Michael tapped a button to answer his phone on the first ring. Call volume was heavy today, and there was no sense in wasting time.
“You’ve reached a safe space.” He tried to tune out the noise of the call center around him as he spoke.
“Is this the suicide bureau?” a shaky voice asked.
Michael compressed his mouth into a thin line, a gesture he knew was wasted on the person on the other end. “This is the Willful Termination Department,” he said in a slow, measured voice. “How can I help you?”
“This is the place for people to kill themselves, right?” The voice was male but young, Michael guessed in the late teens.
“This is the department for choosing Euthanasia as an end-of-life option,” Michael said. “How may I assist you?”
“It’s painless, right?”
Michael kept his voice even. “The Lisieux Procedure directly immobilizes several crucial brain areas instantly, it’s totally physically painless.” He made sure to stress the word physically, but the caller was too upset to notice.
“I want—” the voice cracked and Michael thought he heard a sob that was quickly covered. “I want it.”
Michael sighed silently. Often getting over that initial hurdle was too much, and people hung up before requesting anything. Those were the easy calls. “May I have your name and address please?”
“Joe.” There was another pause, then the rest came rapidly. “Joseph Ericson, Seventy-Six Bellmont Avenue in Norfolk New Hampshire.”
“Alright Joe.” Michael spoke in a measured voice. “Are you aware that choosing to terminate your life is an irrevocable decision?”
“Are you over the age of eighteen, and have no mental health diagnoses preventing you from legally making this choice?”
Michael paused long enough to let it sink in. “You are aware that proper documentation will be required, and failure to meet any of the criteria will cause your request to be denied.”
“I’m old enough, and I’m not crazy,” Joe said. “Just give me the date.”
Michael tapped a few keys on his computer. “Ninety days from today is October thirteenth. You must contact us either in person or by phone on that exact date to confirm your request and receive your assignment. Failure to do so—”
“I know how it works.” Joe’s voice cut him off, followed by a sharp click.
Michael pulled his headset off and rubbed his palms against his face. He still had two long hours left on his shift. He looked up at the picture of Gabe propped beside the phone, smiling in front of the coast. He’d been so cute and nervous on that trip, afraid to let anyone see them holding hands.
The phone let out a familiar hum, a blinking light indicating a return call not an appointment. Michael pulled his headset back on and tapped the button to answer, pushing memories of Gabe out of his mind. He couldn’t afford to get caught up in sentiment while he was working.
“You’ve reached a safe space.” The words were automatic by now. “May I have your name please?”
“My name is Jessamine Baxter and my confirmation date is today, July fifteenth.” She proceeded to rattle off her full address and phone number without him having to ask. It was easy to do. By law, Michael had to ask the exact same questions every time; anyone could find them online now.
“One moment Jessamine.” Michael already had her record pulled up on the computer but he mulled over her tone of voice for a few seconds before continuing. “Alright Jessamine, I have your record right here. It seems that your confirmation date was the fourteenth of July, yesterday.”
“Your confirmation date was yesterday, the fourteenth of July,” he repeated. “Since you failed to call on the specified day I’ll be unable to process your request. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“I don’t understand.” Papers shuffled on the other end of the line. “I wrote down the date you gave me.”
“Often people make mistakes about where ninety days falls,” he said, “due to the changing number of days in each month.”
“I wrote it down exactly!” Her voice was louder, but less sure than when he’d answered the phone. She went back to rustling through papers.
Michael waited to make sure she wasn’t about to say something else before he spoke. “It’s common for people under high levels of stress to make this kind of mistake.” This was where it got dangerous, he couldn’t legally try to influence her decision. He had to pick his words carefully. “Often people find it helps to take some time and reevaluate decisions when they’ve had a chance to calm down.”
The noise from the other end stopped. “I don’t know what else to do,” she said softly.
“I can create another appointment for you, or you can take some time to think. We also refer people to top-of-the-line mental health professionals who’ve helped many people in similar situations.” As long as he presented it as a choice not a suggestion he couldn’t get in trouble.
“I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Michael kept his voice calm, getting too excited wouldn’t help. “There are many resources available on our website or in our office locations, you can take as much time as you’d like to think about your decision.”
“I—I think I will.” There was a click as the line went dead.
He looked back to his computer screen where July fifteenth was clearly displayed as the return date, smiled, and hit the cancel button.
“One more for you, Gabe.” His smile slipped as he spoke the words, too softly for anyone else in the room to hear, but he forced it back on. The light on his phone was already blinking with another caller.
Eric Fritz is a web developer, amateur bartender, and speculative fiction writer with work previously appearing in Every Day Fiction. He is ambivalent towards our new robot overlords. You can find him digitally at http://www.drunkopus.com and physically in Cambridge, where he lives with a plush cat named Will.