I was about to give up when the hold music — a few looping bars of infuriating non-jazz — abruptly cut out.
“Hello, Lost Drafts,” a voice said.
I fumbled with the receiver. “Hi, I uh… I was told to call this number—”
“Name of your mortgage holder.” She wasn’t impatient sounding. Just matter-of-fact.
“My name is Kanesha,” she informed me. “I need the name of your mortgage holder, the check number and—”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude, but… that’s not what I’m calling about.”
“Oh. Well, then I’m sorry. Ninety-five percent of the calls I get are because people filed a claim and the insurance company made the check out to us, so we have to endorse it.” I imagined Kanesha twirling the phone line absentmindedly while she talked, her fingers covered in rings, her wrist adorned in bangles, her nails painted bright white.
“And the other five percent?” I asked.
“Oh, this and that. Sometimes there’s liens on a deed or a refund from an HOA.”
“And, sometimes…” I hesitated, trying to make myself say the ridiculous. Trying to make hope into words. “…sometimes, there’s maybe something else that people call for?”
I could hear the phone being adjusted. There was a clicking, and I imagined her nails again, tapping at the plastic of the phone as she adjusted her grip.
“Are you a writer?” she asked.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“What did you lose?” Her questions sounded like the routine regimen of any customer service agent reading from their script, except… “Are you still there?”
“Yes. Sorry, yes,” I stammered.
“It’s okay. What did you lose?”
My throat was suddenly dry. “My novel.”
“The whole thing?”
“No! No, just a few chapters—”
“Right. Sorry. My name is Jeremy. Jeremy Lightman.”
“Any relation to Alan Lightman?”
“Einstein’s Dreams? You haven’t read it? You want to publish historical fiction about the inventors of the nuclear bomb, and you haven’t read Einstein’s Dreams?”
“I’m — wait, how did you know I want to publish historical fiction?”
“I’m looking at your file. You were writing at the donut shop down the street from your house using a program called Fiction Factory. You started around 6:30 AM on a Sunday and when you hit save a little after nine, the program crashed.”
I almost dropped my cell phone.
“You there, Jeremy?”
“This is real!?”
“We made it this far and now you’re going to ask that?”
“You really have it?”
“Oh, we got everything. The ending to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the first draft of Hamlet that got lost in a mud puddle outside the pub closest to The Globe, tons of Ginsburg and Plath, a great short story by Olivia Butler, that’s my favorite.”
“But… how do…” I was trying to put out of my mind that this customer service agent sounded like a literature professor and that the ending to Drood was sitting in her filing cabinet while still comprehending that “you actually have my novel! How is that possible?”
She laughed at me.
“Ma-Kanesha,” I stammered, knowing my hope might turn into words. “Can you please send me the chapters I lost?”
It was like I’d been sucker punched. “I… um… isn’t that… the service you… provide?”
“Why can’t you just write it again?” she asked. “Why are these words so perfect?”
“They sacred? Did God dictate them to you on Mount Sinai?”
“It’s not that.” I didn’t understand why she was giving me a hard time. I was so close!
“What is it, then?” she pressed.
“It’s… I don’t… between the baby and my job, I feel like I’m wasting my MFA, I mean… if the rejection letters aren’t disheartening enough, let’s throw some lost chapters on top of it all! I just don’t want to lose the time.”
“This is the Lost Drafts Department. I can transfer you to the Lost Time Division.”
“You’re missing the point, Jeremy.”
“Yeah. The point is, we still have Hamlet because Shakespeare can rhyme with a hangover! If you’re so low on time, get off the phone and get to writing.”
“But if I just give up on those chapters…” I felt the words catch somewhere in my brain on some little valve that closed, because the words were too real to let out. I took a deep breath so that I would have enough force to blow them through my lips anyway. “If I don’t try to get them back then all those rejection letters are right. No one wants to read my writing. No one wants to publish it. If I don’t bother trying to get them back then… then it’s like rejecting myself, isn’t? It’s like saying what I wrote is worthless.”
There was a pause, just long enough for me to think that maybe I’d said too much. Then she sighed.
“Last time I checked, I don’t work at the Worthless Draft Department,” she said. “This ain’t about rejecting yourself or valuing what you wrote. It’s about seeing the value in the act of writing. What’s more important than these filing cabinets full of manuscripts are the people who sat down and penned them.”
“Turning hope into words,” I whispered.
“I like that,” Kanesha agreed.
I shook my head, even though she couldn’t see me. “I thought that calling you was like a chance to get back a piece of myself…”
“…but all we have is paper,” Kanesha finished.
“Right. You’re not the Lost Pieces of Writers Department.”
“That’d be ridiculous.”
I laughed. “Do you ever send anyone their writing back?”
“Now that you mention it…”
I laughed some more.
“Is there anything else I can help you with today, sir?”
“Jeremy,” I corrected her. “And no, actually, I need to get off the phone. I have some writing to do.”
John Eric Vona is a frequenter of customer service lines, the author of more than a few lost drafts, and he has in fact read Einstein’s Dreams. Another of his stories was recently found by the editors of Etched Onyx and can be read in their October issue.