by a contributor

Marci Vogel

Occasionally it rings, and so we answer without identifying the caller because we are of the few remaining who don’t have caller ID, and anyway it’s probably either my dear one’s mother or mine, or maybe the lady from Helping Hands for the Blind. She never says what she wants exactly, just announces: Helping Hands for the Blind, voice trailing off in expectation.

Lately it’s just as likely to be Alan from the Census Bureau. We’re on a first-name basis–mine’s Jane, as in Doe. My dear one accepted a $25.00 gift card in exchange for participating in a special survey, and now Alan calls monthly to find out what happened to money we no longer have.

We once spoke for an hour, and I told Alan how I spent the former president’s tax-rebate on artwork, a painting called Little Deaths which remains unhung on our wall, and how I spent my dear one’s, too, on a Japanese maple he planted over the loyal body of our red chow, who died in the spring. “Alan,” I asked, “how exactly do you check-off this information? Are there boxes on your spreadsheet for beauty, for sadness?”

“Don’t you worry, Janie,” he said, “I’ve got my tricks.”

My dear one refuses to speak with Alan anymore. At least the devil waits until you’re dead before he collects, he said after the third month. I tried in good faith to speak for all the Does in the house, but last time Alan called, I told him I couldn’t answer any more questions, not until summer, when the days were longer, and it felt as if I had more time. “I’m hanging up on you, Alan,” I said. “I’m sorry,” and I was.

The Helping Hands for the Blind lady, now that’s a different story. We’ve never cut her off, not once. Maybe it’s because she has no tricks, only leaves enough space between words. Helping Hands for the Blind, she says, and we respond: Nothing, sorry. But once in a while––when the leaves on the maple are scarlet, for example––we answer: Yes, we do have something to offer, and her familiar voice on the line lights up: Fine! Pickup Wednesday. I’ll call back to remind you, and she does.

Marci Vogel is a native of Los Angeles, where she attends USC’s PhD Program in Literature and Creative Writing as a Provost Fellow. Her poetry has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the AWP Intro Journals Award. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in FIELD, Puerto del Sol, ZYZZYVA, Anti-, and the Seneca, Colorado, and Atlas reviews. Her first chapbook, Valiant, is available from Finishing Line Press.

See Marci’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.