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Todd Straus
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renedemenu.jpg

The René de Menu Institute

 

 

Todd Straus

                            

 

 

Night. A bedroom with double bed. Light from a small bedside table lamp throwing a yellow circle across the bed. The naked leg of an apparently sleeping woman visible near the edge of the circle.

 

Moonlight entering through the only window mists the darkness with a frosty white.

 

A man is seated in a chair beside the window, his foot nervously wiggling. Putting out his cigarette, he stands and then heads into the bathroom. Bathroom light on. We hear him brushing his teeth. The man reappears, finds the telephone, picks up the receiver, then realizes he doesn't have the number and hangs up.

 

He begins looking for the phonebook—in a drawer, on shelves, and under clothes strewn on a chair where he finally locates it.

 

Sitting down on the bed, he looks up the number, doesn't find it, looks on a second page, still can't find the number, looks in the Yellow Pages, finds it.

 

He dials the number, waits.

 

Ring. Pause. Ring. Pause. Interrupted ring.

 

A Male Voice: The René De Menu Institute is at your service.

 

A Female Voice:  Thank you for your call. It is all important to us.

 

The Male Voice:  If you know your party's extension, you may enter it at any time.

 

The Female Voice:  Otherwise, please stay on the line.

 

The Male Voice:  For English, press 1.

The Female Voice:  Para espagnol, oprima—

 

          The man makes his selection, producing a short tone.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are male, press number 1.

 

The Female Voice:  If you are a woman, press 2.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are a—

 

The man makes his selection producing a tone.

 

The Male Voice:  Thank you so much, sir. Now, carefully select from the

following options the sector of the Institute that corresponds to the service that

you wish to avail yourself of.

 

The Female Voice:  If you wish to gain access to a database, please press 1.

 

The Male Voice:  If you have experienced a significant increase in total body weight within the past six weeks, press 2.

 

The Female Voice:  If you wish to secure greater financial independance, rid

yourself of debt, or donate to the Institute, press 3.

 

The Male Voice:  If future events appear to you in the form of unambiguous

 images, press 4.

 

The Female Voice:  If you believe that people tend to avoid you or, at the very least, underestimate your talents, press 5 please.

 

The Male Voice:  If you'd like to speak with our allergist, press 6.

 

The Female Voice:  If you feel disoriented, press 7.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are convinced you have a contribution to make to science, press 8.

 

The Female Voice:  If wooded areas—

 

 

The man makes his selection, producing a tone, and lights a cigarette while continuing to listen.

 

The Female Voice:  If your disorientation is primarily geographical, please press 1.

 

The Male Voice:  If your disorientation is most often emotional, press 2.

 

The Female Voice:  If your disorientation regards your proper place in society, press 3.

 

The Male Voice:  If technology disorients you, press 4.

 

The Female Voice:  If your disorientation is philosopical, press 5.

 

The Male Voice:  If your disorientation is sexual, press 6, please.

 

The Female Voice:  If your disorientation is sartorial, press 7.

 

The Male Voice:  To hear the previous menu, press 9.

 

He is lost in thought and smoking.

 

The Female Voice:  If your disorientation is primarily geographical, please press 1.

 

The Male Voice:  If your disorientation is most often emotional, press 2.

 

The Female Voice:  If your disorientation regards your proper place in society, press 3.

 

The Male Voice:  If technology disorients you, press 4.

 

The Female Voice:  If your disorientation is philosopical, press 5.

 

The Male Voice:  If your disorientation is sex—

 

He makes his selection. Tone.

 

The Male Voice:  If this philosophical disorientation of yours concerns the

questions you harbor regarding the meaning of existence, please press 1.

 

The Female Voice:  If your philosophical disorientation references God or another of the transcendental figures such as your—quote—higher power—unquote—, press  2.

 

The Male Voice:  If your philosophical disorientation includes a preoccupation with death, press 3.

 

The Female Voice:  If your philosophical disorientation regards truth, truths or the truth of truths, press—

 

He makes his selection. Tone.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are attempting to come to grips with death as universal terminus, please press  1.

 

The Female Voice:  If you are concerned with death as the destination of your own earthly itinerary, press  2.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are distracted by the pothole of death into which three of the four wheels on your chariot have already slid, press 3.

 

The Female Voice:  If you are disquieted by thoughts of the death of a fellow human being, press 4.

 

The Male Voice:  If you—

 

          He makes his selection. Tone.

 

The Male Voice:  If the fellow human being whose death concerns you is

a stranger of the opposite sex, press 1.

 

The Female Voice:  If the fellow human being whose death is on your mind is a public figure, press  2.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are concerned with the death of a relative or family

member, press—

 

He makes his selection. Tone. He lights another cigarette in a chain.

The Female Voice:  If it's the death of your mother or a maternal figure that

weighs upon you primarily, please press 1.

 

The Male Voice:  If it's the death of your father or a figure who could eventually turn out to be your father that is of concern, press 2.

 

The Female Voice:  If it's the death of someone whom, at one time or another, you considered to be your wife, or the equivalent, that preoccupies you, press 3.

 

The Male Voice:  If it's—

 

He makes his selection. Tone. He begins pacing.

 

The Female Voice:  If the fact that, alas, your wife will someday depart this world is weighing heavily on your heart, please do your best to press 1.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are concerned that your wife may be in her final approach , whereas you feel you haven't fastened your seatbelt securely about your lap, press 2.

 

The Female Voice:  If you are primarily concerned that, God forbid, your wife may never depart this world, press 3.

 

The Male Voice:  If your wife is already no longer with us, press 4.

 

The Female Voice:  If, in a fit of jealous rage—

 

The man makes his selection. Tone. He stops next to the bed, contemplates the woman who still hasn't budged.

 

The Male Voice:  If you and your late wife loved each other deeply and with great mutual respect, please press 1.

 

The Female Voice:  If you were devoted to your wife, sir, whereas she loved you not, press 2.

 

The Male Voice:  If your wife loved you, whereas you had little feeling for her, press 3.

 

The Female Voice:  If the bond between you and your wife had become mutually intolerable, then press 4.

 

The Male Voice:  To hear the previous menu, press 9.

 

          He is deep in thought.

 

The Male Voice:  If you and your late wife loved each other deeply and with great mutual respect, please press 1.

 

The Female Voice:  If you—

 

The man makes his selection. Tone.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are suffering following the death of your wife with whom you shared a deep and mutually respectful connection, please press 1.

 

He selects. Tone.

 

The Female Voice:  If you killed your wife, press 1.

 

          The Man makes his selection. Tone.

 

The Male Voice:  If you would like to speak with the front desk, press 1.

 

The Female Voice:  To continue, press 1.

 

The Male Voice:  To hear the previous menu, press 9.

 

The Male Voice:  To hear the previous menu, press 9.

 

He selects. Tone. Click. Pause.

 

The Female Voice:  If—

 

He selects. Tone. Click. Pause.

 

The Male Voice:  If—

 

He selects three times. Three tones. Three clicks.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are attempting to come to grips with death as universal terminus, please press  1.

 

The Female Voice:  If you are concerned about death as the destination of your own earthly itinerary, press 2.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are distracted by the pothole of death into which three of the four wheels on your chariot have already slid, press 3.

 

The Female Voice:  If you are disquieted by thoughts of the death of a fellow human being, press 4.

 

The Male Voice:  If you are seriously considering committing suicide, press 5.

 

He makes his selection. Tone.

 

The Female Voice:  If you have the means at your disposal, press 1.

 

He makes his selection. Tone.

 

A New Voice:  Please be advised that the remainder of this call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.

 

Panicked, he hangs up the phone violently. This awakens the woman in the bed.

 

“Honey? Honey?” says she.

 

“I'm here,” he replies.

 

What time is it?” she asks.

 

Three. I can't sleep.”

 

Thinking?”

 

Yes.”

About what?”

 

Oh . . .”

 

Come to bed. You're going to be exhausted,” says she.

 

In a minute,” he answers.

 

“I was having the strangest dream. You were in it….You smoked. And…” 

 

          She falls back asleep. The room is still. He moves to stand in front of the

 window. Silouetted, he lights another cigarette.

 

 

 

Todd Straus is the author of stories, plays, essays, French textbooks and games from his home in Sonoma County, California. His blog is at www.gandergeese.blogspot.com.

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