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The television presenter frowned as she failed to keep the pinball in play on the miniaturized Angry Birds-themed machine. Her name was Ann Marie, and she was Fanny’s favourite HSN personality. She reminded Fanny of Audrey Hepburn with her little button nose and spirited playfulness. She often bought whatever Ann Marie recommended because she trusted her judgement. Friends don’t steer you wrong. And even if she had never met Ann Marie down at the Home Shopping Network’s corporate headquarters and studio in St. Petersburg, Florida, she felt like they were sisters.
“Alright, ya’ll. This is item number 26GM482. That’s 26 GM, as in Good Morning to y’all on the West coast, 482.”
And she went back to playing the tabletop pinball game.
“This thing is the dickens, I tell you what. I can’t get the hang of it but I know my sons are going to love this. Little Lukas and Noah are just crazy about their video games but I hate all that screen time.”
Fanny nodded in agreement. That screen time was the worst.
“But with this Angry Birds-themed miniature pinball machine featuring four player score count and rubberized non-scratch feet, they can have some good clean fun away from their phones and the YouTube.”
Fanny was dialling as fast as her fat fingers could work the old rotary phone. She just knew that Ann Marie was talking to her and that she had to have one.
Fanny heard the jingle bell attached to her cat Muffins and hoped that he wasn’t stuck again. She looked down the hall, but she couldn’t quite see him. To be honest, she couldn’t see anything save for the dozens and dozens of unopened HSN boxes. Every time she had to use the toilet she moved three or four boxes from the hallway to where she had been sitting on the couch. And no matter how hard she tried to leave a clear pathway from the TV room down the hallway to the kitchen, she just couldn’t seem to manage. The boxes kept coming. Half a dozen a day. Sometimes more if she was feeling especially lonely and needed to talk to Ann Marie. She was a Home Shopping Networkaholic, and poor Muffins couldn’t navigate the maze of boxes to find his litter box, so he just shat in every dark corner he could find.
The operator had Fanny’s account up. It was the sarcastic man with the Boston accent. Sounded like a fairy. Fanny hated him because he rarely put her on the air.
“Let me guess, Miss Fanny, you want to use Flex pay?”
“Yes, I do. You know that.”
“Just checking, I have to ask. Even if you do call twenty times a day.”
The little bastard. He always exaggerated. The other HSN operators referred to her as part of the HSN family, but this little prick. . .
“How many do you want?”
“Just the one.”
“Alright, it’ll be out in three to five days depending on how this whole virus affects things. Will there be anything else?”
Will there be anything else? Was he kidding her? She didn’t want the damn pinball machine, she wanted to talk to Ann Marie. He knew this. He was just being difficult. Such a prick.
“Put me on with Ann Marie.”
“Listen Miss Fanny, we can’t just put you on every time you buy something. You have to have a story. What’s the story you’re going to share on the air?”
She couldn’t believe him. The other operators called her sweetheart and darling, and they meant it. They knew she was part of their family, and they put her through to Ann Marie without question. Now she had to convince this nobody that she belonged on the air? He wasn’t a producer. He was just an operator. Fanny knew the difference. She’d been watching HSN since before he was ever hired, and now he wanted to tell her how to get on the air?
Ann Marie was wrapping up the segment. She was starting to pull out the turquoise jewellery selection for this afternoon’s Southwest Special. Fanny had to think quick.
“I’m buying it for my grandsons.”
“Your grandsons? What are their names?”
“Um . . . Lukas and Noah . . .”
“Really? Isn’t that quite a coincidence, Miss Fanny?”
“I mean, they’re going to love it just like Lukas and Noah. Their names are Ben and . . . John.”
“Ben and John. Right. But, don’t you think they’d like to each have one of these machines? That would make for a better on-air story.”
The money-grubbing little shit. He was upselling her. She knew they got commission if they sold more than one unit, but this was ridiculous. The timer on the screen was counting down. Only three minutes left.
“Fine. Yes. Send me two of them. Send me two and put me on the air.”
“Hold for Ann Marie.”
Like a junkie getting her fix, Fanny felt a sense of relief and then exhilaration. She knew the drill and turned down her TV so it wouldn’t echo on the air. Someone was speaking in Ann Marie’s ear, and she could see her perk up. Fanny began grinning to herself.
“Is that my girl Miss Fanny out there in California?”
It was showtime.
“It sure is Ann Marie! How y’all doing in Florida?”
“Well I tell you, Miss Fanny, it is humid! But I can’t complain. It’s nice and cool in the studios here at HSN.”
“I’d give anything to be there.”
“I just bet you would. You’re my best customer. I didn’t know you had youngins around. Or are you buying this for yourself because you’re young at heart?”
Fanny giggled like a school girl. Ann Marie was her best friend, and when they were talking on the TV, everything else melted away. The bill collectors and the diabetes and her failed marriage and all the cat shit in the world. It all just melted away, and she could focus on the good things in life, like Girl Scout cookies and flannel pyjamas and rum and Cokes, and Ann Marie’s smile.
“I’m getting these for my grandsons Ben and . . . ”
Shit. What was the other name she had given?
“Ben and . . . Jack . . . ”
Was it Jack? Did it matter? What if the operator caught her in a lie? You know what, it didn’t matter. Next time she called she would hang up if the judgemental little nobody answered and wait until one of her HSN sisters picked up the phone.
“Well they must be lucky boys to have a generous grandmother like you.”
“They love their grandma, Fanny.”
“I bet they do!”
“They sure do!”
And then there was an awkward pause. Fanny didn’t know what to say next. It had always been so easy with Ann Marie, but here she was, her voice on millions of television sets, and she was lost for words. Damn that operator. If this put her on the outs with Ann Marie, he would pay dearly.
“Well I just want to thank you from your HSN family and I hope that you enjoy your purchase today. Are you going to stick around for my Southwest Special of the Day?”
She snapped back to reality and recovered.
“You know I am Ann Marie. I’ve already got my eye on those lovely earrings.”
Ann Marie beamed at her and turned her head so the camera could see the chunky sterling silver monstrosities hanging from her ears.
“You have such good taste, Miss Fanny! Item number 32TF454. That’s 32 T as in Thanks, F as in Fanny, 454. You have a blessed day and we’ll talk real soon. Buh-bye!”
There was a click, and an automated voice was thanking Fanny for making her call. She hung up before the message was complete. She had it memorized.
And then, just like that, the sadness set in. It had been a nice call but not nearly long enough. It was never long enough. She started to fantasize again. The same fantasy she’d gotten lost in for years. HSN would call her and offer her a job on air. In St. Petersburg. They’d load up her and Muffins and her medication and her home dialysis machine, and she’d start a new life presenting alongside Ann Marie. They’d present the Southwest Special together. And she’d never have to convince the operators to put her on the air. And she could talk with Ann Marie for as long as she wanted because it would be her job.
Muffins cried out again in distress. She snapped back to reality and looked down the hall. She could see his face staring at her from under some boxes. He was stuck. She was trying to get to her feet, struggling up out of the sunken couch when the tower of boxes teetered and fell, freeing him. He narrowly escaped being crushed under a mountain of waffle irons or weighted blankets or Native American-themed table lamps or whatever she had ordered and never opened.
He curled up on her substantial lap and began purring. She considered the mess in the hallway and surrounding the couch and in her bedroom and throughout the house and thought about getting organized. She promised herself that she would tackle one room a day. She’d at least clean up the kitchen and find Muffin’s litter box. She would do that today – or tomorrow.
But for now Ann Marie was draping a gorgeous sterling silver necklace accented with tiger’s eye over her wrist, and Fanny had an urge to call her friend.