Waking up in a Kafka Novel

For eight months I have tried to straighten out a lone phone bill.

Feeling sorry for myself and subjected to a barrage of relentless and mind-numbing, repetitive paperwork, I feel a bit like a Kafka or a Gogol character.  Metaphorically, at least, each mail delivery brings to mind a particular character in The Overcoat, who “had a peculiar knack, as he walked along the street, of arriving beneath a window just as all sorts of rubbish were being flung out of it…”

We are owed seventy-one dollars and thirty-eight cents.

I have spent untold lawyer hours on the phone with so-called customer service representatives, explaining again and again that I have paid my husband’s bills.  Indeed, I overpaid this one upon threats to charge interest and fees on money I knew was not owed.  Eventually a refund would come, and I carefully explained that when the overlords did come to appreciate their error, the refund check could not be in my husband’s name–primarily because his death was the reason the company cancelled all our phone lines. . . and then inexplicably began aggressively billing for a line he had not used in months.

Had this been a bill for thirty dollars, I might not have bothered.

Now it has become a point of honor.  I have faxed this company my husband’s death certificate.  I have bared for these strangers our private legal documentation establishing that I am indeed the one privileged to be paying the bills here.

After every single one of these tense conversations with different corporate representatives, I am left with a spritely “You have a great rest of your day!”

Seriously, people?  I’ve been talking to your estate departments and bullet-pointing for you the ways in which your form letters have elevated my blood pressure, and you expect my day to continue on an upward trend?

I am on the phone yet again, because I have just received a letter pointing out I have not cashed a third refund check made out by the company so as to render it useless.

“No, middle initial ‘M,’ as in ‘mayhem,’ ‘murder,’ ‘mandible.’”  I seethe, grinding my teeth.

“OK, and last name ‘Clennon’?”

“No, Glennon, ‘G’ as in ‘grotesque,’ ‘gash,’ ‘gurgle.’” (If I’d given it any thought, I would have added “garroting.”)

“Oh.  OK, got it.”


“I’ve got to say, ma’am, most people only give me one word, and it’s not usually any of those.”

My displaced anger seems even to have made it into my reflexive alphabetical references.

But this causes me to flash back on scenes from our family’s past, which Jim was here to enjoy–like the time I must have over-enthusiastically and age-inappropriately told a work story at home and we found out our  five-year-old son had gone to kindergarten the next day and volunteered that “‘A’ is for asphyxiation.”  (The same teacher told us she always feared what the boys would volunteer when it came to discuss the letter “P,” and then our son ventured, “Actually, I have a ‘ph’ word. . .”   She puzzled out how that might go wrong, and was relieved when he concluded, “’P’ is for ‘physicist.’”)

Family memories unfold, and take out of my heart and voice just a shade of my bitterness at one of hundreds of bureaucratic tangos.

Though I have dwelled lately in regret for being an imperfect spouse, and sorrow that I could not possibly have been as good for my husband as he was for me, I know that at least (if unwittingly) I provided some entertainment.

(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon

About Stephanie

In her spare time, Stephanie works full-time, and then some, as an attorney. She has published articles and delivered talks in arcane fields like forensic evidentiary issues, jury instructions, and expert scientific witness preparation. She also is an adjunct professor at a law school on the banks of the Charles and loves that dirty water, as she will always think of Boston as her home. You are welcome to take a look at her Facebook author page, or follow @SMartinGlennon on Twitter. All content on this blog, unless otherwise attributed, is (c) 2012-2020 by Stephanie M. Glennon and should not be reproduced (in any form other than re-blogging in accordance with Wordpress protocol and the numerous other wee buttons at the bottom of each post) without the express permission of the domain holder.
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8 Responses to Waking up in a Kafka Novel

  1. Barbara Ward says:

    In the words — if I recall correctly — of Alan in “The Hangover Part II”:
    “K. As in ‘knife.'”
    Keep on swinging, Steph.

  2. zyxomma says:

    I’m still sorting out the estate — if you can call it that — of a friend who died years ago. Just got a letter from the attorneys for Surrogates Court, wanting to know whether I know the names and locations of his relatives. I just want my money back; I should not have paid for the cremation. I should have let him be buried in Potters’ Field. On top of all that, I’m paying an attorney so I can get my share of my parents’ estate. Elder sister is dug into “our” house like a wino’s ticks. Why can’t people straighten out their affairs before death? Why leave a mess for others to clean? You have my sympathy.

    • Stephanie says:

      What has truly astonished me is how, even with the best planning we could do (and it was not cheap to do it!), there remain so many silly ministerial obstacles to clearing up what should be very simple paperwork matters which must have to be done all the time. And I am incredulous at how difficult these corporations make it for me to take the steps to pay them more money! My mini-rant for the day.

  3. Gary Cameron says:

    I’m surprised that with the words, ‘mayhem,’ ‘murder,’ ‘mandible.’ and ‘grotesque,’ ‘gash,’ ‘gurgle.’, they didn’t pick up the danger that could’ve be hidden in them.

  4. Denise Glennon says:

    Stephanie – you were SO good for Jim. He loved you unconditionally and forever. Once you were in the picture in college, you were his primary focus and love. It was always clear to me that this was a match of equals – quite different people, but two who each brought something important to the relationship. In your piece you said you have: “sorrow that I could not possibly have been as good for my husband as he was for me….” I DO know that you were a wonderful wife to my brother Jim. I have no doubt at all. None of us are perfect, so you were an imperfect, wonderful wife which is pretty darn good.

    Just had to say that – so when the fools on the phone ask you for W you can say “wonderful, just like me.”

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