Fiction by Meg Elison
“Mom, I can’t move home. I love you and Dad, but it would crush my spirit. I’m fighting so hard to feel like an adult. Right. Right, I know. It’s only the last little bit of my rent. I swear to you I won’t ask again. Yes. Cross my heart.”
There came a knock at the door that gave Benji an excuse to tell his mother he had to go. It took a couple of tries to get off the phone. By the time she had said an unsure goodbye the knock came again, more insistent. He lunged for it to stop the noise.
On the other side of the door stood a short bald man in overalls with a tweed jacket on top. Behind him were two unsmiling men with bulging forearms crossed identically over their chests. The short man consulted his clipboard.
“Are you Benjamin Aleister Sutherland?”
“Yeah, that’s me.” Benji eyed the clipboard and the man’s clothes suspiciously.
“I represent Great Lakes Financial Services. I’m here to repossess your education for nonpayment of your student loans.”
The short man took a small step back and his two henchmen pushed past Benji into his apartment. They looked around the room, sizing it up.
“Wait, what? How is this legal? I only quit paying like thirteen months ago!”
The repo man looked at him with a bored expression. “Our records indicate that you’ve only made three payments total, Mr. Sutherland. My employer informs me that you haven’t been answering your phone and you’ve taken a job under the table so that we can’t garnish your wages.”
Benji managed to conceal his shock and reached for indignance. “I have not! I’ve been writing poetry full time!
Repo’s eyebrow went up in perfect synchronization with the top page on the clipboard.
“So you didn’t flirt with a redheaded woman while you made her latte three days ago, telling her you were published in the New Yorker?”
“A letter to the editor counts as getting published!”
The little man in the odd jacket did not deign to argue. “Red is one of our operatives, Mr. Sutherland. We know you’re a barista. Since you’ve decided not to pay for the education that got you to where you are today, we’re going to have to repossess it. Take it all, guys.”
The little man in the overalls clamped a small device at the edge of his clipboard. It looked like a little black die with tiny green lights where the spots should be. The lights blinked. Benji began at once to feel woozy.
The two larger men began to stack up Benji’s books and pull his sun-faded and unframed posters off the walls.
“The itemized list of repossessions includes your literary affectations—”
“Not my Raymond Chandler! And Chuck Bukowski—you can’t take that. I haven’t outgrown him yet!”
“Your souvenirs from your semester abroad—”
“But I tell stories about my semester in Lima every day! I learned Spanish there kinda.”
“The memories and photos of the women that you dated by impressing them with your ability to quote Bell Hooks—”
“Hey. I actually took women’s studies.”
“And finally, of course your diploma.”
The last remaining henchman pulled the gold-encrusted frame of the Latinate monstrosity off the wall, and tucked its wide, unwieldy frame under his beefy arm before heading out the door.
Benji dogged his heels, in a panic. He swayed on his feet, one hand to his forehead. “No, man. Come on, seriously, you can’t. This stuff is all part of who I am. It’s my personality now. I need that! Come on, be reasonable. I’ll find a way to pay.” He turned back to the repo man.
“May I have your phone, Mr. Sutherland?”
Benji instinctively grabbed the boxy shape through his jeans. “Why?”
“I’ve also got orders here to repossess your wit and repartee. I’m willing to bet most of it is on Twitter.”
Benji’s pulse pounded in his ears. “What’s wrong with you, man? How can you do this? Don’t you have a soul?”
The repo man chuckled, swiping Benji’s phone over the little black box on the end of his clipboard. The device beeped and the phone rebooted in his hand. He held it out a moment, then pulled it back as though considering.
“Son, I’m an adjunct professor of medieval literature. I’ve been passed over for tenure six times at three schools in two states. My loans will never be repaid. If I had a soul, I’d sell it for health insurance. But cheer up. We’re taking your alcoholism, too.” He moved the clipboard down and across Benji’s torso. When he had finished, he touched the little box and it ceased its high-pitched humming. The blinking green lights went dark.
“Without all that, and now that you’re less interesting and arrogant, you can probably get a real job. After all… I did.”
Benji sagged and took back his phone. He looked around his naked apartment, defeated. He hugged himself and thought of his mother’s voice on the phone, suggesting he move back home.
“Sign here, Mr. Sutherland.” The repo man held out a pen. Benji signed.
“Do I have to get a real job? Can’t I just keep working at the coffee shop for cash? I like it there.”
The repo man shrugged. He stood in the doorway, pulling it shut behind him. “I guess if you want to, but we took your sense of irony about it.”
Armed only with earnestness, Benji faced a new day.
Meg Elison is a science fiction author and feminist essayist. Her series, The Road to Nowhere, won the 2014 Philip K. Dick award. She was a James A. Tiptree Award Honoree in 2018. In 2020, she is publishing her first collection, called “Big Girl” with PM Press and her first young adult novel, “Find Layla” with Skyscape. Meg has been published in McSweeney’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fangoria, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and many other places. Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley. Find her online, where she writes like she’s running out of time.