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"Progress" by Addison Zeller

A writing program would’ve whipped me into shape. I wouldn’t be so damn flabby. My stories wouldn’t start in the wrong place, right at the beginning. They’d start later, once everything’s over: the end—that’s where a story starts.

Mine just roll in like they’re getting off the bus, they rush down the street, heavy luggage trundling behind them, they check in at the hotel: the room’s not like Expedia said, it’s barely a room, more a bathroom with a bed tucked in the closet—then there’s the question of dinner, it’s 11 o’fuckin’clock, nothing’s gonna be open, there’s room service, after 10 it’s sandwiches, these sandwiches are tuna and a vegetable sandwich, anything might be on it, a cucumber, a potato, in fact it could be a cheese sandwich, vegetarian options aren’t ever specific, what they call a vegetable could be anything at all, it could be a fish, these people might be Catholics, and when you call the front desk to find out what a vegetable means to them, what happens?

The person who answers telephones, it transpires, is a robot, for whom questions about vegetable or vegetarian sandwiches (in fact it says “veg.”) are just meaningless sounds: all it can do is monotonically advise you to press a button that corresponds to the digit of the sandwich on the menu card.

If you prefer, you can demand human assistance, if you really want to engage with the desk again—the bleary-eyed desk who slipped the key in almost perfect silence to you, a key that for its modesty of mass (it’s a card key in an envelope little bigger than itself) seemed to thump metallically in your shirt pocket with every step you took to or away from the elevator (an elevator that, hearing the voice of the android desk clerk, you recall spoke in an almost lascivious tone as it informed you, upon going down to grab your forgotten luggage, that you were again in the lobby: a word that sounded, as it was pronounced, all-too suspiciously like labia)—and you decide, reluctantly, to do so, and it is as you wait in the space between the voice of the recording and the voice of the human being at the desk, a long wait, that the story continues to begin.

Addison Zeller’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in 3:AM, Epiphany, Ligeia, Hex, Olney, and elsewhere. He lives in Wooster, Ohio.


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