fiction 2019 / spring 2019 / volume 49

White Lies—Kevin Tosca

The first time Abraham Abraham called the Porters he was told by a delightful little girl her daddy couldn’t come to the phone because their doggy just died.

“Oh… Oh…” Abraham Abraham stammered. “I’m so very sorry for you.”

His dog, after twelve years of idyllic companionship and mutual love, recently passed as well. He still hadn’t found the courage to throw Mussolini’s bowl away, the heart to get rid of his cushion, the willpower to toss his food, the leap of faith and divine forgetfulness it takes (this creature too shall die) to consider getting another dog.

The child hung up and Abraham Abraham, because he wasn’t told to go fuck or kill himself, didn’t scratch their names off the list.

Over the next few weeks, the ‘Porters’—black letters on a cheap white screen—reappeared. Though Abraham Abraham harbored a deep suspicion born of heartstomping experience that they were educated people, he didn’t know how educated, nor did he know they were, worse, cultured people, sophisticated people whose skin color happened to be a cancerous shade of white, but Abraham Abraham fudged the data anyway because he remembered their dog and his own: Mussolini. Loyal, faithful Muss-Man. No, no one understood the name, but Understanding is, after all, something you wind up chucking into the Great Toxic Ocean of Human Nonsense.

Abraham Abraham’s conscience, however (or perhaps it was his equally antiquated Protestant work ethic), only allowed him to lie so many times before finally calling the Porters and being told by a charming little boy his father couldn’t talk because their dog just croaked.

Sweet Jesus! Abraham Abraham thought. Two in one year! Two in one month! Did they belong to the same litter? Was there some kind of diabolical disease in the family? Another obscene glitch in the system? What catastrophe! What sorrow!

“I’m terribly sorry for you, young man,” he said.

That night, eyes blurry with tears, Abraham Abraham poured half a Miller High Life into Mussolini’s bowl, set his best friend’s ashes on the kitchen table, and proceeded to get plastered.

Only ten days passed before his boss, a man named Mr. Pickett whose pasty white skin was the exact color of caped-crusading cruelty, asked him what the deal with the Porters was. “They bit before,” he said, “they’ll bite again. The script is gold. Why don’t we have closure here?”

“Their dogs died.”

“Their what?”

“Dogs. Two calls, two dogs. I can’t call them again.”

“Bullshit!”

“Mr. Pickett, please, be reason—”

“Lies! The bastards are lying! The bastards will say anything these days to—”

“Their small children told me.”

“The lying bastards will get their lying kids to say anything these days to keep us at bay. You believed them? You’re a sucker, Abraham Abraham. A sap. S. A. P. How—and I would like you to answer this question out loud for the rest of the class—how in holy fuck do you expect me to pay your salary?”

Abraham Abraham kept his mouth shut.

“HOW?!” his boss screamed.

Mrs. Porter answered the third time, told him she was sorry but Mr. Porter wasn’t free because there had been a death in the family.

“I’m so—” Abraham Abraham began, then remembered his boss’s words.

“Yes, our beloved dog,” Mrs. Porter said. “Please stop calling this number. Please take it off your list or do whatever it is you people have to do. This is a trying time for us all.”

Abraham Abraham let doubt get the better of him.

“How many dogs—” he started to ask, but was cut off by the curtest, most refined and lethal “Pardon?” he ever heard. “Nothing, nothing,” he said.

Yes, Abraham Abraham liked his much-maligned job. It afforded him a contact—however formulaic and brief, however successful or disastrous—all men need and no man should dare scoff at. But he didn’t like the pressure or the way “harassment” had become part of his working vocabulary.

And he hated Mr. Pickett.

“Three dogs?” his boss mocked, genuine amusement tapdancing in his slick Broadway eyes that might’ve prompted an unseasoned employee to wonder if the man’s soul still had a chance of making what the gurus called Progress. “Three? What are the odds? Come on, I really would love to know.”

“I’m not calling them again,” Abraham Abraham declared.

“Oh yes you are.”

“No, I’m not, because I, unlike some people I know, believe in Decency.”

“Decency? Ha! Are the Porters decent? Are their filthy little lies decent? I was going to save this for your bi-weekly review but now’s as good a time as any because the last time I checked I didn’t see ‘CHARITY SHOP’ tattooed across my forehead. You’ve got one week to do a complete about-face. Do you know what that means? What inning we’re in? Huh? Do you?”

“Sir?”

“It means bring me the goddamned money, Abraham Abraham!”

“But—”

“ONE!”

Abraham Abraham, having not done a complete about-face, was duly fired.

While clearing out his desk, he jotted down the Porters’ number and address. But even if tortured by the CIA’s best and brightest, he wouldn’t have been able to say why he had done so or what he planned to do with the information. The most he could’ve managed would’ve been to mutter something vague like: These educated people are deeply involved. These cultured and sophisticated people are not innocent.

Alone in his home, severed from the human contact he had grown accustomed to, Abraham Abraham poured more and more beer into Mussolini’s bowl.

Then, one stupefied night, well after even the greediest capitalist’s working hours were dead and gone, he called the Porters’ number, got their answering machine’s cold vacant message.

“I know where you live,” he said after the beep, employing a bassy, menacing (yet easily recognizable) version of his voice.

In the morning, hungover and demoralized and feeling like the certified fool Mr. Pickett assured him he was, Abraham Abraham longed to apologize.

But the masochist within him prevailed, so he waited until 6:30 in the evening, peak telemarketing time, and was heartened to hear the little girl he first spoke to, no trace of sadness in her hello.

“Hello,” he replied, matching her cheerfulness, “may I please speak with—”

“You can’t,” said the girl, her voice doing a perfect about-face. “Our doggy just crossed over.”

“But… You already… You must have a lot of dogs?”

“Nope, just Buster.”

“Wait, this is extremely important. You’ve never had any other dogs besides Buster?”

“Nope.”

“And Buster’s dead?”

“Yep.”

“You wouldn’t be lying to me, would you?”

“I’m a good little girl.”

“So you’re telling me the God’s honest truth?”

“Of course I am.”

“Fine,” said Abraham Abraham. “May I please speak with your mother or father now?”

“But…”

“I know, I know. Just give them a message for me then. Can you give them a message for me?”

“Am I a two-year-old?”

“You ready?” he asked.

“Shoot.”

“I do know where you live.”

The girl, who must’ve heard the previous night’s message and the concerned chatter that followed it, gasped. Abraham Abraham hung up. Now he had a purpose. A job to do. So he stopped pouring beer into Mussolini’s bowl and staked out the Porters’ house from the inside of his skid-row Chevy Nova.

From afar, Buster seemed like a kind, well-mannered, trusting soul, as open to strangers as to his own family, not much different than Mussolini when Mussolini was in his prime.

And he was one hell of a good-looking dog, too, a boxer with beautiful black fur except for his rear paws which were a depraved shade of white. No matter. They’d cover his excrement till the day he died, a day neither literary nor distant.

When the moment presented itself one week later, Abraham Abraham slit Buster’s throat with a bowie knife, left him to drain on the Porters’ stoop.

The following night, he placed his sixth call. Mr. Porter answered with a strong, democratic voice, a voice you could believe in, weakened by real emotion.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but our dog…”

“I know,” said Abraham Abraham.

“What?”

“I know exactly how that feels. I lost my dog recently, too.”

“Someone killed him.” The man was on the verge of tears. “Who would do such a thing?”

“I’m terribly sorry for your loss.”

“Do I know you? Your voice sounds familiar.”

“I won’t ever bother you again.”

“But who are you?”

“No one, just a telemarketer, and you don’t need my services anymore. You’re off the list.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“It’s funny, you know, I—”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Come on, you can tell me.”

“I always thought telemarketers were bloodsucking Nazi devils. I thought, frankly, worse.”

“We’re not all devils,” Abraham Abraham said. “And though documented cases do exist, no, we don’t tend to suck blood or pledge allegiance to psychopaths.”

“I guess not.”

Both men chuckled politely.

“I think that’s the only kind of laugh I’ll be having for quite some time around here,” Mr. Porter said. “The kids loved…” He choked up, managed to control himself. “Sometimes it’s good to talk to strangers.”

“I know it is.”

“Thank you again. I mean it.”

“I know you do.”

Later, with tears streaming down his face, Abraham Abraham tucked Mussolini’s mangy cushion beneath his armpit, grabbed his chipped Philadelphia Phillies bowl, snatched the food, the snacks, hurried outside and stuffed everything into a trashcan.

After shaving and showering and eating a hearty breakfast the next morning, he got himself down to the Humane Society two minutes before they opened for business. Above the electric doors, a sign read:

We Believe Every Pet Deserves A Loving Home

So do I, Abraham Abraham thought. So do I.

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