One day she woke up without a body. Only it wasn’t really waking up, if you didn’t have a body, she thought. And it wasn’t really thinking, either. But it was like waking up. That moment where you feel conscious but can’t place yourself in time. She knew what waking up felt like because she’d had a body, once. Once she had been a voice in an answering machine.
Good afternoon you’ve reached [insert business name].
There’s no one available to take your call at the moment.
Please leave a message after the tone and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.
There’s no one available. Bad grammar that, she had once thought, reading the script. There’s no one. Nobody is available.
Because once, she could read, and had been part voice, part body, part machine. Ears crushed against her skull in weird mushroom shapes by a headset. The wire between the headset and the monitor was maybe an umbilical cord that was cut every evening at 5pm and she was reborn, and her ears unfurled and were hot and pink. Or maybe the wire was the spine that held together her organic and machine parts, and her voice wrapped around and through that cord, that spine, like flesh. Once, she didn’t like it when people compared the wire to an umbilical cord or a spine. Bad metaphors, or similes, she thought, depending on if they said ‘like’ or not. Because once, she was not a cyborg, she was a woman in a call centre twirling the cable that ran between her headset and the monitor, and it was not umbilical or a spine, it was just a wire.
Good morning/afternoon [insert accordingly] Nina speaking, how can I help?
(how may I help, she adjusted the script).
I’m afraid he’s out of office at the moment, can (may) I take a message and ask him to call you back?
What is your name please?
How do you spell that please?
What company are you calling from please?
Could you spell that for me please?
What is your phone number please?
Could you repeat that please?
What is your mother’s maiden name, could you spell that for me please?
Do you have any allergies, what are they please?
What was your worst fear as a child, could you describe that for me please?
What do you feel when you look at yourself naked in the mirror, could you describe that feeling for me please?
When did you last floss your teeth?
What would you like me to ask you?
Once she had been unemployed, and she had told people she’d rather be on the dole than a cog in the machine. And then she was on the dole and she changed her mind. Delayed payments and pot noodle breakfasts, and ketchup sandwiches from stolen sachets; cards declined and meter keys with blinking lights; cellotaping the letterbox shut only to find the waves of envelopes lapping at the other side of the flat door, in the tenement hallway. The letters always started with Dear Miss Nina Gilleasbuig, always got the spelling and title wrong. Ms, she corrected them, not Miss.
Once she had been a teenage girl with too much pocket money and picked pockets anyway. Or not enough pocket money, or none, and had jumped up and down in the school playground pretending to be a bouncing cheque. Or she had been raised by au pairs and gone to private school in an itchy uniform. She had this or that, or the other kind of childhood.
Once when she was very small she had been caught drinking sea water. It tasted good and she had wet sand stuck to burnt skin and cold wind blew burning, and the water tasted like olives and the smell of seaweed, and she had chipped pink nail varnish on her toenails, sand-scraped, and broken shells she had skin she had a body. Once. But. Once she had woken up, once she was without a body, and couldn’t wake up because she didn’t have a body, naked beneath the baking thirsty sun she could not burn, all she could taste was sea water.
Saskia McCracken co-organises Glasgow’s Transatlantic Literary Women series of events. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, researching Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin’s animal tropes. Her poetry and prose have been published in zines including Datableed, SPAM, Front Horse, and The New Writer.