by Sophia Terazawa
Though I don’t yet know their names, on the phone, one calls me after a mockingbird.
IT PLEASES ME
Mockingbird, in its Latinate root: submergence. A wet sound. A face unlike mine slopping against her voice.
THE JOB IS SIMPLE
To become what every caller needs me to be: Jo, Megumi, Filoh, Sophia.
PERSONAE I SINK INTO LIKE A POOL
And because I’m new, the first ten minutes are set at a rate of eight tokens. After, every minute goes for half. Tokens can be purchased in bulk through the operator.
Anna pushes callers into a third-party payment system. No receipts are saved. No proof of service. On some bank statements, Anna may explain to a caller, we might show up as COFFEE. We might show up as TRANSFER TO. But Anna yanks the line across a switchboard of rooms, and I’m here. I’m waiting, LIVE and HOT and waiting for you.
My room is marked with a voice note in unanchored American timber.
Calls move through like a city. Callers step in, asking for GIRLIE. I change my voice accordingly, imagine the buildings drowning a hard fist and marvels of maneuvering syllables into flesh, Sophia vanishing into Sophia because I make it so. Each caller names a desire I can deliver. I walk into that bell jar, wiping at dreams, scrubbing and pitching myself forward assigned by the minutes alone.
ACCEPT OR DECLINE, I ACCEPT
I soak a car wash sponge in my mixing bowl. I test out the squish with my fingertips. The caller meets me on the other side of this door, like any one for the night. The caller wants to know what I’m wearing. I talk about my shoes. How they’re soft and how I’m a dancer and how I like strawberries. And sometimes I write poems and sometimes I’m alone. But now I’ve found a place to live by myself, by the creek, in the woods. And also I’m a teacher.
THE CALLER LAUGHS
“So, which one is it, a dancer or a teacher?”
I TALK ABOUT THE WOODS
I’m used to being quiet. The story diverts, blending truth with fantasy.
YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME, YOU SAY SO. YOU DON’T HANG UP.
A friend tells me how she uses the same slab of uncooked meat for most of her calls, how she slaps the thing against her countertop over and over. The boneless cut makes a damp echo like human thighs. Simultaneously, we bleach our accents to a neutral low speed, suggesting no skin color, no national origin, at least none to project any anthropological violence onto. That is, we don’t sound like someone outside of our voices.
YOU SHOULD REALLY PLAY INTO IT
Before one of my earlier sign-ins, Anna tells me I should really play into one of the photos on my page, the one I first submitted of my actual face.
Anna says. I know what she means.
MY FRIEND GOES ON SLAPPING THE SAME PIECE OF MEAT ON HER CALLS. SHE SWITCHES TO A BAG OF DEFROSTED PEAS AFTER A WEEK.
“I could break,” she confesses. “But I break them first.”
I hear myself respond. She quits some time later. She’s married now. It’s autumn. End of call.
I startle when a ghost key drops into the chairs outside. The creek by my home has a river stone. It’s clear at the bottom. Night becomes day. Day loses all temperature smelling of fresh lemons. I circle one of the chairs. I can’t feel the sponge at my fingertips anymore. It’s an old film over my mouth. Layers of past and present tenses smash against each other, oversized grapes in my palm. I need to go from this line.
WHEN I TELL MY MOTHER ABOUT ONE OF MY JOBS
She doesn’t say, “Oh, no.” She thinks carefully. “Good thing you’re alone.”
I say. “I can be almost anyone.”
Like an hour of stars, but who speaks of Sophia in the mixing bowl? Who works until each voice can no longer merge with the first? Would my fingers tear at their fibers? Would Sophia fail at both ends to connect one sound with its echo?
YOU’RE MY MOCKINGBIRD
The caller says.
“Should I sing?”
“Do you want me to sing?” I ask again.
DO I WANT YOU TO SING
The caller repeats each word slowly.
My sponge is wet in the bowl, muffled. What finally unglues me is a raccoon on my drive home one night. The animal sits at the center of the opposite lane, hunched over, appearing to stare at two little paws upturned in its little lap.
I PASS QUICKLY
Cold rain splatters on the windshield. The river sweeps across mist close to the ground. I can feel the raccoon’s heartbeat following me home. The raccoon is about to say hello.
RAISING ONE PAW
“Hello,” I start to say.
WHOSE HEAD DROOPS TO THE SPOTLIGHT
I’m clear, smaller now, wrapped in a thin and golden film.
Sophia Terazawa is the author of Anon and Winter Phoenix, both with Deep Vellum. Her favorite color is purple.