his head and covered the walls with poetry.
I was all over it.
He did not seem at all surprised to see me when I appeared in his cell. I took the form of a woman at first, but I soon realized my mistake, and put on a man’s skin, tanned deeply from the sun my lover had not seen for years. I held his birdlike head in my hands, feeling the contours of his skull. His mouth opened and I fed him crumbs of passion.
He drew me a hundred times over. He called me the body of Christ, but wouldn’t let me fuck him. Instead I pushed into him with my fingers, reached deep into his cunt and beckoned, beckoned, as if I could coax him out to walk with me through the wall and into the world of light.
I thought I could keep him alive with my love.
His flesh withered and clung to the bones, and eventually those gave out, too, and he wasted further until all that was left was the heart, beating wildly on the floor of the cell, and a voice raised in fervor. He craved that holy passion so hard that it cannibalized him.
Wants versus needs.
I walked out through the wall and mourned for a century. Then I went back to work.
When I return to the cubicle, Gremory is spinning around to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in his desk chair. He gives me a thumbs-up.
Ten minutes to go before the end of the shift. This is the time when you hope to—well, you just hope that nobody calls with a problem you might actually be able to solve. So of course the line flashes.
“Hello, you’ve come through to the heavenly host, how can I help you today?”
“I’m trying to find my way to heaven.”
I appreciate directness at the end of the day. There’s an answer for this in the manual, filed under “Convenient Fictions.”
“That’s great,” I say. “You’ve come to the right place. The path to heaven is hard, but it starts within all of us. May I take your name, sir?”
“Benjamin— Sorry, is this the right number?”
The client’s voice is young, male, run through with booze and the lightest scent of self-loathing.
“You did say you were interested in getting to heaven, sir?”
“Yes, that’s right. I’ve been looking for it for an hour now.”
“Well, it’s wonderful that you’re making an effort, sir. Unfortunately, it usually takes longer than an hour to find one’s way to heaven. Many people spend entire lifetimes and more in the search.”
“It says on Google Maps that it’s just off Charing Cross Road.”
“I assure you, sir,” I say, “heaven cannot be accessed from the Charing Cross Road. May I ask how you came to God in the first place?”
“I’m not religious. I’m looking for Heaven. I’ve got a sound test there in twenty minutes. Look, I’m sorry, I really think I’ve got the wrong number. Sorry for wasting your time.”
“No, wait,” I say, because a thought has occurred to me. “Let me put you on hold for a second.”
I slam on the mute button and whisper across the cubicle at Gremory, “Is there a bar or a club called Heaven somewhere in London?”
Grem nods. “Oh, another one of those. I’ve got the address written down somewhere.”
He slides a Post-it across the desk. I unmute the caller.
“Thank you for holding, sir. You want to turn off down Villiers Street, toward the river, and it’s under the arches on your right.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Well, uh,” says Benjamin, “I’m having trouble with this song I’m writing. It’s about love. Love and death. And anger. Love and death and anger.”
I sit up straight in my chair.
“Would you like to talk about it?” I say. “We could talk about it for a while.”
“It’s just that I’m afraid all the time,” he says, and his voice has receded to a trembling note, a quaver. “I’m afraid of the songs. I’m afraid of the songs I could make, and I’m afraid of not making them. It’s stupid.”
A meaty thud. He’s smashed his head against something, on purpose.
“Don’t do that,” I say. “Please don’t do that. I can help.”
“Who are you?” asks Benjamin.
I can hear his heart, the broken-bird flutter of it. His breath on the line.
I have had so many names.
“I’m listening,” I say. “I’m listening.”
We’re not supposed to Worldwalk during the working week, so Gremory and I hang out on top of Centre Point, the dirty-white 1960s monstrosity that squats mantislike above Tottenham Court Road Tube Station.
“Best view in London,” says Gremory. “Mainly because it’s the only place you can’t see Centre Point. You want some of this?”
He’s sucking on a finger-joint stub of spliff, exhaling thick smoke that sweetens the traffic fumes rising from the street.
“I’m okay,” I say. “Thanks.”
“Seriously,” he says, “I’m not trying to pressure you, but I really think it’d be good for you to smoke this stuff occasionally. Chill you out a bit.”
“Really, I’m good with just coffee.” I love coffee. I particularly like it the way the fashion kids make it, in a goblet shaped like a breast with a picture of a heart frothed on top. I love all that stuff.
“See, that’s what I’m talking about,” says Gremory. He takes another deep draw and closes his eyes. “Of all the things I’m going to miss when they’re gone, I think a beer and a spliff round the back of a decent bar is right up there.”
Gremory once laid waste to an entire city-state in Sumer and made its rivers flow with gore. He’s calmed down a bit now, and I think he’s happier for it. I’m envious.
The last of the sun is dipping its sucked-sherbet into the sugary sky over Oxford Street. We watch it disappear.
“Mastodon are playing in Brixton tonight,” says Gremory, after a while. “You want to come?”
“Nah, I’m good,” I say. “I think I’ll head on back upstairs.”
“See, you say that, my friend,” says Grem, tapping out his spliff and tucking the end in the pocket of his denim jacket, “but you know and I know that you’re going to wait till I’m gone, then get all hopped up on Dexedrine and find something long-haired and broken to fuck you into oblivion.”
I don’t say anything. We all have our demons. Mine just knows me a bit too well.
“Hey,” he says, “no judge. Everyone’s got their poison. See you tomorrow. Stay cool.”
He flips me the two-horned finger salute and jumps off the roof, turning into a pigeon as he falls. Then he flaps away toward Brixton.
As soon as he’s gone, I go straight to Heaven.
Somewhere around the middle of the eighteenth century, I decided I should give up the tragic poets and doomed revolutionaries and, if I couldn’t abstain completely, at least settle down with someone relatively normal.
And so I married a country pastor.
He was surprised when I showed up in his study with my shining eyes, naked as the day I was never born.
I thought we would at least have some shared interests. But he was one of those men of faith who looks away from the altar when he speaks his sermons, avoiding the eyes of an unwelcome houseguest.
We were married in the springtime. He preferred me in my women’s weeds, white and perfect as the shepherdesses in the pastoral paintings he would not allow in the house. He was good to me, in his way. He was gentle, and never beat me.
He would make love to me gingerly between his sheets, thrusting blindly in the dark, trying to touch as little of my body as possible. He said that that was God’s way. I tried to tell him that the God I knew was fire and passion and cared not at all about how humans choose to fuck.
In the mornings I would boil him a single egg and watch him crack the shell with his short nails, not damaging the hard white jelly at all, leaving a pure and perfect oval so sinless that he sometimes couldn’t bear to bite into it.
I thought it wouldn’t matter that I wasn’t in love with him.
One night I came to him in my gown. So many layers in those days, especially in bed. I made my husband lie on top of the coverlet and lit the oil lamp.
Then I took everything off. Every stitch. He watched me while I stepped out of my gown, my night stays, dirty-white lace dropping to the floor. The bloomers; the ribbons in my hair.
Then I kept going. I took off my skin and hung it on a nail behind the door. I peeled away layers of flesh and bone until I stood there in my true form, burning and spinning, the rush in my ears so fierce I could hardly hear my husband scream.
Then I left him.
I hear he ended in a madhouse.
There are worse places.
You can’t just walk into Heaven. There’s a dress code, and a door charge, too, unless you’re on the guest list. We’re not allowed to handle money, so I slip into something that’ll let me walk straight in.
Black jeans. Black lipstick. Black heels. A tight black mesh top. Snow-white hair dipped in eggshell blue. Smooth skin, a whisper of something Asian in the eyes. Soft fat layered in the right places over rigid muscle.
God, I look fantastic.
The girl taking tickets has a pair of angel wings tattooed on her back. I tell her I’m with the band.
She looks me up and down and nods me in.
Inside Heaven, it’s all sweat and warm beer and the chill trails of cigarette smoke from the nicotine pen outside. There’s static in the air. The roadies have just finished setting up.
I get someone to buy me a Diet Coke at the bar, then lurk at the back, looking mysterious, while dying-robot music stutters frantic over a slow bass heartbeat. I like it.
I’m not fallen. I never fell. I’m just slumming it.
In the twenty minutes before the band, I send three creeps careening for the exit, muttering prayers they haven’t spoken since childhood.
Then the band comes on. Just a drummer, a keyboardist in a tight silver skirt, and him.
His eyes are large and blue and sad. His cheekbones were carved in marble by a crazed sculptor to drive women mad.
But I am not a woman. I’m something else.
A static whine.
Then it starts.
The words are all there, love and death and rage and the riot of fighting through fear to something more, something wholly human. But Benjamin sings like one of us. All ice and holy fire.
The crowd goes wild.
I wait for him in the alley after the show. When he sees me, he stops dead, his long coat falling around his shoulders.
I try to think of something profound to say.
“You were great,” I tell him, looking at my feet. The heels are hurting me. I danced all night.
“I know you from somewhere,” he says. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
He’s high on adrenaline, and drunk.
But not too drunk, not yet.
I smile, and hold out my hands.
I wake up on a dirty mattress somewhere on Caledonian Road. A train is rattling overhead. Pigeons vomiting in the walls. The smell of cheap coffee, bittersweet and black.
Benjamin is already up, already half-dressed. In the dawn light, his naked torso is smooth and translucent-pale, dusted with freckles. Eleven blond hairs sprout from his chest. I counted them all last night.
I’m going to count every freckle. Every scar. I’m going to number his days and open his heart and drink his passion and his pain. I’m going to tell him all the names of the stars so he can write them down in a song.
Benjamin places a mug of coffee in front of me and stares.
“I remember you now,” he says.
I sip my coffee and shake my head. “You must be thinking of someone else.”
“I do,” he says. “I remember. I called you. It was a mistake.”
My mouth is dry. “People call all the time,” I say. “It’s what people do.”
“No,” he says. “I mean, this was a mistake. I had a nice time. A really nice time. But I can’t give you what you want.”
He’s staring out the window at the fist of traffic groaning down the road toward Camden.
“You don’t want me to stay?”
He looks at me, right through my skin.
“I want you to stay,” he says, “but I need you to leave.”
Benjamin gives me twenty pounds for a taxi. I get out at Angel Station and stop at a pay phone which hasn’t been operational in years. I pick up the receiver and call the only number I know.
“Your prayer will be answered by the next available operative. Please note that we cannot take requests for miracles over the phone. Your orisons may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes.”
“Hello, my name is Legion, how can I help you this morning?”
“Grem,” I say, “it’s me.”
“Where the fuck have you been?” Grem hisses down the line. Demons can really hiss. “You’re three hours late. Supervisor’s freaking out. Are you even coming in?”
“I—” I swallow hard. “I don’t think so. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow either. I don’t think I can do the job anymore.”
“Mate,” he says, “what happened? Are you okay?”
“I don’t think so,” I say, and my voice is thick and strange. “I don’t think I’ve been okay for a very long time.”
“Hold on,” says Grem.
I hold the line. I listen to the receiver. Dead air.
“Right,” says Grem, “You stay right where you are. I’m coming down to get you. Took the afternoon off. Family emergency. Want to go and get baked on Hampstead Heath?”
“Yeah,” I say, sniffing. “Yeah, I’d like that. Thanks, Grem.”
“Or we can hang out by the river or something. Whatever you want.”
“That sounds good, too.”
“Okay. Right. Get yourself a fancy coffee or something. Stay cool, okay? See you soon.”
Grem cuts the call.
I take a deep breath. My clothes are still sticky with last night’s sweat. It’ll wash away. Sex. Sweat. Hair. Skin. Wants versus needs. It all washes away.
I go into the coffee shop on the corner of Upper Street and order a latte from a white girl with an angular haircut and a tattoo that says “Made in China.”
The Number Of The Beast is playing on the speakers.
Grem’s right. It really is quite relaxing.
“Your Orisons May Be Recorded” copyright © 2016 by Laurie Penny
Art copyright © 2016 by Yuko Shimizu