“Hey,” said the fly, making its rounds from Point A to Point B to Point C and back to Point A again. “You should die.”

Arjun wiped some sweat from his forehead as he dialed another number.

“Hey,” said the fly again. “You should die.” It skimmed around the carpeted walls of the cubicle, a little prison that was scratchy to the touch and the same shade of depressed baby-vomit that provided a color scheme for the floor. Padded cells for the destitute, Arjun called them.

“Good day, Madam,” Arjun recited into his earpiece, since a woman answered the phone. If a man answered the phone, he would have replaced the “Madam” with a lighthearted “Sir.” And if it had been the evening, Arjun would have replaced the “day” with “evening.” The only part of that sentence that was non-negotiable was the “good” part of it.

“Hey,” said the fly. “End it all.”

Arjun wiped some more sweat from his forehead. Christ, it was hot in here. About twenty-five telemarketers jammed in a poorly-ventilated office on the third floor of a four-story cube of nightmares.

“I was just wondering if you were pleased with your current air purifier,” Arjun recited. He barely even registered what was on the other end of the phone. “Oh, you don’t have an air purifier?” He flipped through his 300-page script bound in a worn plastic binder that the office administrator probably stole from a bargain bin at a Staples. Finally, it settled on the page where it explained exactly what to do in this situation. “Well, it’s a miracle I called, then.”

But was it, really?

Arjun unbuttoned the top button of his short-sleeve shirt that was flirting with plaid, but not quite deserving of that moniker. It could be worse, he thought. He did have to share a cubicle, but his officemate, a fat fuck named Mike or Mark or Marv or some boring shit like that, threw up all over the place about an hour and a half prior, and had to go to the hospital, where he died shortly after. The smell didn’t even have a chance to dissipate before work resumed as usual. News of the fat fuck’s death was condensed to a noontime announcement, and even then was met with tepid murmurs from the more talkative people in the office. Arjun didn’t even notice Mike or Mark or Marv was gone until he realized he wasn’t being accidentally jabbed in the ribs every eight minutes by something so covered in fat, it could barely count as an elbow. So, yes, it could have been worse on that particular day.

“Hey,” said the fly, tracing formless geometries in the air around Arjun’s head. “Your life’s shit.”

good day, sir or madam, illustrations by sidney teles

“Why, yes, well, did you know that the air you breathe is home to so many deadly chemicals?” Arjun went on and on, reading from a list of intimidating words his script provided for him. “Carcinogen. Sulfur. Ligma. Radon. But I assure you—” The line went dead.

“Hey,” said the fly, landing on Arjun’s nose. “You’re basically dead. You should die.”

Arjun dialed a new number.

“Good day, Sir,” Arjun recited.

“Mmm,” said the fly, picking at Arjun’s nose. “That’s some good dead guy. Yummy-yummy. A bit tough. Hey, big guy. Hurry up and decompose, will ya? That’ll soften ya right up.”

“I was just calling to ask you if you are satisfied with your air purifier?” said Arjun for the umpteenth time that day. “Oh, you are? Well, do you happen to know what brand it is?” Arjun flipped to the section in his script that dealt with brands. “Germ Guardian? I see. Well, sir, did you know that Germ Guardian is the leading cause of asbestos in people over the age of 30?” The phone disconnected again. Arjun sighed.

“Knock-knock,” said a voice from above. Arjun spun around to find a middle-aged woman, clad in a floral pantsuit, leaning casually at the entrance to the cubicle. “Howdy, neighbor,” she greeted in a vaguely midwestern accent. “My name’s Louise. Guess we’ll be office buddies.”

Christ, the other guy’s corpse isn’t even cold yet, and they’re bringing in some other poor schmuck,” Arjun wanted to say. But that wasn’t in the script, so he stuck with, “Hello, I’m Arjun.”

“My oh my! Isn’t that just exciting!” cried Louise, clapping more than was socially acceptable for a moment like this. “I ain’t never met an Indian before. Say, you believe in re-in-carnation or whatever that stuff is?”

I’m Presbyterian, you racist asshole,” Arjun wanted to say, but he decided to stick to the script. “Sure.”

“Well,” said Louise, setting down her purse on Mark or Mike or Marv’s old desk and pulling a handful of photographs from it, “I’ve got this old cat I just went and yanked off the side of the road. He’s an old gray monster.” She flashed a picture at Arjun, and Arjun only pretended to look. “Well, he’s only got one ear. Imagine! One ear.”

“Fascinating,” said Arjun.

“Well, get this. My old granddad, he had hearing loss! So I get this vibe, maybe this old cat here is my granddad, re-in-carn-ified. You catch my drift?”

“Fascinating,” said Arjun again, turning back to his desk.

“Say,” said Louise, plopping herself onto Mark or Mike or Marv’s squeaky old office chair, “the guy who drove my taxi, he was also Indian, you know.”

“Fascinating,” said Arjun a third time.

“Name was Va-roon or something like that,” mused Louise. “Varun. Arjun. Think there’s any relation?”

“Look, lady—Jesus Christ!” Arjun jerked around only to be taken aback by the 800 photos of three different cats Louise had managed to hang up in the thirty-five seconds this conversation had taken place in.

“Now, he said he was from some place. Baal Teemor or something. Someplace exotic,” Louise continued to muse. “It sounded so distant. So beautiful, you know? Like someplace out of a Bollywood flick. I’d like to go there. Where are you from, Arjun?”

“I’m from Cincinnati,” said Arjun, turning back to his desk and starting to dial a number.

“Seen-Seen Ati,” Louise sighed, the air of fantasy flowing through her voice. “Sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to go one day.”

“Of course,” said Arjun. Someone picked up the phone on the other end. “Good day, Sir.”

I think I’m going to kill myself,” the voice on the other end of the call screamed. Arjun sighed and hung up the phone. Didn’t need to deal with that shit today.

“Hey,” said the fly. “I’m stuck in your nose. Help me out here.”

Arjun let loose a blast of air through his nostrils, and out flew the fly, skidding against the script and onto the faux wooden desk.

“Thanks,” said the fly. “You should die.” And he was skyborne again.

Arjun’s hand drifted to the handle of one of many rusted drawers his desk had been graced with. From it, he produced a small white bottle of pills. Swiftly, he spilled half the contents into his hand, popped them in his mouth, took a swig from his plastic bottle of store-brand water, and, within fifteen minutes, slumped over in his chair.

The fly buzzed circles around Louise.

“Hey,” said the fruit fly. “You should die.”

“Holy smokes, Arjun, would ya look at that, it’s a talking fly!” Louise brayed, slapping Arjun’s slumped-over body hard enough for it to fall to the floor with a muted thud. “Well, I’ll be, Arjun, look at you, napping on the job. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”